Defending Your Faith“Christianity isn’t just about what you believe; it’s about how you live.”

“You theological types only care about creeds and doctrines and believing the right things. But the Bible stresses Christianity as a way of life.”

“It doesn’t matter if you believe the Bible if you don’t do what it says.”

These are a sampling of complaints and critiques lobbed at gospel-centered believers and “theology” folks who take doctrine seriously. Sometimes, the critiques are on target. The best preachers and teachers would agree that Christianity involves both belief and obedience, faith and practice.

Ironically, when some of these critics are challenged for their advocacy of lifestyles and behavior outside the mainstream of historic Christianity, they rush to the creeds as a defense. They go from saying, “Christianity is more about what you do than what you believe” to saying “How dare you challenge what I’m saying about a way of life! I believe the right doctrines!”

You can’t have it both ways.

What’s needed today is a robust understanding of the Christian faith that recognizes the multi-faceted meaning of orthodoxy.

What Jude Means When He Tells Us to Contend for the Faith

“Bible-believing” Christians love to trot out Jude’s exhortation to “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all” as a challenge to shore up doctrinal fidelity and avoid theological slippage. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this verse applied in a way that emphasizes the need to maintain the doctrinal core of Christian truth claims.

Of course, there’s no disputing the legitimacy of applying Jude’s words this way. Surely “the faith” we are to contend for includes the truths at the heart of our faith (the lordship of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection from the dead, the authority of Scripture).

But doctrinal drift was not the primary thing on Jude’s mind when he gave this exhortation. If you read on, he makes clear why he is telling us to “contend for the faith.” It’s because “some men… have come in by stealth; they are ungodly, turning the grace of our God into promiscuity and denying Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord” (v. 4).

Two things to notice here. First, Jude wants believers to contend for the faith against other professing Christians. The foes here are those who are “inside” the church, not outside – ungodly people claiming to belong to Christ.

Second, the error that prompts Jude to exhort us is not the denial of foundational tenets of the gospel, but a twisted view of grace that excuses or celebrates sexual immorality. In other words, “contending for the faith” in the context of Jude 1 is less about doctrinal fidelity and more about Christian morality and praxis. The denial of Jesus Christ in this case isn’t creedal (as in 1 John 4, where the apostle warns against those who deny Christ’s humanity); it’s moral. By their advocacy and engagement in illicit sexual activity, they are functionally denying Jesus.

John’s 3 Tests of Orthodoxy

Recently, I’ve been doing my devotional readings in 1-3 John, struck again and again by the challenge to love God, His people, and those around me. I’ve also been struck by John’s multi-faceted approach to orthodoxy.

John Stott’s commentary on 1-3 John presents three tests of true Christianity:

  • Obedience (The Moral Test)
  • Love (The Social Test)
  • Belief (The Doctrinal Test)

John’s epistles don’t let us isolate one test of orthodoxy from the others. As I study the apostle’s words, I find myself pressed and challenged from all sides, convicted for my tendency to see orthodoxy as either checking off a list of doctrines to believe, or a few actions to perform, or a moral code to live by.

Instead, I need to recognize that orthodoxy, orthopathy, and orthopraxy are all wrapped up in Jesus’ claim to lordship of the cosmos.

The Challenge

The challenge is that conservatives and liberals love to focus on the test that best vindicates their own outlook.

Conservatives are more likely to see the doctrinal and moral tests as essential and give less attention to hands-on demonstrations of love for neighbor. Case in point: we lift up Christians in the past of impeccable morals and doctrinal credentials who failed miserably at the social test (i.e., the early Southern Baptists who capitulated to Southern culture on slavery).

Those who call themselves progressives today are likely to see the social test as fundamental, with doctrines held more loosely and historic Christian morality, in some cases, jettisoned. Case in point: some claim doctrinal fidelity (doctrinal test) and genuinely seek to love their neighbors (social test), while they accommodate themselves to the West’s radical individualism and revision of the purpose for human sexuality.

Conclusion

The apostles’ view of orthodoxy is all-encompassing. It steps on all our toes. It doesn’t let any group get their “aha” moment, because it convicts and challenges us to expand our vision of orthodoxy, not look for a minimalistic substitute.

It’s time we listen to the Scriptures afresh and allow the Spirit to convict us regarding our failures in the three tests of orthodoxy. Only then will we think more carefully and more deeply about what it means to “contend for the faith.”

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10 thoughts on “Defending the Faith is about Life, Not Just Doctrine”

  1. Bill says:

    Very thoughtful remarks. As I considered your comments a couple of thoughts came to mind. It seems your use of terms are not consistent and precise. You talk about “true Christianity,” “the Christian faith,” “orthodoxy,” etc. It seems that you you are using these terms synonymously, or pretty much so. I see a need to distinguish these because I don’t think that “orthodoxy” is equivalent to the broader “Christian faith.” You seem to acknowledge that Christianity/Christian faith is broader than orthodoxy (your comment about orthodoxy, orthopraxy, orthopathy) but then toward the end of the blog you say that the apostles view of orthodoxy was “all encompassing.” If orthodoxy is all encompassing (moral, social, doctrinal), then I am not sure how we actually define what it is. The creeds mainly focus on the beliefs that are foundational to the Christian faith. Our application of the faith is vitally important but I am not sure that I would include our actions under the heading of orthodoxy. A person could be orthodox in their foundational beliefs but inconsistent or hypocritical in their actions (ex. Southern Baptist in the South)

  2. a. says:

    amen. we are not of those who shrink back to destruction but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul

  3. Duane Warren says:

    I agree completely with Trevin’s conclusions and I believe it is entirely supported biblically.
    I think we should thoughtfully consider this blog post. We certainly don’t want to miss the message while focusing on rabbit holes we may want to create for the sake of self-attention, or due to some unfounded bitterness that we adopted from some place different. We all love to proclaim our beautiful faith and proudly wear our faith badges for all to identify us as contenders….but what about obedience to God’s Word? Look…..you can have so much faith that you should be moving mountains……but if you aren’t being obedient to God’s Word…..you aren’t going to move an ant hill…..in fact, you’ll be constantly stumbling over a rock.

    We know that satan in the desert wanted Jesus to mistakenly believe that God’s protection of him was absolute, when it was actually relative to his faith (yes!) in….. and OBEDIENCE (absolutely!!!!!) to God’s Word.

    If Jesus needed to remain in the will of God to assure himself of protection, surely we do too. Sin in the life of a Christian is a primary cause of his vulnerability to spiritual defeat. If Satan can get a believer to act contrary to the will of God, it appears that this gives him an opportunity to step in and afflict him. So….if an entire church or the majority or even a small minority within the church is living in sin….some secret hidden sin…..does this not place the church in a vulnerable place of spiritual defeat?

    Let’s be honest about this. To point the finger at the SBC as being hypocritical is neglecting the log in your own eye. It doesn’t take a “new creature” to love a little better. It doesn’t take a “new creature” to find a doctrine we would agree with with the literally tens of thousands of denominations out there. But…..it does take a “new creature” to walk in obedience to God’s Word. And we had better not neglect allowing that to become a resounding trumpet blast in our ears…..because, boy do we all fall so short.

    Orthodoxy includes the practice of……..an action. Why do we resist repentance for our daily disobedience with such fervor? Are we addicted to arguments? Why do we spend so much time and energy highlighting the divisions and barely….if any…..time and energy uniting. We know there are divisions that need to be addressed. But its time to begin praying and repenting. Its time to leave our personal argument agendas and return to God.
    …..peace.

  4. Matthew McCurley says:

    Great article, Trevin! As always, balance is essential. For an added treat to your devotion in John’s letters, check out Dr. David Allen’s, ‘1 – 3 John. Fellowship in God’s Family’. Crossway. Press on, Brother!

  5. Eric F says:

    I think I agree somewhat with your article, but have some thoughts about it’s application. So if you pass one test you pass them all and if you fail one test you fail them all. How do you know if you pass the test? What do you do if the Holy Spirit indicates that you have failed? Not really sure that I understand your prescription in it’s applicaton. Does Paul in the scripture show evidence of having practiced this kind of self examination? Is it possible for a man to be delusional, thinking that he is one way while actually being another way? All in all I am concerned that it is not moral codes, social tests, or doctrinal tests that will do much. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the meaning of this article. I think you are saying essentially “our problem is that we drift from proper obedience, love, and believe so we need to examine ourselves in all those areas.” I agree with that but reflection on our failures does not seem to be the adequate response. We may become aware of failures but then we should move onward to faith that Christ is our Lord and love. Then we will overcome as we believe Him.

  6. Jim Lee says:

    Thank you for this

  7. Jonathan says:

    That is exactly why I became a moderate.

  8. Rick67 says:

    Ironically, when some of these critics are challenged for their advocacy of lifestyles and behavior outside the mainstream of historic Christianity, they rush to the creeds as a defense. They go from saying, “Christianity is more about what you do than what you believe” to saying “How dare you challenge what I’m saying about a way of life! I believe the right doctrines!”

    Good piece, good points, and I agree. But I was a little perplexed at the quote above, do those who advocate lifestyles contrary to historic Christian teaching really “run to the creeds”? Aren’t they precisely the people who usually deny the creeds, deny the theology to begin with? (I do have one friend who claims to be theologically orthodox but politically liberal, it’s not clear to me how orthodox he is.) My understanding is that the purpose of good theology is to protect the Christian way of life, indeed it makes that life possible. Hence how Paul addressed church problems with… theology.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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