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Winning The War Against Lust

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1996

I want to answer a very practical question for Christians living in this sex‑saturated society: How can we win the war against lust and the overt sexual sin which results from lust? We’re bombarded daily with sensuality. You can’t watch TV, read a news magazine or drive past billboards without being confronted with blatantly sexual pictures and messages. We all know that as Christians, we are to avoid sexual immorality. The tough question is, How? Being a man, I’m writing as a man to men, although what I say has much application to women as well.

For years I fought a losing battle against lust. It wouldn’t be profitable for me to go into detail describing my defeats. But so that you know that I’ve been there, I will say that ever since my early teens, I have been a connoisseur of fine women. Long before the movie, “10,” came out, I had a habit of automatically checking out a woman’s anatomy and scoring her various features. For a number of years, there were very few “Playmates of the Month” whom I had not scrutinized. I was a Christian, even a “committed” Christian and seminary student during some of that time, involved in serving the Lord. But I was defeated by lust.

I still lose an occasional skirmish. But by God’s grace, for many years now, I’ve been winning the war. I want to tell you how. Several things have helped me move from defeat to consistent victory.

Scared into holiness

I got scared straight. I knew I should be holy. Years ago I yielded my life to the Lord in accordance with Romans 12:1‑2. But that didn’t make much difference in my battle against lust. Finally I came to a point where the Lord backed me into the corner and asked pointedly, “Do you want to be a man of God or do you want to keep messing around with this sin?” Gulp! I had to make a choice to be holy.

Theoretically, that decision is easy. But in reality, it’s a fierce struggle, because, frankly, I enjoy looking at sexy women. Hormones start pumping when I feast my eyes on one of those gorgeous creatures. Besides, it’s a pastime I can indulge in secretly. It’s all in my head.

God used two things to show me where unchecked lust can lead, which scared me into dealing with my lust habit.

First, I was scared by the devastation wreaked in the life of a friend who was ruined by sexual sin. When I graduated from seminary, I checked out several ministry situations. One opportunity involved working as an associate with a man I’ll call Bob who is about eight years older than I. He had founded a thriving church in Southern California and needed help with the growing demands. I was attracted to working with him because he seemed to be a deeply spiritual man. He would often get away by himself for times of meditation and prayer. His family life seemed solid. He had been married for almost twenty years and had four children, the oldest in his teens. I thought I could learn a lot about ministry working with him.

I finally decided to accept another pastorate which allowed me to preach regularly. About a year later, I had not heard from Bob, in spite of a letter or two on my part. When I mentioned it to a mutual friend, he said, “Haven’t you heard? Bob left his wife and family and moved in with a woman from his church.” I was dumbfounded!

A few months later I was at a Francis Schaeffer conference. I rounded a corner in that crowd of over 2,000 and came face to face with Bob. His countenance reflected his agony. We went out for coffee and he recounted the whole mess to me. It had started when he and his wife went too far as teenagers. She got pregnant and they married under pressure. He had always harbored doubts in his mind as to whether she was God’s best for him. Satan used those thoughts as the crack to drive in his wedge—another woman who was “more attractive.”

About three years later I saw Bob at another conference in another part of the state. He was there to counsel with one of the speakers, a well‑known pastor. I’ll never forget the continuing look of devastation on his face. He looked haggard and much older. I hung the memory of his face in the gallery of my mind. I stop and gaze at it whenever I’m tempted to pursue the sin of lust.

A second thing the Lord used to scare me into getting serious about holiness was my responsibility as a father and pastor. Bill Gothard has a helpful diagram showing the “umbrella of protection” which God puts over people through proper channels of authority. He explains that if a father has “holes in his umbrella,” due to sin which hasn’t been dealt with, Satan can get through to those under the father’s charge.

One hot summer day years ago I was pushing our first daughter in her stroller at the shopping mall while my wife was in one of the stores. The women in the mall were dressed (or rather, un-dressed) in native Southern California summer attire. One particularly delectable number walked by, and I found my eyes, true to habit, checking her out. Then I glanced down at our sweet daughter, so innocent in her first year of life. As her father, I would defend her from any foe, human or animal. The Lord stabbed my heart with the thought, “Why are you allowing the worst foe, Satan, access to your daughter through this hole in your umbrella of protection?”

As I reflected on that incident, I broke out in a cold sweat as I realized that not only my family, but the people I pastored would be vulnerable to the enemy if I didn’t clean up my act. You may not be a pastor, but if you’re a Christian, both believers and those outside the faith would be damaged if you fell into sexual sin. The gospel of Christ would be slandered. Realizing how my toleration of lust opened myself and others to spiritual harm scared me. I had to stop messing around with lust!

Admit my sin and weakness

The next part of the battle strategy was to call my sin what it is: Sin! It’s not just a “problem.” It is disobedience to God. I had to put away all of the rationalizations which I had been using to excuse it: “I’m just a normal, red‑blooded American man. My thought‑life isn’t any worse than any other man’s. It’s not hurting anyone. Besides, I’m faithful to my wife.” No, I’m in disobedience to God when I entertain lustful thoughts.

Another rationalization I often used was to think that if I fed my lust a little bit, it would satisfy my appetite so that I wouldn’t need more. But that was like pouring gasoline on a fire. A little bit of lust for me is like one drink for an alcoholic. It just makes me crave more. I had to make a commitment to be a teetotaler.

I’ve had to learn that I never will become invulnerable against lust. I’ve discovered that when I indulge in a particular sin, it makes me more vulnerable to temptation in that sin for the rest of my life. For example, I’ve never taken drugs. You could set a grocery bag of cocaine on my desk, and I wouldn’t have any problem throwing it away. But I know some Christians for whom that would be an incredibly strong temptation, because they have yielded to that sin. Having yielded repeatedly to the sin of lust, I have to recognize that I will never become so strong that lust will just glance off me. Whenever I get to thinking that I’ve finally conquered lust once and for all, I’m in trouble. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

But being vulnerable to lust and yielding to it are not synonymous. I’ll never be free from the temptation, but I can be free from the sin. By constantly recognizing my weakness, I am driven to trust in the Lord, who is my strength. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

Deal with my thought life

One of the convenient things about the sin of lust is that if you’re careful, nobody else knows that you do it. Just make sure you steal your wrongful glances when no one else is watching. Don’t look at the magazine rack in a store where people you know might happen by. With those precautions, you can enjoy your sin and nobody else suspects it.

But that’s like tolerating cracks in a dam. It’s all beneath the surface, where nobody sees it. But sooner or later, the dam will burst and cause a lot of damage. Whenever a man falls into immorality, you can know for sure that he has been tolerating the cracks of mental lust for some time before.

Someone has rightly said, “Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” Lust must be conquered at the thought level.

In the context of talking about mental lust, our Lord said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” (Matt. 5:29). Origen took this literally and castrated himself. That takes care of the sex drive, all right! But I’m not persuaded that that’s what Jesus meant! What He meant is, we need to get radical in dealing with sin! I’ve had to get radical by ruthlessly denying myself the luxury of lustful thoughts.

This means forsaking and confessing any lustful thoughts the moment they occur. Memorizing Scripture, such as 2 Corinthians 10:3‑5, which talks about “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” has helped. That way I can direct my thoughts from the lust to the Lord. I’ve had to guard what I look at in magazines, even weekly news magazines. I try to avoid reading detailed accounts of sexual scandals—even Christian sexual scandals! It’s amazing how I can remember sensual pictures or stories years later, but I have trouble remembering a verse I memorized last week.

I sometimes tear pages out of Newsweek and throw them in the trash, because I can’t read the rest of the magazine without repeatedly looking at the lustful picture. I rarely watch TV or go to movies. I had to throw out a marriage manual because I couldn’t handle the explicit pictures. A few years ago when my office was at home, our teenaged neighbor girls, who were amply endowed by their Creator, were outside my study window in their bikinis washing their car. Between gazes out the window, I was struggling to put together a sermon. I finally got up and pulled the drapes, confessed my sin to the Lord, and was able to finish my sermon.

You may think that pulling drapes, tearing pages out of magazines, throwing away books, and avoiding TV and movies is a bit extreme. So is gouging out your eye. I have to deal radically with my thought life to win the war against lust.

Don’t just pray--obey!

Several years ago I heard about a pastor who had a terrible struggle against lust. He actually rewarded himself for finishing his sermon by going to a porno shop! Concerning his battle against lust, he made the statement, “I cannot tell you why a prayer that has been prayed for ten years is answered on the 1,000th request when God has met the first 999 with silence.”

Now wait a minute! If you think about it, this man is blaming God for his own sin: “I prayed for deliverance, but God didn’t answer. It’s His fault!” That offers no hope to the man struggling with lust: “Keep praying, friend. If you’re lucky, God will catch you before you go over the falls. But maybe not.” Some help that is!

But the Bible never says that the way to deal with lust is to pray about it. It commands me to flee (1 Cor. 6:18). It says that I should cleanse myself from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1). It commands me to walk in the Spirit so that I won’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). Pray, yes! But don’t just pray: Obey!

God puts the active responsibility for obedience in sexual purity on me. Somehow we’ve gotten the mixed‑up idea that actively to deny lust in obedience to the Lord involves the flesh. So we pray for deliverance and go on disobeying as if we can’t help it until that magic moment happens. But Paul never says, “Let go and let God give you victory over lust.” He says, “Run!” He says that the grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires (Titus 2:11‑12). I need to do it and can do it! Otherwise, God wouldn’t command me to do it.

Part of fleeing is guarding myself in advance. I used to play games with this. I would go into a store to look at the news magazines (so I told myself). After a few minutes of doing that, I would find myself thumbing through Playboy or Penthouse, which were always conveniently nearby. (“How could I help it, Lord?”) But now I avoid stores where I could be tempted to browse through sexually explicit magazines. The man in Proverbs 7 wouldn’t have wound up in bed with the loose woman if he hadn’t first gone near the corner where she lived (see Prov. 7:8).

Satisfy my wife

I’ve heard Christian speakers say that one way to guard against sexual sin is to be satisfied with your wife. It’s true that being sexually satisfied with her helps me not to be lured by lust for others. But I’m uncomfortable with the approach which puts the focus on my needs rather than on my responsibility.

My responsibility as a Christian husband is not to satisfy myself, but to satisfy my wife. I’ve found that my sexual satisfaction is the result of seeking to meet her needs on every level—spiritual, emotional, and physical. When I focus on that, she responds and my sexual needs are met.

A lot of men are sexually frustrated in their marriages because they approach sex to meet their own needs. Jesus’ words about seeking your life and losing it and losing your life to find it (Mark 8:35) apply to sex in marriage. If I approach my wife to satisfy my needs, neither of us feels fulfilled. But if I work at pleasing her, then I’m deeply satisfied. The best sexual times for me are when my wife is pleased.

I’ve had to tear down my sexual expectations which were built from Hollywood and Playboy and rebuild them from Scripture. The world promotes my needs above all else. It knows nothing of the self‑sacrifice which our Lord taught. Many Christians have unwittingly bought into this philosophy: “If my wife can’t meet my sexual needs, then I’ll have to meet them some other way. But my needs must be met.” But the Lord’s way is that I am to love my wife sacrificially as Christ loved the church. The blessed irony is that when I work at that, my needs are abundantly met. I can honestly say with gusto, “They have been!”

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “War is a terrible thing. But if you’re going to get into it, you’ve got to get into it all the way.” That’s true in the war against lust. You won’t win by being halfway into it. But if you’ll get into the battle all the way—God’s way, using His strategy—you can win!

Copyright 1996, Steven J. Cole, All Rights Reserved.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Cultural Issues, Hamartiology (Sin), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Marriage, Men's Articles, Sanctification, Sexual Purity, Sexuality, Spiritual Life

Warning: Reading This Column Could Change Your Life!

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When I was 18, a friend asked me what I had been reading lately. I replied, “I don’t read anything that isn’t required to pass a course.” He looked me in the eye and shot back, “If you don’t read, you won’t grow spiritually!”

Wham! His words hit me right between the eyes. I asked him for a recommendation, got started and was hooked. In the 34 years since then, nothing has impacted my spiritual life more than the books I have read.

When the apostle Paul was languishing in prison, he wrote poignantly to Timothy, “When you come bring … the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). The British preacher, Charles Spurgeon observed, “Even an apostle must read. He is inspired, yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for 30 years, yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, yet he wants books! He has had a wider experience than most men, yet he wants books! … He has written the major part of the New Testament, yet he wants books!” I would add, “He is facing imminent execution, yet he wants books!”

Perhaps you would like to read more, but you wonder where to start. Start with the Bible, especially the New Testament. Read it regularly and repeatedly as the primary source for coming to know God and how He wants you to live. To read through the whole Bible in a year will take 20 to 30 minutes per day, depending on how fast you read. Reading the Bible should take precedence over all other reading.

Then, I recommend reading some of the great works from the past. C. S. Lewis told his readers that if they must read only the new or the old (remember, Lewis was “the new”!), he would advise them to read the old (God in the Dock, p. 201). Without a doubt, the greatest book that I have ever read, except the Bible, is John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Although it is over 1,600 pages, I have read it through twice, plus reading some sections numerous times. If reading the whole thing is too daunting, there is a modern English 125-page version titled Biblical Christianity to whet your appetite. Or, try The Golden Booklet of the Christian Life, which is a synopsis of a few chapters from the Institutes on self-denial. In the same vein of reading the classics, if you find it hard to wade through the Old English, there are a number of Puritan classics in modern English, condensed form.

The second area where I have found the most help is reading biographies of great Christians from the past. Don’t bother with the biographies of some modern Christian athlete or movie star. Read the lives of men like Calvin, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Francis Schaeffer. Read missionary biographies of men like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Hudson Taylor, David Livingstone, and Jim Elliot. I always come away with some helpful insights, some inspiring challenge, or a better understanding of myself through reading such books.

Here are a few more tips. First, improve your reading skills. Many people don’t read because they don’t read well. Get a book on how to read better and faster or take a course to improve your skills. It’s the old “sharpen your axe” principle.

Then, set some attainable goals. It’s better to read a few good books than to read many poor ones. I vary my reading between devotional, biographical, and theological. While I find some fiction enjoyable (I like the humor of P. G. Wodehouse and Tom Bodett), generally I haven’t found much spiritual help through fiction. Read with a purpose. If a book isn’t meeting the purpose, set it aside and start another. You don’t have time to waste reading a useless book. I mark my books and write comments in the margins or at the end so that I can come back to them later. I’m always asking others, “What are the best books you’ve ever read?”

One of my seminary professors said, “Two things will have the greatest impact on where you will be at spiritually ten years from now: The books you read and your friends. Choose them carefully!” Through reading, I have made friends with some of the greatest Christians of all time. It has changed my life. Summer is a good time to grab a good book and watch God change your life!

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Education, Christian Life, Discipleship, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Library and Resources, Spiritual Life

Lesson 2: Understanding World Views

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If you’re sincerely seeking God, God will make His existence evident to you. ― William Lane Craig

Introduction

It used to be that most people in America believed there was a God and that the Bible was God’s word. They believed in heaven and hell, even the Apostles Creed or something to close it. Hurdles to the gospel were apathy, lack of personal response, or wrong views of how to get to heaven. Now all that has changed. Many people now don’t believe in God. They don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God. Now people don’t agree on issues of morality and sin and don’t accept the foundational tenets of Christianity. Now, if you try to present the gospel to someone, you’re more likely to have them say, “That’s just your opinion.” Or, “That may be true for you, but not for me.”2 When one is surprised that you believe in the resurrection of Easter or the virgin birth of Christmas it is likely because they are operating with a different world view than you are. The diversity of world views in America and elsewhere is something critical for Christians to understand if the church is to have some positive impact for Christ in our pluralistic world. How does Christianity fit into the larger contexts of other world views? Is there a God? How do we know? Why is there evil and suffering? These are some questions this lesson is going to try to survey.

Christianity/Theism in Worldview Contexts

To start with, it is helpful to try to understand how Christianity fits into a larger context of world views. These large categories of worldviews can be classified into the larger categories of Theism, Pantheism, Naturalism and Pluralism.

Theism is the belief that there is a personal God outside of time and space who created the universe out of nothing and is involved in events (supernaturally). He reveals himself to man through nature and through the Bible (Christians) or the Tanakh = Old Testament (Jews) or the Koran (Muslims). He sets the rules for mankind. And there will be eternal consequences for breaking the rules. Theism allows for the possibility of miracles since God can act in the world. If one denies that God created the universe or that he acts in human history with supernatural events, it is because they have a different world view.

Deism is a form of theism. God created everything, but is no longer involved in creation. Deism stresses God’s transcendence or distance from creation. To illustrate Deism, one can describe creation as a clock. God made the clock, wound it up and started it running according to its design, but in essence left it after that. 3

There are various forms of the world view termed Panthesim. At its core, Panthesim teaches that everything is god: humans, animals, and plants are god. The world is god and god is the world. God is neither personal nor conscious. God is not a “He” but an “It.”4 The universe is one. Everything material is an illusion. Knowledge is getting in touch with the cosmic consciousness. One of the favorite terms you’ll hear from pantheists is “enlightenment.” History is cyclical and men are reincarnated until they realize their own divinity. This world view is the basis for Hinduism, Buddhism, Christian Science, and New Age teaching.5

Naturalism (or Modernism) takes the basic position that there is no God (Atheism), or the position that God’s existence or nonexistence of God cannot be known or that God is unknowable (Agnostism). The emphasis of naturalism is that there is no supernatural. We live in a closed system in which God is not operating and the world and mankind just evolved. People are the product of their environment. Morality is decided by man. Reason and science are the basis of authority and pursued for the good of mankind. There is no purpose to history; it just happens. When you die, you cease to exist. For example, someone who denies the possibility or likelihood of miracles may be operating from a world view of Naturalism.

Pluralism (or Post-Modernism) is sort of a cafeteria style world view. People mix and match various aspects of the other world views as well as blend in new ideas. Generally, they reject the idea of objective truth and no one view may be considered right. People are suspicious and skeptical of authority. They are in search of identity, not from knowledge, but through relationship. They are on a quest for a meaningful community. They seek transcendence or spirituality, but not religion. They express the “knowing smirk” (= Yah right) at anyone who says they know the truth.6 One may encounter pluralism by hearing something like: there are many ways to God; there is no one truth; or even absolute truth itself does not exist.

Increasingly, we as Christians find ourselves in this melting pot of various world views. But let’s move to a basic starting question. Is there a God? And if so, how might we know?

Is there a God?

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion stated, “we are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”7 Another outspoken atheist, Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great stated, “that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”8

But is it true that there no evidence for God? Paul states in Romans: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools (Rom 1:18-22). These verses say that God is known by all or at least certain aspects about God based on the evidence of the created universe, specifically, his eternal power and divine nature. How powerful must a Being be to be able to create something as large and magnificent as the universe? Think about it. The revelation that God has given in creation makes man responsible to God in honoring him as God and giving thanks. The story is told of Napoleon who while on one of his ships at night heard some of the sailors mocking the idea of God’s existence. As he pointed up to the stars he said, “Gentlemen, you must get rid of those first.”9

Yet why do people reject the existence of God? First one has to say that rejection of God is primarily a moral (sin) problem and intellectual arguments will not solve this. If someone does not want to be morally accountable to God, they will not accept even good arguments. The Bible presupposes a belief in God and much of the Bible is defining who the true God is. The very first sentence of the Bible assumes God. “In the beginning God created . . . .” (Gen 1:1). But do we just have to merely accept the existence of God by faith, or is our belief in God based on evidence too? It’s that old debate of presuppositional apologetics versus evidential apologetics again. God gave Moses signs to prove to Israel that God had sent him and to prove to Pharaoh that the God of Israel was the one true God (Exod 4:1-9). Thomas needed evidence for Jesus’ resurrection when he asked to see the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and spear pierced side (John 20:25).

One way to address the issue of God’s existence is to consider some of the basic traditional evidences for God. These represent apologetic arguments that should not be considered absolute proof of God or without counterargument. These evidences, especially when taken together, lead one to believe that the existence of God is more reasonable than the belief that God does not exist. These arguments can be termed and classified as: 1) the cosmological argument, 2) the teleological argument, and 3) the moral argument.

The Evidence for God: The Cosmological Argument

The basic cosmological argument is that everything that exists has a cause, and since the universe exists, it must have had a first cause. Another way to state it is to stress the inception of the universe. If the universe began to exist then the universe has a cause. The universe began to exist. Therefore the universe has a cause.10

Sometimes the counter argument is made that the universe was caused by “chance.” But there are two problems with this: 1) chance can’t cause something; chance is not a being; it is just a mathematical probability and 2) when one looks at the odds (what the chances are), it becomes evident that it is not a probability – it is an impossibility. The “Big Bang” presupposes matter/energy before the “Bang” happened but where did this matter come from? What or who caused this? To try to get around this, some say that the universe is eternal. Carl Sagan said, “The universe is all there is, and was and ever will be.” There are two logical problems with the view that the universe is eternal: 1) Scientists have discovered that the universe is expanding (or moving) and if you go back far enough, the expansion (or moving) had to have started sometime in the past. What started this motion? 2) The “Kalam” argument stresses that the universe had to begin to exist a finite time ago. You can’t get to “now” if you start from infinity because “now” never arrives. Only if you have a finite beginning can you arrive at “now.”11

Therefore, it is reasonable that that first cause must be something outside of time and space (since the universe came into being at some time in the past), immaterial (since the universe is made up of matter), powerful enough to “create” everything and a personal agent. For example consider dominos falling. Each domino falling is caused by the one before it, but you fall into an infinite regress unless you have someone pushing that first domino over. That first event is caused by an “agent,” some being who chose to start the process. What would be an adequate cause for the effect of the creation of the universe? Some Being like the God of the Bible would be that adequate cause.

Related to and part of the cosmological argument are the laws of thermodynamics. Simply, the first law of thermodynamics is also referred to as the conservation of energy. It is an established scientific fact. The law in essence states that energy/matter cannot be created or destroyed in a closed natural system. Therefore, the existence of matter and energy must have come about by a supernatural event or force outside of the system.12 The second law of thermodynamics simple stated is that is energy is becoming less usable. It is also called the law of entropy. It also is an established scientific fact. Things are winding down, becoming more disorderly, the energy is continually being spread out in less and less usable forms. Since the universe contains highly concentrated energy sources (e.g., sun) it cannot be eternal but must have had a beginning.13 And this beginning must have had a cause.

The Evidence for God: The Teleological Argument

The basic teleological argument states that since the world is so complex and so ordered, it had to have been designed/created by some intelligent being. The design points to a designer, a car points to a manufacturer, a watch points to a watchmaker, an I-Phone points to Steve Jobs etc. The universe and everything in it is too complex, orderly, adaptive, apparently purposeful, and/or beautiful to have occurred randomly or accidentally. Therefore, it must have been created by an intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful being. God is that intelligent, wise, and/or purposeful being.14

The Evidence for God: The Moral Argument

The moral argument states that since everyone has conscience and a concept of right and wrong, this must reflect some higher conscience or higher moral absolute. If God does not exist, objectionable moral values do not exist. Objectionable moral values do exist. Therefore, God exists. Paul states, “For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them” (Rom 2:14-15). Here the Bible says that man’s conscience bears the work of the law on it. C.S. Lewis points out that when someone quarrels, they are not just saying that something the other person did displeases only them. They are appealing to some standard of behavior that says what that other person did was wrong. Where does this sense of fairness come from?15 If survival of the fittest is the evolutionary law of nature why should not stronger nations commit genocide against weaker nations? Why would this be morally wrong?

These three apologetics evidences strongly suggest that belief in a powerful personal God has a reasonable basis to it. One might add that most people in history have been persuaded by the evidence seen in creation to believe in God in some fashion. While these are valid evidences for the existence of God, there are objections. The very existence of evil is sometimes presented as a major objection to the existence of God.

Why is there Evil and Suffering?

If God is good and God is all-powerful then how can there be evil in the world? It may be claimed that since there is evil, there must not be a God. Or if there is a God, he must not be good or he must not be all-powerful. This problem is also called theodicy and constitutes one of the major objections to God’s existence. But there is no logical fallacy in that statement of the problem of evil and the existence of a good God. All of the following statement can be true. God is good. God is all-powerful. God created the world. The world contains evil. Where is the contradiction? What they really mean is this: God is good. God is all-powerful. God created the world. The world shouldnt contain evil. However, the idea, that the world should not contain evil is just an assumption on their part. One could also respond that objective evil presupposes objective good. It has been said, “Shadows prove the existence of sunshine.” Some additional responses to theodicy can be summarized as follows:

1) Necessary for free-will to work. If it was impossible to disobey God, then we’d never have to choose to obey. We would be like robots. One could also supplement this: for true love to exist it must be reciprocal with a choice made by both parties freely. For those of you who are married, do you want to be married to someone who chooses to be married to you or to someone who was forced to (due to no choice of their own)?

2) Necessary for human spiritual growth. If there are no dangers, difficulties or disappointments in life, how can we gain character traits such as patience or endurance? C.S. Lewis rightly described that pain is God’s megaphone that rouses the ear of a deaf world. When are the times people have grown closest to God? Are they the good times or the hard times? Are they the times of feasting or the times of mourning? James stated: “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything” (Jas 1:2-4).

3) Necessary to promote the greater good and Gods glory. The chief purpose of life is to glorify and know God. It is not human happiness! God’s role is not to make life comfortable for us. However, if we recognize that the evil, which causes human suffering, is leading people to know God, then there is a greater good. There is a good example of this in John’s gospel when Lazarus, Jesus’ friend gets sick and dies. “When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’”
(John 11:4).

4) Temporal suffering compared to eternal glory. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul compares the suffering of this life with the eternal weight of glory. Compared to eternity with God the sufferings of this world are a “slight, momentary affliction.” This perspective is critical for Christians who are undergoing suffering.

5) It is too complicated for us to understand. Even if we can see some possible purpose in some evil/suffering, there are events which we can’t understand and we just have to recognize that we are finite creatures who can’t know God’s purpose in allowing those things.

Jesus summarized an important lesson when considering situations of evil and suffering. Luke 13 reads, “Now there were some present on that occasion who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. He answered them, ‘Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered these things? No, I tell you! But unless you repent, you will all perish as well! Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you! But unless you repent you will all perish as well!’” (Luke 13:1-5). First, notice that two different types of situations of evil and suffering are presented. The first one refers to moral evil in which Pilate governor of Judea had killed some Galileans. Why they were killed is not known. In the second case, a tower had fallen apparently accidently and killed 18 people. One might call this a natural evil or disaster. The Jewish people might have been asking the question from a theological perspective concerning why this happened. They came to the conclusion that it was because these people who died were sinners. But consider Jesus’ point. He basically says you are all sinners and unless you repent you will perish as well. In other words, do not focus so much on why these evil events occurred but focus on your own relationship with God to make sure it is right.

Summary Thoughts

Sin and evil are not things created by God. They are a deprivation of things created by God. Just like darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat, evil is really the absence of good. This was one of Augustine’s arguments.16 The Bible says: God created the world and it was good (Gen 1). However, man sinned and brought sin and suffering into the world (Gen 3). God is in the process of eradicating sin, suffering and Satan and all this will happen in his perfect timing (Rev 20-22). The apostle John writes, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist . . . He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist anymore – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist (Rev 21:1, 4).”

Discussion Questions

  1. How could one begin to share the gospel with someone who does not believe the Bible?
  2. How did Paul adjust his gospel presentation to the Athenians who did not accept the Jewish Scriptures (Acts 17)? Is there a lesson there for us today?
  3. What convinces you that God really exists?
  4. Does evolution contradict the Bible? Does it allow for a denial of the existence of God?
  5. How would you answer the question of why God allows natural disasters and moral evil in the world?
  6. Should American society have a theistic worldview in governmental matters, for example having “In God we trust” on US money?

1 This lesson is an abbreviated formation of a series entitled “Understanding World Views” (http://bible.org/series/understanding-world-views) Hampton Keathley IV, which was edited and modified by James F. Davis.

2 See Jim Keller, The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World. Audio message from desiringgod.org.

3 Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 151-171.

4 Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 184-185, 193.

5 Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 151-171.

6 Graham Johnston, Preaching to a Post-Modern World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 26.

7 Richard Dawkins, http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/117 (Date accessed Nov 5, 2012).

8 Christopher Hitchens, http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/12042-that-which-can-be-asserted-without-evidence-can-be-dismissed (Accessed Nov 5, 2012).

9 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/newell/romans.ii.htm (Accessed Nov 7, 2012).

10 Norman Geisler, Philosophy of Religion (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), 172.

11 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalam_cosmological_argument (Date accessed March 5, 2013).

12 See Jeff Miller, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=9&article=2106 (Date accessed March 5, 2013).

13 See Jeff Miller, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=9&article=2106 (Date accessed March 5, 2013).

14 Based largely on Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleological_argument (Date accessed March 5, 2013).

15 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (The McMillian Company, New York, 1960), 17-18.

16 Augustine states, “For evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name evil.” Augustine, City of God, 11.9.

Related Topics: Apologetics, Basics for Christians, Cultural Issues, Engage, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Worldview

Why God Is Not Fair

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Doesn’t it make you mad when something is unfair—especially if you are on the receiving end? Recently I applied for a new health insurance policy. The company accepted me but charged me a higher rate because of my allergy problems.

The application never asked whether I smoked or how much (I’ve never smoked). They didn’t ask if I regularly down a six-pack and then get behind the wheel (I don’t drink at all). They never bothered to inquire whether I eat properly and exercise regularly (I do).

So some guy who smokes two packs a day, drives when drunk, eats junk food and never exercises could get the standard rate. But because I have hay fever, I have to pay more. I cried, “UNFAIR!”

We all want to be treated fairly. Most of us figure that if we do our best, God will deal with us fairly on judgment day. But Jesus taught that God does not operate according to our notion of what is fair.

In Matthew 20, Jesus told a story about a man who owned a vineyard. Early in the morning he hired some workers. He agreed to pay them the going rate for a day’s wage, so they started working. About nine o’clock, he found some more workers and told them he would pay them a fair wage, so they went to work. The same thing happened at noon and again at three in the afternoon. Finally, at five in the afternoon he found some more men standing idle, hired them and sent them into his vineyard.

At sundown, he called his foreman and ordered him to pay all the workers, beginning with those hired last. For their hour or so of work, they received the full day’s wage. So did everyone else, including the ones hired early in the morning. Everyone received a full day’s wage, no matter how long they had worked.

Those who had worked all day grumbled. They didn’t think it was fair that they got paid the same as those who had only worked an hour. They thought they should get more.

But the owner of the vineyard said, “What’s your gripe? You got the day’s wage we agreed on. If I want to give the same wage to someone who didn’t work as long as you, that’s my business.”

The main point is that God doesn’t operate on the merit system as we think he should. God deals with us according to His free grace. As Paul explains, “For it is by his grace you are saved [delivered from God’s judgment], through trusting him; it is not your own doing. It is God’s gift, not a reward for work done. There is nothing for anyone to boast of” (Ephesians 2:8, 9; New English Bible).

Just over a century ago, a man named Shamel was the leader of a guerilla group fighting against the Czarist regime in Russia. The unity of his group was threatened by a rash of stealing amongst the members, which included the soldiers’ families. So Shamel imposed a penalty of 100 lashes for anyone caught stealing.

Not long after that, Shamel’s own mother was caught stealing. He didn’t know what to do. He loved his mother and didn’t want her to suffer, but he also knew he had to uphold his law or anarchy and infighting would ruin his army. He shut himself in his tent for three days, agonizing over what to do.

Finally he made up his mind: For the sake of the law and the whole society, his mother must pay the penalty. But before three blows had fallen on her back, Shamel had his real and final solution. He removed his mother and he himself took her place. The full price had to be paid, but he bore the penalty she deserved. His law stood, but his love prevailed.

Even if you’re a pretty good person, one who has been at work in the vineyard since early morning, you’ve violated God’s holy law. You’ve got sin that must be paid for. Maybe the guy coming in at five in the afternoon has more sin than you. But if God is just, both men’s sin must be paid for. Either you pay (the merit system), or God pays (the grace system). God’s grace doesn’t seem fair to the self-righteous, but for those who recognize how undeserving they are, it is truly wonderful!

Related Topics: Cultural Issues, Devotionals, Soteriology (Salvation), Terms & Definitions

Women In The Church: What Can They Do Or Not Do?

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This article is the affirmation of the pastor and elders of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship, Flagstaff Arizona as related to women's roles in the church. It concludes with the Danvers statement by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW, Wheaton, Illinois 1988).

Steven J. Cole and FCF Elders

February, 1996 (Revised)

The issue of women’s roles in the church is complicated and emotionally charged. These comments are only a brief synopsis of some of the issues. As elders, we affirm the rationale, purposes and affirmations of The Danvers Statement (see below, or go to: http://www.cbmw.org/about/danvers.html). Below are some specific questions and our understanding of how Scripture applies to each. Our goal is to honor God and His Word, while avoiding both a legalistic approach and compromise with the worldly influences threatening to undermine God’s unchanging truth.

1. Can women serve as elders or pastors over men?

The clear biblical answer is, No. See 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9 (qualifications for elders, which clearly are framed with men in view: “husband of one wife,” “manages his household well,” etc.). Also, 1 Cor. 11:3-16 clearly presents the hierarchy: God, Christ, man, woman, which applies both to the church and the home. Since elders/pastors both teach and exercise authority, 1 Tim. 2:11-15 prohibits women from occupying this office (the reasons given in that text are not culturally determined). There are no NT examples of women elders or pastors serving over men.

2. Can women serve as deacons, especially if their area of service puts them over men?

Clearly, deacons serve under elders. If elders are male, then men are ultimately in authority. 1 Tim. 3:11 is ambiguous: Does it refer to elders’ wives, deacons’ wives, or to women deacons? We can’t be dogmatic, but in light of Rom. 16:1 (Phoebe, a “deacon” [servant] of the church), it seems permissible for women to serve as deacons. It would seem best, generally, to have women deacons in ministries where they are leading other women. If they do serve over men, if questions requiring authority arise, they should be deferred to the elder(s) over the deacon.

3. Can women serve as ushers?

There is no NT reference to such a ministry. The question is, Does ushering involve any exercise of authority? We cannot see how it does, unless it comes to the function of being sergeant-at-arms in dealing with a disruptive person. But clearly, male ushers or other men present would take on that role. Passing the offering plate or communion elements is not exercising any authority. It could be argued that it models male passivity if there are not enough men to fill the job. But aside from that, we see no problem with women helping out.

4. Can women lead the communion service or baptize?

In our thinking, this involves a position of corporate leadership that should be reserved for men when men are present (1 Cor. 11).

5. Can women take the lead in corporate worship services?

We believe it is desirable for men to take the lead in public worship. This pictures the divinely instituted order (1 Cor. 11:3). There are not many examples of women leading in worship in Scripture (not all of the following apply, but are listed for study reference): Exod. 15:20, 21; Judges 5; Ps. 68:11; Luke 2:36-38; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5; 14:26, 34; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16. We encourage women to participate in worship services (testimony, praise, music, etc.) as long as they are not usurping authority or behaving in a domineering manner. We also see no violation of Scripture to have a woman (or women) planning the order of worship as long as she is submissive to male leadership and doesn’t plan anything that violates the biblical emphasis.

Since our worship style requires some musical ability, if there is no man with such ability to provide leadership, we recommend finding a man who can at least lead in vocals and give verbal direction to the overall process, even if he can’t play the instruments. This models male leadership, which seems to be clearly the biblical picture.

6. Can women teach men in situations like Precept, adult Sunday School, Agape Families? Could a woman fill the pulpit for a single Sunday morning? What about women teaching boys in Sunday School?

The biblical intent and standard is clearly male leadership in the church. We recognize that there are exceptional cases, both in Scripture (Deborah, Huldah, etc.) and in church history (women missionaries, visionary leaders like Henrietta Mears, etc.). But exceptions are exceptions, not the rule. God’s plan is for male leadership in the church and home. This includes the role of teaching Scripture when men are present.

In the NT, most of the church meetings took place in homes. Thus there wasn’t a distinction between Sunday morning worship (when the whole body gathered) and Sunday School, Sunday evening, mid-week, home fellow­ships, etc. Thus, as we would apply the NT emphasis on women not being permitted to teach men (1 Tim. 2:12), it would seem to apply to these situations as well. Can a woman, in a home fellowship or adult S.S. class, share an insight from Scripture the Lord has given her? We don’t see any problem with this. But formally teaching Scripture or doctrine to a class that includes men would seem to violate this text.

Teaching various methods (such as how to witness, do Bible study, teach, counsel, etc.), seems to be a gray area, since often there are pertinent doctrinal issues related to such methods. Also, we should derive our methods from the Bible, so to teach any method properly it’s necessary to teach the Bible, which women are prohibited from doing with men. We would be comfortable with a couple team-teaching some of these things, with the husband taking the lead in explaining doctrinal issues, and the wife contributing her insights into methods or people-skills.

As far as women teaching boys in Sunday School, the problem seems to grow in proportion to the age of the boys. We would prefer men teaching in the older classes (jr. high and up), since it better models masculine spirituality and leadership for our children. Even in the younger ages, it would be good if a couple could work together. Otherwise we send the non-verbal message to kids that religion is for women. So our goal ought to be to encourage men to be involved in teaching our kids at every level.

The Danvers Statement

The "Danvers Statement" summarizes the need for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and serves as an overview of our core beliefs. This statement was prepared by several evangelical leaders at a CBMW meeting in Danvers, Massachusetts, in December of 1987. It was first published in final form by the CBMW in Wheaton, Illinois in November of 1988.

Rationale:

We have been moved in our purpose by the following contemporary developments which we observe with deep concern:

  1. The widespread uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity;
  2. The tragic effects of this confusion in unraveling the fabric of marriage woven by God out of the beautiful and diverse strands of manhood and womanhood;
  3. The increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives;
  4. The widespread ambivalence regarding the values of motherhood, vocational homemaking, and the many ministries historically performed by women;
  5. The growing claims of legitimacy for sexual relationships which have Biblically and historically been considered illicit or perverse, and the increase in pornographic portrayal of human sexuality;
  6. The upsurge of physical and emotional abuse in the family;
  7. The emergence of roles for men and women in church leadership that do not conform to Biblical teaching but backfire in the crippling of Biblically faithful witness;
  8. The increasing prevalence and acceptance of hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts;
  9. The consequent threat to Biblical authority as the clarity of Scripture is jeopardized and the accessibility of its meaning to ordinary people is withdrawn into the restricted realm of technical ingenuity;
  10. And behind all this the apparent accommodation of some within the church to the spirit of the age at the expense of winsome, radical Biblical authenticity which in the power of the Holy Spirit may reform rather than reflect our ailing culture.

Purposes:

Recognizing our own abiding sinfulness and fallibility, and acknowledging the genuine evangelical standing of many who do not agree with all of our convictions, nevertheless, moved by the preceding observations and by the hope that the noble Biblical vision of sexual complementarity may yet win the mind and heart of Christ's church, we engage to pursue the following purposes:

  1. To study and set forth the Biblical view of the relationship between men and women, especially in the home and in the church.
  2. To promote the publication of scholarly and popular materials representing this view.
  3. To encourage the confidence of lay people to study and understand for themselves the teaching of Scripture, especially on the issue of relationships between men and women.
  4. To encourage the considered and sensitive application of this Biblical view in the appropriate spheres of life.
  5. And thereby
  • to bring healing to persons and relationships injured by an inadequate grasp of God's will concerning manhood and womanhood,
  • to help both men and women realize their full ministry potential through a true understanding and practice of their God-given roles,
  • and to promote the spread of the gospel among all peoples by fostering a Biblical wholeness in relationships that will attract a fractured world.

Affirmations:

Based on our understanding of Biblical teachings, we affirm the following:

1. Both Adam and Eve were created in God's image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood (Gen 1:26-27, 2:18).

2. Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14).

3. Adam's headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin (Gen 2:16-18, 21-24, 3:1-13; 1 Cor 11:7-9).

4. The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women (Gen 3:1-7, 12, 16).

  • In the home, the husband's loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife's intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.
  • In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.

5. The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, manifests the equally high value and dignity which God attached to the roles of both men and women (Gen 1:26-27, 2:18; Gal 3:28). Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community (Gen 2:18; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Tim 2:11-15).

6. Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.

  • In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands' authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands' leadership (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7).
  • In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).

7. In all of life Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission-domestic, religious, or civil-ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin (Dan 3:10-18; Acts 4:19-20, 5:27-29; 1 Pet 3:1-2).

8. In both men and women a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside Biblical criteria for particular ministries (1 Tim 2:11-15, 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9). Rather, Biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God's will.

9. With half the world's population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world (1 Cor 12:7-21).

10. We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.

We grant permission and encourage interested persons to use, reproduce, and distribute the Danvers Statement.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Pastors, Women

John

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This 108-part expository study of the gospel of John was preached at Flagstaff Christian Fellowship from 2013-2015. Audio and manuscripts are available for each lesson.

Related Topics: Christology, Gospels, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 1: The Nature and Purpose of John’s Gospel (John 20:30-31)

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February 17, 2013

I’ve often said that the most crucial question that any person needs to answer correctly is the one that Jesus asked His disciples (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” On that occasion, Peter by divine revelation answered (Matt. 16:16), “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

If Jesus is who the Bible portrays Him to be and who He claimed to be—the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God—then the only sensible response is to trust Him as your Savior from sin and judgment and to follow Him as your Lord. If He is not who the Bible portrays Him to be, then you’re wasting your time being a Christian, because you’re following a fictional character. “Who do you say that I am?” is the crucial question in life!

The apostle John was perhaps thinking of Peter’s confession when he told us why he wrote his gospel (John 20:30-31): “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

John is not trying to persuade you to believe in some general notions about Jesus, such as, He was a good man, a great teacher, or even a prophet of God. John wants you to believe specifically that Jesus is the Christ—the Jewish Messiah (Anointed One)—who was prophesied of in the Old Testament. And he wants you to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, which means, He is God in human flesh (5:18-29). The pinnacle of faith in John’s gospel is when Thomas sees the risen Jesus and proclaims (20:28), “My Lord and My God!”

John wants us to know that in Jesus, we see the unseen God. In John 1:14, John declares of Jesus, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In 1:18 he adds, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Or, as Jesus tells Philip (14:9), “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

So John wants his readers to know who Jesus is and to believe in Him as He is. The result of believing in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, is that you will have life in His name. By “life,” John means “eternal life.” Since the alternative to eternal life is eternal judgment, it is crucial that you know who Jesus is and that you put your trust in Him as Savior and Lord.

I’m going to use John’s purpose for writing as the framework to give an overview of the book. There are thousands of pages of background information on John, which I encourage you to read if you want more depth and detail. Here, I’m going to limit our study to this statement:

The Gospel of John is a selective, symbolic, eyewitness account of the person and ministry of Jesus, written so that you may believe in Him as the Christ, the Son of God, and thus have life in His name.

There are many different ways to outline John’s gospel, but here is a broad outline that gives the flow of the text:

1. 1:1-18: Prologue: The Son of God, the object of belief: “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us” (1:14).

2. 1:19-12:50: Testimony for belief in the Son of God: “We have found the Messiah” (1:41).

A. 1:19-4:54: Initial belief in the Son of God

B. 5:1-12:50: Subsequent unbelief in the Son of God

3. 13:1-17:26: The teaching of the Son of God for His followers: “He loved them to the end” (13:1).

4. 18:1-19:42: The tragedy of unbelief in the Son of God: “We have no king but Caesar” (19:15).

5. 20:1-31: The triumph of the Son of God: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).

6. 21:1-25: Epilogue: The restoration of Peter and the role of John: “Tend My sheep” (21:17).

Many authors mention that the Gospel of John is like a pool in which both a child can wade and an elephant can swim. It is both simple and profound. On one level, a child can understand and respond to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” But on another level, scholars have written articles and even books that grapple with some of the issues in John. So wherever you’re at spiritually there will be something for you in John. If you’ve never investigated who Jesus is or put your trust in Him, John writes for you so that you will believe and have eternal life. If you’re a new Christian, there is much in John to strengthen your faith. And if you’ve been a Christian for many years, there are deep pools for you to dive into.

1. The Gospel of John is a selective account of the person and ministry of Jesus.

Maybe you’ve wondered why we have four gospels rather than one. None of the four are what we would call biographies of Jesus (in the sense of covering all of His life from birth to death), but rather are selective and interpretive accounts of His person and ministry. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic (presenting the same view) gospels, because they have much that is similar, although each has a different slant. Matthew, one of the twelve, wrote primarily to Jews, emphasizing that Jesus Christ is the King of Israel. Mark, the shortest gospel, probably wrote from Rome under Peter’s influence. He emphasizes Jesus as the Son of Man who came to serve and give His life a ransom for many (10:45). Luke (the longest book in the New Testament by volume) was written by a physician and a co-worker with the apostle Paul, who also wrote the Book of Acts. His gospel is aimed at Gentiles and emphasizes Jesus Christ’s humanity.

But John has 93 percent original material in comparison to the synoptics (Edwin Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books], ed. by John F. Walvoord & Roy Zuck, 2:269). As we’ve seen (20:30), John acknowledges that there were “many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.” John ends his gospel by stating (21:25), “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” So John is selective. Most scholars think that he wrote his gospel sometime in the 80’s or early 90’s A.D., and so he most likely knew about the other gospels and did not feel the need to duplicate what they had written.

John begins in eternity, identifying Jesus as God and Creator (1:1-3). He omits many important things that the other gospels contain. There is no mention of Jesus’ birth, His baptism, or His temptation. There is no list of the twelve disciples. There are no stories of Jesus casting out demons and no parables (except perhaps 10:1-6). John tells us that he saw Jesus’ glory (1:14), but he doesn’t mention the transfiguration, even though he was one of the three eyewitnesses. He includes Jesus’ promise that He is preparing a place for us in heaven and that He will return for us (14:1-3), but he omits Jesus’ lengthy prophetic discourses. John gives us the longest and most detailed account of events in the Upper Room on the night Jesus was betrayed, but he never mentions the Lord’s Supper. He doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ agony in the garden, although from John we learn that it was Peter who whacked off Malchus’ ear. And, although John records the risen Jesus telling Mary to tell the disciples that He will ascend to the Father (20:17), there is no account of Jesus’ ascension.

Some of the features that are unique to John include his direct assertion that Jesus is the eternal God who created all things (1:2, 3). He alone says that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God (3:16, 18). John tells us of the first miracle of turning the water into wine (2:1-11). He alone includes the interviews with Nicodemus and the woman at the well (3 & 4). He tells us of Jesus’ healing the nobleman’s son (4:46-54), the lame man by the pool of Bethesda (5:1-15), and the man born blind (9:1-41). John alone records Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44). John tells us of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet (13:1-20) and of His teaching in the Upper Room, where He gives the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit (14-16). John records the longest prayer of Jesus (17). He tells us of Thomas’ doubts (20:24-29) and of the disciples’ encounter with the risen Lord on the beach in Galilee (21). John carefully chose all these events and much more to give us this selective insider’s portrait of our Savior.

2. The Gospel of John is a symbolic account of the person and ministry of Jesus.

John is full of symbolic language that makes you stop and think about the deeper meaning of what he is saying. This does not mean that John bends the historical truth into fiction for the sake of his story. What John reports actually happened (21:24), but there is often a deeper significance behind the historical facts. Rather than referring to Jesus’ “miracles” or “wonders” (terms the other gospel writers use), John calls them “signs,” as we saw in 20:30: “many other signs Jesus also performed.” A sign points to something beyond itself. John wants us to perceive the deeper meaning behind the miracle itself.

Out of hundreds that he could have chosen, John picked seven signs, not counting Jesus’ resurrection and the miraculous post-resurrection catch of fish (21:1-14): (1) Changing the water into wine (2:1-11); (2) Healing the nobleman’s son (4:46-54); (3) Healing the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda (5:1-9); (4) Feeding the 5,000 (6:1-14); (5) Walking on the water (6:16-21); (6) Healing the man born blind (9:1-12); and, (7) Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-46).

In at least three of these miracles, we don’t have to guess as to their significance, because Jesus tells us. After He feeds the 5,000, Jesus proclaims (6:35), “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Before opening the eyes of the man born blind, Jesus asserts (8:12), “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Before He raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told Martha (11:25), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.”

By the way, these are three of seven “I am” claims that Jesus makes in John. The others are, “I am the door of the sheep” (10:7); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (14:6); and, “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). In each case we need to think about the symbolism of what Jesus is saying about Himself and how it relates to us.

John also uses a number of key words that have symbolic significance. John wrote so that you may have life in Jesus’ name (20:31). Life is in Jesus (1:4) and He Himself is the life (11:25; 14:6). Related to that is the concept of the new birth, which Jesus presents to Nicodemus (3:3-7). Physical life is a picture of the spiritual life that Jesus came to give to those who believe in Him. The opposite is that those who do not possess new life in Jesus are spiritually dead. They need Jesus’ resurrection power to receive life.

Another symbolic picture is that of light and darkness. John says (1:4) that the life in Jesus “was the Light of men.” Jesus is “the true Light” (1:9). He is (8:12) “the Light of the world.” But (3:19) “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” Jesus proclaimed (12:46), “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” When Judas left the Upper Room to betray Jesus, John was obviously reporting more than the time of day when he adds (13:30), “and it was night.” And yet oddly, John does not mention the three hours of darkness as Jesus hung on the cross (Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44)!

Another key symbolic word is world, which occurs 78 times in John. John 1:10 states, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” In the first two uses, it refers to the earth and all that is in it, including the people. But in the third instance, it carries the nuance of sinful people who rejected Jesus. These people are under the dominion of Satan, “the ruler of this world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In this sense, the world hates both Jesus and His disciples (7:7; 15:18; 16:20). “World” can also refer to the people of the world in general, as when John states (3:16) that “God so loved the world,” or when the Pharisees express their frustration (12:19), “the world has gone after Him.” Jesus asks the Father (17:15) not to take His followers “out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one,” adding (17:16), “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

There are a number of other key words that John repeats for emphasis to make us think about their significance. John uses witness 14 times as a noun and 33 times as a verb (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 89), while the other gospels combined only use the noun four times and the verb twice. He begins by saying (1:7) that John (the Baptist; this gospel always calls him simply “John”) “came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.” (See also, 1:8, 15, 19, 32, 34; 3:26; 5:33.) There are seven witnesses to Jesus Christ in this gospel (Morris, p. 90): (1) the Father; (2) Christ Himself; (3) the Holy Spirit; (4) Jesus’ works; (5) the Scriptures; (6) John the Baptist; and, (7) a variety of human witnesses, such as the disciples, the Samaritan woman, and the multitude. These witnesses establish the truth, another key concept that John hammers on (25 times, over against once in Matthew and 3 times each in Mark and Luke; Morris, 294).

Two further concepts that have significance due to their repetition are that Jesus was sent (33 times referring to Jesus’ mission from God) to this earth by the Father to do His will at the appointed hour (12 times with reference to the cross). He told the disciples (4:34), “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” He emphasized to the unbelieving Jews that the Father had sent Him and that His works testified to that fact (5:23, 24, 30, 36, 37, 38). But although these evil men refused to believe in Jesus and finally succeeded in killing Him, John emphasizes that it was all done in accordance with the Father’s sovereign timetable. When the hostile Jews sought to seize Jesus, they could not do so, “because His hour had not yet come” (7:30; 8:20). But as the crucifixion drew near, Jesus proclaimed (12:23), “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

If time permitted, I could also comment on other significant words, such as “flesh and spirit,” “love and hate,” and “knowledge and know.” I’ll comment on the key word “believe” in a moment. So John is both selective and symbolic.

3. The Gospel of John is an eyewitness account of the person and ministry of Jesus.

John (20:30) states, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples….” John himself was an eyewitness to these events that he reports, plus many others whom John knew. This establishes the truth of these events. It’s not surprising that liberals dispute that John wrote John, just as they dispute that Paul wrote many of his epistles. J. Vernon McGee (John [Thru the Bible Books], pp. 5-6) in his humorous manner says that he took a class in seminary on the authorship of John. The professor finally concluded the course by saying that he thought John was the author. A wag in the class said, “Well, I believed John wrote it before I started the class and I believe it now; so I just wasted the semester!”

You can read many pages of arguments on the issue, which I don’t have time to recount here. Suffice it to say that there is credible internal and external evidence that John the apostle wrote the Gospel of John. The internal evidence refers to the many indicators in the book itself that it was written by an eyewitness and that the eyewitness was John, who refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (21:20, 24). The external evidence refers to the early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria, who attest that John wrote this gospel. Irenaeus said that in his early days he used to sit in Polycarp’s house and listen to him tell about his talks with John and others who had seen the Lord. So when Irenaeus declares categorically that after the other Gospels were written, John also wrote his while living in Ephesus, it’s pretty solid evidence that John wrote John (Everett Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament [Eerdmans], pp. 207-208). Finally,

4. The Gospel of John is written so that you may believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and thus have life in His name.

John wants you to believe, not in generalities, but in specific, true content: that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God so that you will have eternal life in all that He is (His “name”). But John makes it clear that the proper response to the truth about Jesus is not automatic. In spite of the strong evidence, people divide over Jesus. Even after He raised Lazarus from the dead, many believed, but others went away to the Pharisees to report on what Jesus had done, with the result that they increased their efforts to kill Him (11:45-53). The raising of Lazarus clearly proved that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, but that didn’t stop the Pharisees from wanting to kill Him! Sin is not rational!

John uses the verb, believe, 98 times, but strangely he never uses the noun. For John, faith must have content that is true. You must believe certain truths about Jesus. But faith is also personal commitment to the person of Jesus Christ, where you enter into a relationship with Him. To believe in Jesus is to trust Him as your Savior and Lord and walk in obedience to His commands. As we’ll see, it’s possible to have a superficial belief in Jesus that does not result in eternal life (2:23-25; 8:31-59).

For John belief in Jesus is both initial and ongoing as a person learns more about who Jesus is. The disciples initially believed in Jesus when they first met Him, based on the testimony of John the Baptist (1:7, 49-50). But they also believed when they saw Jesus perform His first miracle, turning the water into wine (2:11). But they (11:15; see, also, 13:19; 14:1, 10, 11, 29; 16:27, 30-31) and Martha (11:27, 40) still needed to believe before they saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. Yet John reports that when he went into the empty tomb and saw Jesus’ grave clothes, he believed (20:8). Obviously, Thomas had believed in Jesus before the resurrection, but his faith was shaken by the crucifixion. He had to see the risen Savior so that he would not “be unbelieving, but believing” (20:27).

Conclusion

So the first crucial question is, “Who do you say that Jesus is?” After you’ve answered it, the second crucial question is, “Have you believed in Him so that you have eternal life?” If not, why not? If so, you still need to believe further in Him as you get to know more of who He is. Ask God to reveal more of Jesus to your heart as we study the Gospel of John.

Application Questions

  1. Some skeptics say that if they saw a miracle, they would believe. Yet some saw Jesus raise Lazarus and still did not believe. How do you explain this? How would you respond to the skeptic?
  2. Postmodernists undermine the notion that there is absolute truth and that we can know it. How would you counter this? Why is it important to counter it?
  3. Why is the true identity of Jesus “the crucial question”? What implications flow from this question?
  4. How can a person know that he/she has eternal life? Use Scripture to frame your answer.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Faith, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 2: Jesus: Revealer of God (John 1:1-5)

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February 24, 2013

In the movie, Ben Hur, Ben Hur had been imprisoned by the Romans and was being taken to a galley ship where he would be forced to row. He was tired and thirsty and had dropped to the ground from exhaustion. He cried out, “God, help me!”

At that moment Jesus (the film never showed His face, but only His back) reached down to give him a drink. When the Roman soldier in charge saw this, he yelled at Jesus to leave the man alone and raised his whip. Jesus turned and looked at the soldier, who stood there immobilized in awe as he looked at Jesus’ face (which the camera did not show). He lowered his whip and turned away. The effect that the film wanted to convey is that an encounter with Jesus Christ would stun and perhaps even soften the hardest of men.

John begins his Gospel by stunning us with his description of Jesus Christ. He never mentions Jesus’ name until verse 17, but it becomes clear right away that he is talking about Jesus. Rather than beginning with the story of His birth, John confronts us with His deity in eternity. Moses begins Genesis (1:1) by confronting us with the majesty of God, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In the same way, John 1:1 confronts us with the majesty of Jesus Christ, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John wants us to stand in awe of Jesus as God and as the One who reveals the unseen God to us, just as a word reveals an unseen thought.

It is foundational to the Christian faith and crucial to your personal faith that you understand and embrace the truth that Jesus Christ is fully God. Bishop Moule once stated (source unknown), “A Savior not quite God is a bridge broken at the farther end.” John Mitchell put it (An Everlasting Love [Multnomah Press], pp. 13, 14), “If Jesus is not God, then we are sinners without a Savior…. If Jesus were only a man, then He died for His own sins. And we are still in our sins. We have no hope.” In order to reconcile sinful people to the holy God, Jesus must be God in human flesh. John skillfully presents this in the prologue (1:1-18) of his Gospel. Colin Kruse (John [IVP Academic], pp. 59-60) points out:

The Prologue … introduces the main themes that are to appear throughout the Gospel: Jesus’ pre-existence (1:1a/ 17:5), Jesus’ union with God (1:1c/8:58; 10:30; 20:28), the coming of life in Jesus (1:4a/5:26; 6:33; 10:10; 11:25-26; 14:6), the coming of light in Jesus (1:4b, 9/3:19; 8:12; 12:46), the conflict between light and darkness (1:5/ 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46), believing in Jesus (1:7, 12/2:11; 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24; 6:69; 11:25; 14:1; 16:27; 17:21; 20:25), the rejection of Jesus (1:10c, 11/4:44; 7:1; 8:59; 10:31; 12:37-40; 15:18), divine regeneration (1:13/3:1-7), the glory of Jesus (1:14/12:41; 17:5, 22, 24), the grace and truth of God in Jesus (1:14, 17/4:24; 8:32; 14:6; 17:17; 18:38), Jesus and Moses/the law (1:17/1:45; 3:14; 5:46; 6:32; 7:19; 9:29), only Jesus has seen God (1:18/6:46), and Jesus’ revelation of the Father (1:18/3:34; 8:19, 38; 12:49-50; 14:6-11; 17:8).

Kruse compares the Prologue in John to a foyer in a theater, where you can see various scenes from the drama that you are about to see inside. Kruse and several other writers point out a chiastic structure in the prologue, with the center of it on verses 12 & 13, which is the central theme of John, that when we believe in Jesus we are born of God and become children of God. But today we have to limit ourselves to 1:1-5, where John shows us that…

Jesus Christ is the eternal Word, the Creator of everything, who reveals the life and light of God to this dark world.

We cannot know God, who (1 Tim. 6:16) “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see,” unless He chooses to reveal Himself to us. John’s point is that God has revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

1. Jesus is the eternal Word of God (1:1-2).

John 1:1-2: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” We need to be clear on what John is affirming here, because it is foundational for the Christian faith. Four things:

A. Jesus is eternal.

“In the beginning,” as I said, takes us back to Genesis 1:1, when God created the heavens and the earth. The verb “was” indicates that at the beginning of the universe, the Word already was in existence. John wants us to see that he is writing about a new creation that centers in the eternal Word, who is also the Creator of all things (1:3). Both statements (Gen. 1:1 & John 1:1) don’t let you debate the question, “Does God exist?” They don’t ask for your opinion, “What do you think about it.” Rather, before you have time to duck, they hit you right between the eyes: “In the beginning, God….” “In the beginning was the Word…” John means that there never was a time when the Word was not.

Whenever Scripture makes such a bold declaration of Jesus’ deity, you can be sure that the enemy will attack it. Virtually all heresies down through history to the present deny either the full deity or the true humanity of Jesus Christ. The heretic Arius and his modern disciples, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, argue that Jesus was not eternal; rather, He was the first created being. The Jehovah’s Witnesses base this in part on Paul’s statement (Col. 1:15), “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” But if they would read the very next verse, Paul explains what he means by “the firstborn” (1:16-17): “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether throne or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” If all things have been created through Him, then clearly He is not created. He is eternal.

In our text, John emphasizes the same thing (1:3), “apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Obviously, if Jesus is a created being, then He came into being and verse 3 is false. But John denies this and asserts that everything that had a beginning (that came into being) came into being through Jesus. He is eternal. There never was a time when the Word was not in existence. Jesus is eternal God!

B. Jesus is the second person of the Trinity.

John continues, “and the Word was with God.” Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans, 1971], p. 76) explains the preposition (“with”): “The whole existence of the Word was oriented towards the Father. Probably we should understand from the preposition the two ideas of accompaniment and relationship…. Not only did the Word exist ‘in the beginning,’ but He existed in the closest possible connection with the Father.” This shows that the Word is not an impersonal idea or philosophy, but a Person. This Person is distinguishable from God, although (as the first and third phrases of 1:1 show), He is eternal God.

In verse 2, John repeats the first two phrases of verse 1, both for emphasis and to make sure that we understand what he is saying. The Word was in the beginning with God. While the Word is God (1:1c), the Word is distinct from God.

Although our finite minds cannot comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, Scripture is clear that God is one God who exists in three distinct persons. Each person is fully God and yet He is not three Gods, but one God (see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [Zondervan, 1994], pp. 226-258).

C. Jesus is God.

The third phrase is, “and the Word was God.” As Morris states (p. 76), “Nothing higher could be said. All that may be said about God may fitly be said about the Word. This statement should not be watered down.” He clarifies (p. 77), “John is not merely saying that there is something divine about Jesus. He is affirming that He is God, and doing so emphatically as we see from the word order in the Greek.”

If you’ve had an encounter with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, you know that they claim that the Greek text (and their New World Translation says, “the word was a god,” because there is no Greek definite article before “God.” How should you answer their claim?

First, this is the only way in Greek to say, “the Word was God.” If John had put the definite article before God, it would have equated the Word totally with God, thus negating the distinction between the Word and God that he made in the second phrase. It would not have allowed for the Father and the Holy Spirit to be God (another serious heresy).

Second, you could say, “While neither of us understands the technicalities of Greek grammar well enough to discuss the matter intelligently, knowledgeable Greek scholars point out the inconsistency of the New World Translation and they affirm the translation as it appears in every literal modern translation.” (See Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics [Zondervan], pp. 266-269.) Wallace (p. 269) argues that the Greek construction here emphasizes the qualitative aspect of the Word, which means that He had all the attributes, qualities and essence of the Father, though they differed in person. He states (ibid., italics and bold type his), “The construction the evangelist chose to express this idea was the most concise way he could have stated that the Word was God and yet was distinct from the Father.

Third, there are many other Scriptures that clearly proclaim Jesus as God, even within John’s Gospel. In John 5:18, the Jews sought to kill Jesus because He was making Himself equal with God. In response, Jesus doesn’t correct them by saying, “I didn’t mean to imply that I’m God!” Rather, He claims (5:22b-23a) that the Father “has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” That’s a bold claim to deity! When, at the climax of John’s gospel (20:28), Thomas sees the risen Jesus, he proclaims, “My Lord and my God!” He was not making an exclamation, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, which would have used God’s name in vain. Surely, Jesus would have rebuked him. Instead, Jesus affirmed Thomas’ confession. (Also, see John 8:58; 10:30; 14:9.)

Years later, on the Isle of Patmos, the apostle John had a vision of the risen Lord (Rev. 1:17-18). John fell before Him as a dead man. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Isaiah 44:6 says, “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me.’” In light of Isaiah, clearly Jesus was claiming to be the Lord of hosts, the only living and true God! C. K. Barrett (cited by Kruse, p. 59) comments on John 1:1, “John intends that the whole of his Gospel shall be read in the light of this verse. The deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true the book is blasphemous.”

Thus verse 1 affirms, Jesus is eternal; He is the second person of the Trinity; and, He is God. Also, it affirms that…

D. Jesus is the Word.

John 1:14 clearly makes this identification: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Many pages have been written on the possible links between John’s concept of “the Word” in relation to how it was used in Greek philosophy. They viewed the “logos” as the rational mind that ruled the universe. The problem is, we can’t really know to what extent John may or may not have had the Greek concepts in mind when he called Jesus “the Word.” Perhaps John, aware of the Greek ideas, used this term to show them the true meaning of the “logos.”

But I think the clear link in John 1 with Genesis 1 primarily roots his meaning of “logos” in the Old Testament (Andreas Kostenberger, John [Baker], p. 27). Genesis 1 repeatedly states, “and God said ….” Psalm 33:6 states, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made….” Verse 9 repeats, “For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” Psalm 107:20 declares, “He sent His word and healed them ….” God’s word accomplishes the purpose for which He sends it forth (Isa. 55:11). There is creative power in the word of God and Jesus is that Word. So when John calls Jesus “the Word,” he means that God has spoken to us and revealed Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ, the eternal Creator of all things. Also, consider these two things:

(1). As the Word, Jesus reveals what the invisible God is like.

You cannot know my thoughts unless I put them into words. God is spirit, and thus invisible to our finite senses (1 Tim. 6:16). John (1:18) says, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God [some manuscripts read, “Son”] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” Jesus Himself asserted (John 14:9), “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” Thus it is only through Jesus that we can know God personally (Luke 10:22).

(2). As the Word, Jesus shows our responsibility towards God.

Hebrews 1:1-2 asserts, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” If God has spoken to us through Jesus, His Word, then we had better listen to and obey Jesus! John 3:36 draws the line, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” To ignore God’s word to us in Jesus is a serious mistake! Jesus is the eternal God, the authoritative Word of God. Ignore Him to your eternal peril! Thus in verses 1 & 2, John asserts that Jesus is the eternal Word of God, distinct from the Father and yet equally God with the Father. The Father has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.

2. Jesus is the creator of all things that exist (1:3).

John 1:3: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” I’ve already pointed out that if everything that has come into being came into being through Jesus, then clearly Jesus never came into being. He has existed eternally.

The Bible teaches that all three members of the Trinity were involved in creation. God the Father created everything, but He did it through Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:1-3). Also, the Spirit of God participated in creation (Gen. 1:2). God’s statement (Gen. 1:26), “Let Us make man in Our image” implies the involvement of the trinity in the creation of human beings.

As with the person of Christ, it is not just a coincidence that Satan has so strongly attacked the biblical doctrine of creation. If God created everything that exists out of nothing by the word of His power, then contrary to what atheists claim, matter is not eternal. Only God is eternal. Creation also points to the amazing power and intelligence of God. It shows us that we are finite, limited creatures and thus we must submit to God and depend on Him. In other words, if Jesus is the creator, then He is God, which means, I am not God! And that is a fundamental lesson in all of life!

3. Jesus is the author of life, which should point all people toward Him (1:4).

John 1:4: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” John uses “life” 36 times in his Gospel, more than any other New Testament book. D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 119) argues that in light of verses 1-3, “the life inhering in the Word is related not to salvation but to creation.” The next phrase, “the life was the Light of men,” then either points to the fact of man being created in the image of God or to the way in which God’s invisible attributes, eternal power and divine nature are revealed in creation (Rom. 1:20). But since John goes on to develop the truth that Jesus came to earth to bring spiritual life to those who are dead in their sins and spiritual light to those who live in darkness, verse 4 may have a dual meaning, pointing back to creation, but also ahead to the salvation Jesus brings.

So the application is, those who are spiritually dead in their sins need life and Jesus is the source of that life. They are spiritually in darkness, but when they are born again, the light goes on. As Paul puts it (2 Cor. 4:4, 6), referring to those who are perishing, “in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…. For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Finally,

4. Jesus is the only source of true light in this spiritually dark world (1:5).

John 1:5, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” The word translated “comprehend” can have two meanings, much like our word “grasp.” It can mean to comprehend or grasp mentally, or it can mean to overcome or take hold of something in the sense of mastering it physically. If it refers to creation, then John’s meaning is that when God said, “Let there be light,” it overcame the darkness. If you turn on a light in a dark room, the darkness loses and the light prevails. But John uses the present tense here, which probably focuses on Jesus’ coming to earth and the conflict between Him and the powers of darkness that unfold in this Gospel. They crucified Him, but He arose and conquered the darkness. His salvation conquers the spiritual darkness in every heart that trusts in Him.

But the word may also be translated “comprehend,” and this meaning also fits a theme in this Gospel. In 1:10b, those in the world “did not know Him.” In 1:11b, even His own people “did not receive Him.” Jesus points out (3:19-20) that those in the darkness love the darkness and hate the Light because their deeds are evil. Thus they didn’t “comprehend” Jesus. Because sinners walk in darkness (8:12), they fail to see who Jesus really is. In John 8:48, they actually accuse Him of having a demon! So perhaps John’s use of this ambiguous term has both meanings: the darkness will not overcome the Light as it comes through Jesus. Also, the darkness cannot comprehend the Light, unless Jesus opens their blind eyes to see.

Conclusion

So John’s point in this opening stunning description of Jesus Christ is to tell us that He is the eternal Word, the Creator of everything, and that He reveals the life and light of God to this dark world. Have you ever been stunned like that soldier in Ben Hur because God opened your eyes to see who Jesus really is? Because He is the eternal God, we should believe in Him and submit everything in our lives to Him as the Sovereign Lord. Because He is the Creator, we should worship Him as we see His handiwork in what He has made. If His life is in us, our salvation is secure. Because He is our life, we should be filled with hope because we will spend eternity with Him. Because He is our light, we should let Him shine into every decision we make and into every area of our lives. To know God, look to Jesus, the eternal Word of God!

Application Questions

  1. Why is the deity of Jesus Christ foundational to Christianity? Can a person who denies His deity be truly saved?
  2. An early heresy (modalism) taught that God revealed Himself as the Father in the Old Testament, as the Son in the New Testament, and as the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. Why is this wrong? How does John 1:1-2 refute it?
  3. Outside of the Gospel of John, what texts most strongly prove the deity of Jesus? Which texts do the cults use to try to disprove it? How would you answer them?
  4. What are some practical benefits of Jesus being our life and light? How do these truths apply to our daily lives?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Creation, Revelation, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 3: God’s Witness, Your Verdict (John 1:6-13)

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March 3, 2013

The evening news has recently been carrying the story of two courtroom dramas. The first, in Phoenix, is the story of a young woman who killed her lover and claims that she acted in self-defense. The other is the story of the Olympic “blade runner” in South Africa who shot his glamorous girlfriend but claims that he thought she was an intruder in his apartment. In both of those stories, it is very difficult to get to the truth, because there were no eyewitnesses to the killings. The defense can bring in witnesses to testify to basic “good character” of the killers, while the prosecution brings in witnesses to undermine their character. But without any credible witnesses of the killings, the juries are going to have a difficult time deciding the truth.

But what if the case had one witness who was actually sent by God in fulfillment of prophecies written hundreds of years before he arrived on the scene? The other witness, who is the one on trial, shines with a light that is brighter and purer than any other person who has ever lived? With these two exceptional, truthful witnesses, it shouldn’t be very hard to come to a verdict. But when you go into the jury room to deliberate, you are stunned that quite a few reject the testimony of these two sterling witnesses.

That’s the scene that John paints for us in our text. He has already (1:1-5) given us a description of Jesus Christ as the eternal Word, the second member of the trinity, and the creator of all that is. He has said that in Jesus is life and that life was the light of men. But even though that Light shines in the darkness, the darkness did not comprehend (or overpower) it (1:5). This implies the conflict between light and darkness that unfolds in this drama. In chapters 1-4, there is initially belief in Jesus, but in chapters 5-12, there is subsequent unbelief, leading up to His mock trial and crucifixion.

In our text, John introduces the witness of John the Baptist to Jesus (1:6-8) and the witness of Jesus Himself, “the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (1:9). There is more than adequate testimony in Jesus’ favor. But what will the jury decide? While as I said, this plays out throughout the entire story, John shows here that many who should have decided favorably sadly rejected the witness to Jesus Christ, whereas others welcomed the witness by receiving and believing in Him. But John isn’t just reporting a courtroom drama for your entertainment. He wants to draw you into the story and elicit your personal verdict on the witness to Jesus Christ:

God’s witness to His Son, the true Light, demands your verdict of faith in Him.

Our text falls into two parts: In 1:6-9, John shows that God has given adequate witness to His Son. In 1:10-13, he shows that this witness to God’s Son demands a verdict of faith in Him. But in spite of the solid evidence, that verdict isn’t guaranteed. Many of those who should have decided in favor of Jesus did not know Him or receive Him. But those who did are born of God and become His children.

1. God has given adequate witness to His Son (1:6-9).

The point of witnesses in a courtroom is to establish the truth beyond a reasonable doubt. As I pointed out in our first study of John, he marshals at least seven witnesses to Jesus Christ (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 90): (1) the Father; (2) Christ Himself; (3) the Holy Spirit; (4) Jesus’ works; (5) the Scriptures; (6) John the Baptist; and, (7) a variety of human witnesses, such as the disciples, the Samaritan woman, and the multitude. In our text, we see two of the witnesses: John the Baptist (1:6-8) and Christ Himself (1:9).

A. God sent John the Baptist to witness to the Light so that all might believe through him (1:6-8).

John 1:6-8: “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”

John the Baptist is the only person in human history of whom it is said that he was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41). His birth itself was miraculous, in that his aged parents had previously been unable to conceive. God sent John in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’” Also, in Malachi 3:1a, God said, “‘Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me.”

John’s purpose was clear (John 1:7): “He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.” (“Through him” refers to John.) Verse 8 clarifies that John himself was not the Light and repeats that his role was to testify about the Light. John may have simply added this to make it crystal clear, or it could be that there were still some in Ephesus in John’s day similar to those whom Paul found there, who held to the baptism of John, but had not believed in Jesus (Acts 19:1-7).

C. H. Dodd (cited by James Boice, The Gospel of John [Zondervan], one-volume ed., p. 49) observes that the apostle John’s three points in 1:6-8 outline the development of the rest of the chapter. First, John the Baptist is not the light (developed in 1:19-28). Second, John was sent to bear witness to the light (1:29-34). Third, John’s aim was that all may believe through him (1:35-51).

Those three points are helpful to keep in mind whenever you have an opportunity to bear witness of Christ. First, the message is not about you. It’s fine to give your testimony, but keep the focus on Christ. Second, tell people who Jesus is. John testified that Jesus is the Lord (1:23). John said that he wasn’t worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal (1:27). He said of Jesus (1:29), “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He said that Jesus was of higher rank than he (John) because He existed before John, even though John was older than Jesus (1:30). He testified that he saw the Spirit of God descending on Jesus as a dove out of heaven (1:32). He said (1:34), “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” He said (3:30), “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Tell people who Jesus is. Third, seek to bring people to faith in Jesus. Don’t just have a nice discussion and leave it at that. Encourage people to put their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation before it is too late.

B. As the true Light, Jesus Himself witnesses to who He is (1:9).

John 1:9: “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” “True” here means genuine as opposed to counterfeit. D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 122, italics his) explains, “Johns point is that the Word who came into the world is the light, the true light, the genuine and ultimate self-disclosure of God to man.”

But we need to sort out a couple of interpretive matters in 1:9. First, does “coming into the world” modify “man,” as in the New King James, “That was the true Light which gives light to every man who comes into the world”? Or, (as with the NASB, ESV, CSB, and NIV) does it refer to the Light coming into the world? Grammatically, it could refer to either. But in this gospel, coming into the world or being sent into the world is repeatedly said with reference to Jesus (6:14; 11:27; 16:28; 18:37). And, the following verses (1:10-11) talk about Jesus being in the world and coming unto His own. So the best way to take it is that Jesus, the Light, comes into the world and enlightens every man.

That’s the other question: How does Jesus’ coming into the world enlighten every man? There are several views. (1) Some argue that this refers to the light of general revelation that God gives through creation (Rom. 1:20). Included in this may be the light of conscience that bears witness of God (Calvin’s view; Rom. 2:14-16). (2) The Quakers say that this refers to an “inner light” that God gives to all people. (3) Some (Augustine) say that “every man” only refers to those who have been born again. (4) Others say that it means that Jesus would “give the light of truth to all whom his ministry would affect, whether in greater or lesser degree” (Merrill Tenney, Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan], ed. by Frank Gaebelein, 9:31; also, Colin Kruse, John [IVP Academic], p. 67). (5) Wesleyans argue that this verse teaches that God has given all people “prevenient grace,” which gives them to ability to choose or reject salvation. But that view contradicts the many verses that declare fallen man’s inability to choose God (Luke 10:22; John 8:43; Rom. 3:10-18; 8:7-8; 9:16; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; see Thomas Schreiner, Still Sovereign [Baker], ed. by Thomas Schreiner & Bruce Ware, pp. 229-246).

The best view is that John 1:9 refers to the exposure that light brings when it shines on something. The Greek verb means to shed light upon or to make visible. This isn’t referring to inner illumination, but to the objective revelation or light that came into the world through the incarnation (Carson, p. 124; Schreiner, p. 240). Carson explains (ibid.),

It shines on every man, and divides the race: those who hate the light respond as the world does (1:10): they flee lest their deeds should be exposed by this light (3:19-21). But some receive this revelation (1:12-13), and thereby testify that their deeds have been done through God (3:21). In John’s Gospel it is repeatedly the case that the light shines on all, and forces a distinction (e.g. 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:39-41).

John’s point here is that the witness that comes from the Light (Jesus) demands a response. When the Light exposes the corruption and sin that’s in everyone’s heart, some will react like cockroaches when the light is flipped on: they run for cover to hide their evil deeds. But others welcome the light, knowing that it’s for their healing and good. John goes on to show these opposite responses in 1:10-13):

2. The witness that God has given regarding His Son demands a verdict (1:10-13).

First, John shows the wrong verdict:

A. Some reject God’s witness regarding the true Light (1:10-11).

John 1:10-11: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” These verses show the tragedy of sin and the terrible wickedness of the human heart. Sin is utterly irrational. If God loves sinners enough to send His own Son to pay for their sin and offer them eternal life as a free gift, it’s insane for them to scream, “Get out of here! Turn off that light! I love my sin so much that I’m willing to face eternal judgment rather than to receive the right to become God’s child!”

First (1:10) John says, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.” As I said in the introductory message, “world” is a key concept in John. He uses it 78 times, often with reference to the evil system that is under Satan, “the ruler of this world” (12:31; 14:30; 16:11). It is hostile both toward Jesus and His followers (7:7; 15:18; 16:20). John heightens the irony here by noting again (as in 1:3) that Jesus made the world and yet, “the world did not know Him.”

Knowing Jesus (or not knowing Him) is another major theme in John. When the Samaritans believe in Jesus through the witness of the woman at the well, they say to her (4:42), “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” In like fashion, Peter testifies (6:69), “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” But in 8:19, Jesus says to the hostile Jews, “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”

Why didn’t the world know its Creator and Savior? One reason is that it is spiritually blind (John 9:39-41; 2 Cor. 4:4). Another reason is that they love their sin (“darkness,” 3:19-21). In many cases, the cause is just indifference. People are immersed in their own things and don’t have the time or desire to know Jesus in a personal, saving way.

Then John heightens the irony of the world not knowing Jesus (1:11): “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” There is a word play in Greek: the first “His own” is neuter and refers to “His own property or home.” The second “His own” is masculine and refers to His fellow Jews, the people of Israel. The two phrases both may refer to Israel, with the first emphasizing that Israel belongs to the Lord as His inheritance (Ps. 78:71), and the second emphasizing that they were His own kinsmen. They should have recognized Jesus as their promised Messiah, prophesied of in their Scriptures. But He wasn’t the kind of Messiah that they envisioned or wanted. They were hoping for a political Messiah who would deliver them from Rome’s power and provide peace and prosperity. They didn’t see their need for a Savior from sin. And so they rejected the true Light who made them and who rightfully owned them.

There are two applications for us: First, make sure that you’re not rejecting the true Light in spite of the solid testimony that He is the eternal Word in human flesh. It’s easy to be disappointed with Jesus because He didn’t give you quick relief from all your problems. It’s a short step from there to turning your back on Him altogether. Second, don’t be surprised when people do not respond positively to your witness for Christ. People still love the darkness because their deeds are evil. But, not all reject Him:

B. Others receive God’s witness to Jesus by believing in His name (1:12-13).

John 1:12-13: “ But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” These verses state the purpose for which this Gospel was written and thus form an inclusio (like “bookends”) with 20:30-31. They also strike the balance between human responsibility (we must receive Christ by believing in His name) and divine sovereignty (those who believe in Him were not born of human decision, but of God).

(1). Those who receive Christ and believe in His name become children of God (1:12).

To receive Christ is the opposite of not knowing Him and rejecting Him (1:10-11). It means to welcome Him into your life. John further defines it as believing in His name. “His name” refers to all that Jesus is in His person as the eternal Word made flesh. It refers to all that He did by dying on the cross as the substitute for your sins. Believing in His name means that you stop relying on your own merits and works as the way to approach God and instead you rely totally on what Jesus did for you on the cross. It means that when you stand before God, your only hope for heaven is not your good works, but rather that Jesus died for your sins and you are trusting in Him alone.

Often when you share the gospel with people from a Roman Catholic background, they will tell you that they have received Christ, because they think that they are receiving Christ when they eat the communion wafer. But when you question them on why God should let them into heaven, they will say that they have gone to Mass and confession, they have lived a good life, etc. So you need to make it clear to them that receiving Christ means to rely on Him totally as the payment for their sins. Taking communion or going to mass or doing penance can never qualify us for heaven.

John says that when we receive Christ or believe in Him, He gives us the right or authority to become children of God. The “right” means a legitimate claim, much like a birth certificate proves that you are the child of your natural father. The fact that those who believe “become children of God” means that all people are not God’s children by natural birth. To become God’s child requires a spiritual new birth (1:13; 3:1-8).

Maybe you’ve daydreamed about what it would be like to be the child of a wealthy family, where you could have everything you ever wanted. Or maybe you never had parents who loved you and you wish that you could have been born into a family where you were loved and cared for. We get all of that and more as God’s children! In 1 John 3:1, the apostle exclaims, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” What a wonderful privilege!

(2). Those who believe in Jesus were born of God, not from human power or will (1:13).

Verse 13 describes those in verse 12 who believe in Jesus and become His children. They were born, but it was not a natural birth. “Blood” (lit., “bloods”) refers to human ancestry. “The will of the flesh” refers to the decision of human parents to have a child. “The will of man” refers to human willpower. John probably piles up these phrases to counter the Jewish pride of race (Morris, p. 101). Ed Blum explains (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament [Victor Books], ed. by John F. Walvoord & Roy Zuck, p. 272), ““The birth of a child of God is not a natural birth; it is a supernatural work of God in regeneration. A person welcomes Jesus and responds in faith and obedience to Him, but the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit is ‘the cause’ of regeneration (3:5-8).” Just as we had nothing to do with our physical birth, so we had nothing to do with our spiritual birth. We can’t take credit for it. We can’t boast in our wise decision to believe in Christ. All glory must go to God.

The question comes up, “Do we first believe and then are born again, or are we born again and then believe?” They both happen at the same instant, and so it’s a question of logical, not chronological, order. The clearest verse for answering the question is 1 John 5:1, which is literally translated, “Whoever believes [present tense] that Jesus is the Christ has been born [perfect tense] of God.” In other words, believing in Christ is evidence that God has given you new life through the new birth. John Stott comments on that verse and its verb tenses (The Epistles of John [Eerdmans], p. 172), “It shows clearly that believing is the consequence, not the cause, of the new birth. Our present, continuing activity of believing is the result, and therefore the evidence, of our past experience of new birth by which we became and remain God’s children.”

There is a mystery here that we can’t fully resolve. Suffice it to say that your responsibility is to believe in Christ for salvation and to urge others to believe in Christ. But whenever we believe in Christ, we can’t take credit for our faith or our wise decision. All we can say is, “If God had not graciously chosen me and imparted new life to me, I would still be in my sin. All glory goes to Him!” (See 1 Cor. 1:26-31; Eph. 2:1-10; Acts 13:48.)

Conclusion

So now you’ve heard the witnesses. John has testified that Jesus is the Light. Jesus Himself shines as the true Light. It’s time for your verdict. Will you ignore Him as you pursue your own agenda? Will you flat out reject Him because He confronts your pride? Or, will you receive Him by believing in His name so that you become His child, born of God?

Application Questions

  1. Many think that saving faith is a leap in the dark. Why is this incorrect? If faith is based on solid witness or truth, then how is it faith?
  2. Some argue that if fallen sinners are not able to believe, then God can’t hold them responsible to believe. Is this valid? Give biblical support for your answer.
  3. What are some common reasons (excuses) that people give for rejecting Christ? How can these be countered?
  4. You are witnessing to a Catholic who insists that he believes in Christ and has received Him many times (at Mass), but you sense that he really isn’t saved. How would you respond?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Faith, Soteriology (Salvation)

Lesson 4: The Word Became Flesh (John 1:14)

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March 10, 2013

I spent the summer of 1970 working as “Charlie Chaplin” at the Movieland Wax Museum in Buena Park, California. Each day I would dress up as Charlie Chaplin, and impersonate him for the guests. It was the most fun job that I’ve ever had.

The museum also employed several security men who were dressed as Keystone Cops. One of these men was a roly-poly man named Walter. One day Walter in his Keystone Cop outfit and I in my Charlie Chaplin outfit were sitting in the break area when he said to me, “Charlie, what do you want to do with your life?”

I responded, “Walter, I’ve given my life to Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord, so I’m going to spend it serving Him in some way.” Walter’s reply jarred me. First, he took the Lord’s name in vain. Then he said, “Am I glad to hear that!”

While I was trying to reconcile his response in my mind, he proceeded to tell me his religious odyssey. He had started off as a young man with a Pentecostal group in Los Angeles. He had a vision of “the Christ” (as he called it) where he woke up in the middle of the night and saw “Jesus,” whose heart came out of His chest and was beating in front of him. After a few days in a trance, Walter began preaching on the streets of Los Angeles.

I’ve forgotten what order or how many other things he had been into since those early days, but they included Science of Mind, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, some weird group that studied the “silent years of Jesus” (just how, I was afraid to ask!), Mormonism, and at the time I was talking with him, the Self-Realization Fellowship of Yogi Paramanda Yogahanda. He was speaking at their center in Laguna Beach and invited me to come hear him. Thankfully, I was working then and so I had a good excuse not to go!

What was Walter’s problem? How could a man who seemingly began as a Christian end up so fouled up in his beliefs? There were two basic reasons: First, he accepted as his basis of truth and knowledge his own subjective experiences rather than the propositional truth as revealed in the written Word of God. Second, stemming from that wrong foundation, he developed faulty views of the person of Jesus Christ. Without the objective truth of the written Word of God, we cannot develop correct views of who Jesus truly is. At best, we’ll come up with our subjective preferences, but they will not be based on the eyewitness testimony of the apostles.

It’s safe to say that every major cult and heresy has deviated from the biblical revelation of who Jesus Christ really is. They have erred either with regard to His deity or His humanity or the relationship between His two natures. John MacArthur (“Jesus: Glory, Grace, and God,” on gty.org) says, “It is as damning to believe in the wrong Jesus as to believe in no Jesus.” Saving faith is certainly more than believing correct statements about Jesus, but it cannot be less. In our text, John gives us one of the most succinct statements of the unfathomable doctrine of the incarnation:

Jesus, the eternal Word, is God in human flesh, glorious as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Verse 14 reconnects us with verse 1 and is the last time John uses “the Word” as a title for Jesus in this gospel. The Word who was in the beginning with God, the Word who was God, the Word who created everything that has come into being, “became flesh, and dwelt among us.” Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology [Zondervan], p. 563) says of the incarnation,

It is by far the most amazing miracle of the entire Bible—far more amazing than the resurrection and more amazing even than the creation of the universe. The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.

Leon Morris puts it (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 102), “In one short, shattering expression John unveils the great idea at the heart of Christianity that the very Word of God took flesh for man’s salvation.” As we tread on such holy ground, I especially identify with Paul’s rhetorical question (2 Cor. 2:16), “And who is adequate for these things?” Let’s proceed reverently and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us.

1. Jesus, the eternal Word, became flesh.

John now definitely identifies the eternal Word of verse 1 with Jesus Christ, whom he will first name in verse 17. He affirms two truths about Jesus Christ that are essential to the Christian faith:

A. As the eternal Word, Jesus is fully God.

We saw this clearly in verse 1. John asserts that Jesus is eternal. He does not say, “In the beginning, God created the Word as the first and greatest created being.” But rather, “In the beginning was the Word.” The sense of the verb is that He was already existing at the beginning of time because He has no beginning. He is one in essence with the Father (John 10:30) and the triune God is the only eternal being.

Of course, Satan hates the truth of the deity of Jesus Christ, because it spells his doom. And so he has always attacked it. One of the most substantial attacks on the deity of Christ came from the heretic Arius in the early fourth century. He taught that the Word was the first and greatest created being. He gained a large following, but was refuted at the Councils of Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381 A.D.), and Chalcedon (451 A. D.). The latter two councils also clarified the relationship of the two natures of Christ to correct several other heresies that had sprung up. But the attacks on Christ’s deity have continued through the Unitarians, liberal theologians, and the modern cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.

But the New Testament clearly affirms the deity of Jesus Christ. He Himself claimed to be God. In John 5:23, He said that the Father had given all judgment to the Son “so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” In John 8:58, He asserted His eternal existence when He claimed, “Before Abraham was born, I am.” (The Jews would have recognized “I am” as a reference to God’s name as revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14.) In John 10:30 He asserted, “I and the Father are one.” In John 14:9 He told Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”

Also, Scripture directly states that Jesus is God. There are several such references (John 1:1; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; 1 John 5:20), but I think the clearest is Hebrews 1:8, which applies Psalm 45:6 to Jesus: “But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever….” Also, many titles that apply only to God are applied to Jesus. “Lord” is the same as Yahweh of the Old Testament (Isa. 40:3 with John 1:23; Jer. 23:5, 6; Joel 2:32 with Acts 2:21; 4:12; Rom. 10:9-10, 13). He is “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). In Revelation 1:8 God says, “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” Then just a few verses later (Rev. 1:17), Jesus proclaims, “I am the first and the last.” In Revelation 22:13 (in case we missed it) he reaffirms, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (See Isa. 41:4.)

Also, Jesus displayed many of the incommunicable attributes of God: He is eternal (John 1:1); omnipresent (Matt. 28:20); omnipotent (Phil. 3:21); immutable (Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8); glorious (John 1:14; 1 Cor. 2:8; Rev. 1:13-16); and sovereign (Phil. 2:10). Paul put it (Col. 2:9), “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Plus, Jesus did works that only God can do, such as creating all that is (John 1:3, 10; Heb. 1:2); raising the dead (John 5:25-26); overpowering Satan and all spiritual forces (Eph. 1:21); judging all people (John 5:22-23, 27); forgiving sins (Mark 2:5-7); and receiving worship (John 9:38; 20:28). You cannot believe the New Testament and deny the full deity of Jesus Christ.

B. When the eternal Word took on flesh, He became fully human.

John could have said, “The Word became man,” or, “The Word took on a human body.” But the word “flesh” jars you with its bluntness (Morris, p. 102). Probably John was confronting another early heresy, Docetism, which said that Jesus only appeared or seemed to be human. But John wants us to know that Jesus took upon Himself our full human nature, except for sin. From that miraculous moment when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, He will never cease to be human. He is forever both God and man in one person.

“Became” does not mean that Jesus ceased to be what He was before. Rather, to His eternal deity, He added perfect humanity. He temporarily laid aside the use of some of His divine attributes and the full display of His glory (Phil. 2:5-8; John 17:5). It shone forth on occasions, but not always (John 2:11; 18:4-6; Luke 9:28-36). But He did not lay aside His deity or cease to be God. Rather, He added complete humanity to His eternal deity. Jesus’ human nature was subject to hunger, thirst, weakness, tiredness, temptation, and death, but He was without sin.

Again, Satan hates the truth that Jesus, the eternal God, took on human flesh, because it qualifies Jesus to be our Savior. So he has attacked this doctrine, too. The Apollinarians acknowledged Christ to be God and man. But they held that Jesus did not take on the soul of a man. The Logos took the place of the rational soul. The Nestorians believed Christ to be both God and man, but they conceived of Him as two persons, thus dividing His unity. The Eutychians held to one person in Christ, but they mixed His two natures, saying that it produced a third thing. They said that Jesus’ humanity was absorbed into His deity, and thus that He only had one nature. This error persists today in what is called Monophysitism, which is held by the Coptic Church in Egypt and Ethiopia, plus other groups in Syria. Another form of it recently was taught by Witness Lee (“the Local Church”), who used the analogy of a tea bag and water. When you mix them, you have a new substance, “tea-water.” Thus in his view, Jesus is a hybrid “God-man.” (A helpful book that explores the practical damaging results of these and other heresies is, The Cruelty of Heresy [Morehouse Publishing], by C. FitzSimons Allison.)

The Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.) produced a comprehensive and definitive statement on the person of Christ, which is worth pondering (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [Baker], 6th ed., p. 62). But you can sum it up by saying, “Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man united in one person forever, without confusion of His two natures.” While it is an incomprehensible mystery how the two natures of Christ interact, we must accept the truth of Scripture, “The Word became flesh.”

2. Jesus, the eternal Word, dwelt among us.

John could have said, “The Word lived among us,” but instead he used the unusual word, translated dwelt, which means “to pitch a tent” or “to tabernacle.” It is used of the tabernacle in the Old Testament, where God dwelt with His people in the wilderness. John does not mean by this term that Jesus’ humanity was temporary, but rather, His stay on earth was temporary.

By using the word that was used of the tabernacle, coupled with seeing Jesus’ glory, John wants us to make some connections. Just as the tabernacle was the place where God dwelt with His people and manifested His glory, so Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Just as the tabernacle was at the center of Israel’s camp, so Christ is to be at the center of the church. Just as sacrifices and worship were offered at the tabernacle, so Jesus is our complete and final sacrifice, and we have access to God through Him.

Every aspect of the tabernacle speaks of Christ. The bronze altar for sacrifice and the bronze laver for cleansing point to Christ. The table of showbread in the holy place speaks of Christ, the living bread. The golden lampstand points to Christ, the light, who illumines the things of God. The altar of incense reminds us of Christ’s making intercession for us. In the holy of holies, the ark of the covenant, made of wood covered with gold, points to the two natures of Christ. On top of the ark was the mercy seat, where the blood of atonement was sprinkled. Inside were the tablets of the law, pointing to Christ, the fulfillment of God’s law for us; the jar of manna, pointing to Christ as our sustenance; and Aaron’s rod that budded, pointing to Jesus as “the branch,” who was raised from the dead and gives new life to those who were dead in their sins. Jesus, our tabernacle, “dwelt among us”!

3. The apostles saw the glory of the Word who became flesh.

God’s glory is the sum of all His attributes and perfection. It is sometimes displayed as a bright or overpowering light. When John says, “We saw His glory,” he may have been referring in part to the transfiguration, when he and James and Peter saw Jesus in His glory. John could not have forgotten that event, although he doesn’t tell about it in his gospel!

But he is also referring to Jesus’ glory as revealed in His miracles, but only to those who had eyes to see. After Jesus turned the water into wine, John reports (2:11), “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He said (John 11:4), “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” And yet, even after that amazing miracle, the Jewish leaders increased their efforts to kill the one who is the resurrection and the life!

But John also shows that Jesus’ glory was supremely revealed in the cross. When Judas went out of the Upper Room to betray the Savior, Jesus said (John 13:31), “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.” The cross displayed God’s perfect justice and amazing love like no other event in history. In our text, John elaborates on Jesus’ glory with two phrases:

A. The glory of the Word was that of the only Son from the Father.

The NASB translates, “glory as of the only begotten from the Father.” The term, “only begotten,” while a part of the historic creeds, can cause some confusion, namely, that Jesus came into being at a point in time. The Nicene Creed clarifies, “begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father ….” Sometimes it is said that Jesus is “eternally begotten,” so that He is the eternal Son of God.

But most modern scholars say that the Greek word does not refer to the “begetting” aspect of Jesus’ sonship, but rather to His uniqueness. It could be translated, “one and only.” It’s used of the widow of Nain’s only son (Luke 7:12), of Jairus’ “only daughter” (Luke 8:42), and of a man’s only son who was afflicted by an evil spirit (Luke 9:38). Hebrews 11:17 uses it to refer to Isaac, who was not Abraham’s only son, but his unique son, the son of the promise. John is the only New Testament author to use the term of Jesus (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). He means that Jesus is the only or unique Son of God in a way that no one else is. Jesus has no equal among men. We become sons of God through the new birth, but Jesus is the eternal Son, co-equal with the Father in His essence. If you don’t understand how Jesus could be an eternal Son, remember the comment of Augustine, “Show me and explain to me an eternal Father and I will show to you and explain to you an eternal Son.”

Sadly, many supposedly evangelical missionaries to Muslims are producing and endorsing translations of the New Testament that replace the terms “Father” and “Son” with other terms that are less offensive to Muslims. They argue that Muslims wrongly think that Christians believe that Jesus is the result of God having sexual relations with Mary. To remove that stumbling block, they change the terms. But in so doing, they change the very nature of God as He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture. God is the eternal Father and Jesus is His eternal Son. The Holy Spirit is also eternal God; three persons but one God. While it is humanly impossible to fully understand it, we dare not tamper with it to somehow make the message less offensive.

B. The glory of the Word was full of grace and truth.

John is probably referring back to Exodus 33 & 34, where Moses asks to see God’s glory. God explains that he can’t see His face and live, but He will hide Moses in the cleft of a rock, cover him with His hand, and pass by so that Moses can see “His back.” Then we read (Exod. 34:7), “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’” In that profound experience, we hear of God’s grace and truth. He is “abounding in lovingkindness” (“grace”) for many, but true to His holiness, He still punishes the guilty.

Jesus was full of grace and truth. His grace offers love and compassion to guilty sinners (John 4:1-26). His truth means that He warns of God’s judgment if sinners do not repent and believe in Him (John 3:16, 18, 36; 5:27-29; 8:24, 40, 45-47). Grace and truth reach their culmination at the cross, where the truth of God’s holiness and justice was satisfied in the death of the perfect Substitute, so that He now can offer grace to guilty sinners who trust in Jesus. It is only by believing the truth as it is in Jesus that you can experience God’s grace and forgiveness. Since Jesus is full of grace, you can come to Him and know that He will welcome you (John 6:37). Because He is full of truth, you can trust His promises.

Conclusion

J. C. Ryle, in his wonderful Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:26-27) draws several practical lessons from John 1:14. He points out that the constant undivided union of two perfect natures in Christ’s person gives infinite value to His mediation for sinners, to His imputed righteousness to believers, to His atoning blood, and to His resurrection. Then he adds (pp. 27-28),

Did the Word become flesh? Then He is One who can be touched with the feeling of His people’s infirmities, because He has suffered Himself, being tempted. He is almighty because He is God, and yet He can sympathize with us, because He is man.

Did the Word become flesh? Then He can supply us with a perfect pattern and example for our daily life…. Having dwelt among us as a man, we know that the true standard of holiness is to “walk even as He walked” (1 John 2:6). He is a perfect pattern, because He is God. But He is also a pattern exactly suited to our needs, because He is man.

Finally, did the Word become flesh? Then let us see in our mortal bodies a real, true dignity, and not defile them by sin. Vile and weak as our body may seem, it is a body which the Eternal Son of God was not ashamed to take upon Himself, and to take up to heaven. That simple fact is a pledge that He will raise our bodies at the last day, and glorify them together with His own.

As Charles Wesley put it (“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”), “Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity.”

Application Questions

  1. What Scriptures would you use to show a member of a cult that Jesus is God? What Scriptures would he use to try to disprove it? How would you explain these?
  2. Why is it important to affirm Jesus’ true humanity? What practical benefits fall if we do not affirm His humanity?
  3. Can a person who denies either Jesus’ full deity or humanity be truly saved? Discuss John MacArthur’s comment, “It is as damning to believe in the wrong Jesus as to believe in no Jesus.”
  4. Why must God’s grace always be balanced by His truth? What errors emerge if we err on either side?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Christology, Grace, Soteriology (Salvation)

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