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Introduction to the Gospel of John

posted Mar 25, 2012, 2:46 PM by William Masopust   [ updated Oct 18, 2012, 2:59 PM ]

The Gospel of John is probably the most distributed of the four gospels. It may actually be the most distributed book of the Bible, apart from the Bible itself. John's gospel is thought to be the easy, gentle, and loving gospel; therefore, it is most often given to new believers and even children. While John's gospel is an easily read and understood gospel, and there's no doubt that it speaks much of Christ's love, it does contain some very key and deep theological subjects. In fact, John's gospel could be said to be the most monergistic of the four gospels. Essentially, monergism is the doctrine, or teaching, that God alone is the sole cause for a man's salvation through Christ by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. That is a "nutshell" definition for monergism, but this introduction will cover the five main aspects of monergism (often called the five points of Calvinism) and use the scriptures of John's gospel to support the doctrine.

One of the main recurring themes of John's gospel is Christ's identity. There are dozens of scriptures throughout the entirety of John's gospel which clearly state who Christ is and what His purpose is. For instance, the first chapter of John's gospel opens up with exactly this issue. It opens up, in the first verse, with this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Now, who exactly is the Word? Look at verse 14, which says, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth." Based on those two verses, the conclusion is that the Word is the only begotten Son of God the Father, namely, Jesus Christ. The most profound statement of Christ's identity was Christ declaring it to the Jews in John 8:58. In that verse, Christ said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, 'I AM.'" That statement is extremely significant because Jesus is telling the Jews, who claim Abraham as their father (John 8:39), that He was before Abraham and that He was the "I AM" who spoke to Moses (Exodus 3:14). An important aspect of Christ's identity is who it was who sent Him. In John 8:42, Jesus explains who sent Him by saying, "For I proceeded forth and came from God, neither did I come of myself, but he sent me." That statement alone bears two facts about Jesus: God fathered Him, and God sent Him. (There are many other scriptures in John's gospel to support Christ's identity, and they include, but are not limited to: John 1:1-3, 14, 17, 32-34; John 4:25-26, 42; John 5:17-18, 26-27, 36; John 6:32-33, 35, 48, 69; John 7:29, 33; John 8:12, 19, 42, 58; John 10:30; John 11:27; John 12:13; John 14:11; John 16:28; John 17:3, 8, 21; John 18:37; John 20:31.)

Another important theme of John's gospel is a person's path to salvation. This is where John's gospel shines as the monergistic gospel. Christ came as the only way to salvation provided by God the Father. This is evident in three scriptures. The first is John 3:17, which says, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him may be saved." The second is John 12:47, which says, "And if any man hears my words, and does not believe, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world." Finally, being the most obvious, is John 14:6, which says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me." Christ is the only way to salvation, and that way can be explained using five points: man's total depravity, God's unconditional election of Christians, Christ's limited atonement, God's irresistible grace, and the perseverance of God's elect. These five points form an acronym affectionately known as, T.U.L.I.P.

Total depravity is the idea that all of mankind is depraved (corrupt, immoral, sinful). This total is not of quality, meaning that man is as corrupt as he can be, but rather of quantity, meaning that every man is wholly corrupt by nature. Paul made this clear in Romans 3:23, by saying, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." This is also made evident in John's gospel. In John 3:19-20, it is written, "And this is the condemnation: that light has come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." Then, in John 7:7, it is written, "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me, because I testify concerning it, that its works are evil." In both of these passages, Jesus is explaining that, by nature, man is corrupt, loving the darkness rather than the light, and that man must have a mediator between himself and God to provide a way to salvation.

Unconditional election is the idea that God provides no conditions by which He chooses His elect, or Christians. This is a very weighty subject and is difficult for the flesh to accept because it states that God chooses the people He wishes to save, but not everyone is chosen. The teaching of election also implies that man can by no means do or say anything to become saved. After all, man is corrupt by nature and cannot hear the things of God. It must be an act by God alone, as told by the prophet Jonah in Jonah 2:9, saying, "Salvation is of the LORD." Free will cannot save a man, and man cannot come to salvation by his self-warranted free will. Free will simply does not go in line with the Scriptures. John 1:12-13 (specifically verse 13) address this very issue by saying, "But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons 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." Those who become the sons or daughters of God, do not do so by their own will, but by God. Jesus Himself clearly spoke of election in John 15:16, when He said, "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit..." In that, Christ is saying that no man chooses Christ, but rather He chooses the man. Christ also plainly states this fact in John 6:44, by saying, "No man can come to me, unless the Father who has sent me draws him. And I will raise him up at the last day." That ties up the main idea of election: God draws a person to Christ, that person is chosen in Christ, Christ brings the person into salvation. There was no act on the person's part; therefore, the election is unconditional, meaning the person does not have to meet any special criteria in order for God to choose him for salvation. It could also be implied by that statement that no action of man can qualify, or even disqualify him from God's election. God is no respecter of persons and He is just in His decision. (Here are some scriptures in John's gospel on unconditional election: John 1:12-13; John 3:3, 27; John 6:37, 44-45, 64-65; John 10:2-3, 26; John 15:16; John 17:2, 6, 9.)

Limited atonement means that Christ's death was a universal act, but the gift is for those who will believe, or the elect. This is another subject which is weighty and tough to grasp, but with the guidance of the scriptures, it can be understood. This point is best explained using the possibly most famous scripture in the whole Bible, John 3:16. This scripture says, "For this is how God loved the world: he gave his only-begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him, should not perish, but have eternal life." The universal act is that God loves the world and His Son, Jesus Christ, died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, which are a result of the total depravity of man. The limit exists in those who would benefit from this universal act by receiving the gift of salvation and eternal life. The scripture says that whoever believes, receives eternal life. It does not imply that all of mankind will believe and receive eternal life. So, who believes? That is God's choosing in His unconditional election. (Limited atonement can be found in the following scriptures of John's gospel: John 3:16, 18, 36; John 5:24; John 6:40, 47, 53-58; John 8:12, 47; John 17:2.)

Irresistible grace means that, while God's grace can be and is resisted, He is the one who overcomes that resistance to choose His elect. How is God's grace irresistible if it can be resisted? Well, God's grace can be resisted because of man's total depravity. Man resists His grace because he loves the darkness and hates the light, because the light makes his evil deeds manifest. Now, God, being the Almighty and the Creator of the universe, chooses to overcome that resistance. When God breaks down that resistance, His gift of grace becomes irresistible, and the man cannot help but accept this grace. John's gospel gives a good example of this. John 6:44 shows that God's grace can be resisted, by saying, "No man can come to me, unless the Father who has sent me draws him." In other words, no man is able (because of resistance and because of his sinful nature) to come to Christ, unless God draws that man to Christ (by choosing to overcome that resistance). This is echoed in John 6:63-65, which says, "'It is the spirit that revives. The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who he was who would betray him. And he said, 'Therefore, I said to you, that no man can come to me, unless it were given to him by my Father.'"

Perseverance of God's elect means that all whom God has chosen, He will forever keep, and they will endure to the end with Him. Perseverance of the elect cannot be better explained than by Christ's words in John 10:27-29 when He said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." That is a very clear explanation. All whom God chooses to be His elect are forever kept with Him, they will never perish, and no one may take them away from His hand. God is greater than all, and He will never let go of His elect. (These are some scriptures in John's gospel that point to this perseverance: John 6:39; John 10:27-29; John 17:11-12, 19.)

In closing, John's gospel is a powerful writing. It is centered around the driving force of God's plans for His people: Jesus Christ. John's gospel immediately brings to task the identity of Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God, sent from the Father as the Father's Word manifest in the flesh, to provide a way to salvation for God's chosen ones. John's gospel presents salvation in a monergistic way, meaning that God's act of love for the world through the offering of His Son, Jesus, is the foundation upon which He displays His grace and saves His elect. With God as the central and originating cause, man's salvation is outlined in the only way that gives all glory to the Almighty Father, creator of the universe. In that lies the purpose of God's elect, which is to exalt Him and give the glory due to His holy name. Soli Deo gloria.