I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ– the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
The early church only had one contention: righteousness. Everyone understood and assumed the hope of the believer: a new heavens and new earth, including the resurrection of the body, messianic kingdom, etc. The Israelites had the right goal, but they sought to attain it in the wrong way (Mt. 5:20; Rom. 9:30f). Ironically, those who were the most zealous for righteousness upon the earth were the most threatened with eternal damnation on the Day of the Lord (Rom. 10:1ff). This was the contention of the earth church: the recognition of universal depravity unto justification by faith (Rom. 3:22; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:13; Phil. 3:9; Col. 1:22; Tit. 3:5). Paul considers the greatest discipleship cult in human history to be “dung” (Phil. 3:8), that they have no hope of being “saved” (Rom. 10:1), that they have “lost connection with the Head” (Col. 2:19), and that in their “appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body” (Col. 2:23) they ought to just “go the whole way and emasculate themselves” (Gal. 5:12). Wow, now that is contentious.
Unfortunately, the GOAL to which this whole contention was unto became perverted after Paul’s day. Instead of LIFE in a new heavens and new earth, the church indulged in the detestable hopes of the nations around it: 1) bodily life in this age (i.e. Kingdom Now, Christendom, Church Triumphant, etc.) and 2) immaterial life after death (i.e. Heavenly Destiny, Monasticism, Pietism, etc.). The problem is that there is nothing written in the Bible about these things because they were not even on the radar of the early church. They are false hopes adopted from the world, which either leave people despondent or cause them to deny the Cross.
So here we are in our day with two contentions: righteousness AND hope. To give people righteousness in the Cross without hope in the Resurrection leads to despair. To give people hope in the Resurrection without righteousness in the Cross leads to delusion. May we ever keep our eyes on Jesus that we might inherit eternal life.