The word ‘faith’ is used in more than one way in the Bible. It can be used subjectively, and it is sometimes used objectively. In other words, it can refer to the act of believing something, and then it can refer to what is believed, or the object of our faith. If I say a person has faith in God, or faith in Christ, I’m using the word subjectively, and I simply mean that person trusts the Lord. But if I use it objectively, I’m talking about what a person believes about the Lord.
Today I want us to primarily consider the word faith in the objective sense. What is the Christian faith? In other words, what do Christians believe, and where did that faith come from? When we answer those questions, we’ll be able to delineate between true religion and false religion, true faith as opposed to false faith. Let’s read together from the short New Testament epistle of Jude. I want to read the first three verses. The scripture there says, “Jude, a bond servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, to those who were called, sanctified by God the father and preserved in Jesus Christ, mercy, peace and love be multiplied to you. Beloved while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Hear Jude uses the word faith to refer to that body of truth that Christians believe and adhere to. He says that faith was once for all delivered to the saints. That alone should tell us that the faith is not something that the church came up with, that it is not up to Christians or preachers or church leaders to arbitrarily decide what is to be believed, preached, and practiced, rather Jude says this faith was once for all delivered to the saints.
The theme of our lesson is a question that strikes at the heart of much of the division and confusion that exists in the religious world. If I were to ask you what you believe and why, how would you answer that question? What about the church you’re a member of? It’s not merely a matter of one church practicing one thing and another church practicing something different. The heart of the problem is a matter of why the church believes and practices the things that it does.
Even in apostolic times there were false ideas and practices arising that were leading people away from the truth. The truth was a fixed, absolute, definite thing, and there were people in the process of departing from that truth. Some were drifting away from the original beliefs and practices of the church as founded by Christ and revealed through his apostles. Jude, for example, says that some were perverting the truth to allow for sinful living. They were corrupting the message of God’s amazing grace and using it to justify their wickedness. Jude therefore says, in verse three, that he simply wanted to write to the church about the salvation they mutually enjoyed in Christ, but he said that he found it necessary to write to them and exhort them to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The antidote to apostasy was to contend for the faith as it had been originally delivered to them, and that’s the antidote to apostasy today.
But what does this faith refer to? What is the faith? How did they get it? How did we get it? What is the church to believe and practice and what is the church to contend for? What is the church to fight for? Now some contend for their opinions, obviously, others contend for their own traditions and their preferences, but Jude has something else in mind when he says that the saints are to contend earnestly for the faith. He’s talking about the body of truth that the church believes and adheres to. So what does the church of Christ believe and why? I want us to look closely at the phrase “the faith once for all delivered”. When we understand what Jude is talking about, we will understand what the church is to believe, and why.
First of all, notice that Jude refers to it as THE faith; not a faith, not my faith, not your faith, and not his faith. He plainly says the faith has once for all been delivered to the church to contend for. We sometimes hear people ask, what faith do you belong to? Or we hear folks talk about faith traditions, or faith backgrounds. Sometimes we hear a religious organization or some venture described as all-faith, implying that there are many faiths coming together into this one organization or in this one effort. But is that kind of terminology biblical? Did the apostles ever refer to many different faiths or even more than one, so far as that’s concerned? No, in fact we find the opposite.
Paul plainly declared in Ephesians 4:4, that there is one faith. So when we hear people talking about more than one faith or my faith as opposed to your faith, or different faiths, or many faiths, or different faith traditions, all of that should immediately tell us that their ideas about faith come from someplace other than the scriptures, because the scriptures only speak of one faith. The fact is, people speak of different faiths because the religious world today is divided by human creeds, human organizations, man-given names, human traditions. But the apostles only spoke of one faith. Jude, speaking of that one faith, says that it is the faith that was once for all delivered.
So let’s first focus on that word delivered. Where did the faith come from? What is the faith? Obviously, that faith did not come from the church itself because Jude says that the faith was delivered TO the church — to the saints. Some suggest today that the modern church has the right to determine doctrine, that the faith the church believes and practices is a fluid and ever-changing thing, conforming to the times or to the current culture. Some religious organizations have a system in place for determining the doctrines or teachings of that church at any given time, whether it be the word of the Pope, or a president, or superintendent, or perhaps a convention that convenes and votes on various points of doctrine. Some point to modern so-called prophets as the basis of their beliefs. But Jude says that the faith the church must contend for is the faith that was once for all delivered unto the saints.
So, if it didn’t come from the saints, or from the church, but rather was delivered onto the church, then where did it come from and how did the church receive it? Paul used the terms received and delivered on several different occasions to refer to his teachings about Christ and the terms of the new covenant, which he expected the churches to follow. Let’s notice a few of them. For example, in Romans chapter one, beginning in verse one, Paul begins this great epistle: “Paul, a bond servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God, which he promised before through his prophets in the holy scriptures, concerning his son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who was born in the seed of David, according to the flesh, and declared to be the son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” In other words, Jesus came, he died, he was raised from the dead which proved the fact that he was indeed the Christ, the Son of God.
Then he says, “Through him we have received grace and apostleship…” (He’s talking there, when he speaks of ‘we’, he’s speaking of the apostles.) He says, “Through him, we, apostles, have received grace and apostleship,” listen now: “For obedience to the faith among all nations for his name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ.” In other words, it was through the ministry of the apostles that the nations of the earth were called to obedience to Christ. In 1 Thessalonians chapter two, beginning at verse 13, he says, “For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us,” and again, that pronoun ‘us’ refers to the apostles, he says, “When you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is, in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
Then look at Second Thessalonians, chapter three in verse six, he says, “We command you brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” That, again, refers to the apostles. Galatians chapter, beginning of verse nine. Paul says, “As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel unto you than what you have received, let him be accursed, for do I now persuade men or God, or do I seek to please men, for if I still pleased men, I would not be a bond servant of Christ, but I make known to you brethren that the gospel, which was preached by me, is not according to man, for I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Now, when we consider all of those passages, and perhaps many others that we could compile, Paul is saying the gospel that he preached to the Galatians did not come from man. The traditions that he had delivered to the church at Thessalonica didn’t come from himself — they didn’t come from man. He says those things came through the revelation of Christ and he says they were to receive them as the word of God and not the word of man, and he says they were to receive no other gospel than the one that he had delivered to them. So, what did Paul receive, and what did Paul deliver to the churches? Well, we also read over in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that the church was in danger of departing from apostolic teaching in regard to several different things, and Paul writes to correct them in various matters pertaining to their assemblies, their worship, their living, their functioning as a local church. And in chapter 11 he says in verses one and two, “Be followers of me as I also am of Christ, I praise you brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the ordinances, or traditions, as I have delivered them to you.” So you see, Paul delivered ordinances to the church to follow just as he told them to observe them, and they were not to deviate from the things that Paul told them to do and the way that Paul told them to observe them. And Paul says that he got those ordinances, or traditions, from the Lord.
Now look down at verse 23. The Corinthian church was making a mockery of the Lord’s supper by their behavior surrounding the assembly, and Paul sets them straight by saying, “For I received to the Lord that which I also delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the night he was betrayed, took bread,” and so he continues to remind them of how and why the Lord instituted the supper. He’s telling them they have no right to change the supper in spirit, design, or purpose, it was a sacred tradition given to Paul by Christ and passed along for them to follow, and they were to follow it very seriously, very carefully, in the right frame of mind, discerning the body, and so forth.
Now, Paul, you see, was an apostle of Christ, and like the ones personally called by Christ before him, he and they represented Christ in their teachings, and they exercised authority over the churches by essence of their apostolic office. That’s why Paul said in Ephesians two, verse 20, “the church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ being the chief cornerstone.” Those same apostles, personally chosen and called by Christ Himself, are still the foundation of the church today. How do they exercise that authority? Through the things that they by inspiration wrote. In other words, by the New Testament scriptures and it’s as simple as that. Jude says that the faith was once delivered unto the saints, and he’s simply referring to how God revealed the New Covenant and the Christian faith unto the church through those apostles whom he called, set forth as apostles, inspired them with the Holy Spirit, and confirmed their word through miracles.
Now, that’s why the Hebrew writer wrote in Hebrew chapter two, beginning in the third verse: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken to the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” Listen now, “God also bearing witness, both with signs and wonders, with various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.” That’s what the miraculous outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the first century church was all about. It was confirming the word of God as it was being revealed, it was verifying the faith that was once and for all being delivered to the saints.
So, the faith refers to all of those things that the apostles, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, taught. Those things were delivered through the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit, unto the church to be received, believed, and practiced. So, what does the church believe and why? Well, you see, if it is a true church of the Lord Jesus Christ it believes and practices only those things that the apostles, by Christ’s authority, wrote down in the New Testament scriptures. Those things constitute the faith once delivered to the saints. And it is that faith which the church is to earnestly contend for — nothing more and nothing less. It is that faith that the church is to follow, to preach, to practice, and to defend —nothing beyond it and nothing short of it. And if a church preaches and practices things that are not authorized by the New Testament, then that church is not abiding in the faith that was once and for all delivered.
Now then some may ask, if the apostles preached among the churches way back then, why should we still consider them to be the only authority in the church today? Why doesn’t God continue to speak and reveal his will to the modern church? Doesn’t God reveal new truth to the church as times change and generations pass? Many people think so. Look again at our verse. Jude says, “I’ve found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Notice the phrase “once for all.” The faith was delivered once for all, or once for all people, once for all time.
There are a few obscure and difficult words found in the scriptures. There are lofty truths and deep concepts to be found in the Bible, but it’s rather ironic that it is the most simple words and the most simple things that seem to place the biggest stumbling blocks in peoples’ paths.
Now I don’t know of a word in all the Bible over which there is more trouble than the word one. Have you ever stopped to think about that? It seems like when the Bible speaks of something as one or when the Bible speaks of something in the singular, you don’t have to look very far to find someone who wants to make it plural. Do you notice that? I would point that out to my dear brethren who are members of the churches of Christ — that when the Bible speaks of something in the singular, people want to come along and put an ‘s’ after it, making it mean more than one. We noted that Paul said there is one faith, but we hear people all the time talk of many faiths and claim that most of them are acceptable to God. We read in the same passage in Ephesians chapter four about one body, the body referring to the church, Colossians one verse 18, but Christ supposedly has many different kinds of churches, and the denominationalism and division that exists in the religious world today, that’s viewed as normal and acceptable to God. “One church is as good as another,” we hear. But Paul says there’s one body. Again, it’s strange that nearly every time the Bible says there is only one of something, someone comes along and argues for more than one.
Now we, of course, know what ‘one’ means, we just don’t like that word when it confines us to believing or doing something that we don’t like or agree with. Hebrews chapter nine, verse 27, doesn’t give us much trouble, where the Hebrew writer says: “As it is appointed for men to die once, but after this, the judgment.” We readily understand that death only comes to each person one time. That’s not too controversial. And it would have been silly to ask the apostle what he means. Does that mean I’ll die twice? Does that mean I’ll die three times, or does that mean I’ll die a hundred times? Does that mean that I’ll just die again and again and again? Of course not. We understand that means that we will only die one time if the Lord doesn’t return first. But here in our text, Jude says the faith was once delivered to the saints. In fact, the original text emphasizes it by saying once for all delivered.
Notice Jude speaks of the faith having been delivered, and it was only delivered once. We’re not still waiting for it to be delivered. We’re not waiting on a revelation from God. We already have a revelation, the only one we’re ever going to receive. The faith was once for all delivered. That doesn’t mean that some of it was delivered through the apostles and the rest 1800 years later through Joseph Smith, or Ellen G. White, or Mary Baker Eddy. It doesn’t mean that we look to Rome today and a man claiming to represent Christ on earth to dictate to the church what is to be believed. It doesn’t mean that God keeps revealing it in each age, every time some supposedly Holy Ghost-receiving preacher claims to have gotten some new word from the Lord. It doesn’t mean that the faith changes and conforms according to some convocation of religious leaders from year to year, or time to time. It means just what it says: the faith was once for all delivered to the saints. That faith was once delivered to the church for all time and every place to be believed, practiced, and preached through all time, and any church that is a true church of Christ abides strictly within that faith, that is within the things delivered through the apostles when the church was established by Christ 2000 years ago.
What does the church believe, and why? Not a man written creed, not a discipline, not a man-made confession of faith, not tradition that’s passed down from generation to generation. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ believes the bible and only the bible because it alone contains the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. Paul said the gospel, which he preached, reveals the righteousness of God — that is God’s system of making men righteous — from faith to faith. That is, the apostles revealed the faith so that we might have faith. And thus, Paul said in Romans 10, verse 17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” That’s what the church must believe and practice, and only that, or it is not the faith once delivered to the saints.