Our weekly blogs on John’s Gospel have now caught up with the blogs I wrote a couple of years ago. If you want to continue with John Chs. 12-21, please refer to the “Archives” section on the right of your screen. Here you will find that, having looked at Thomas in John 11.16 and shared our Christmas letter in the November 2016 blog, John Chs. 12-21 starts with the “Archive” December 2016 blog.
What I plan now in these next few blogs is to look at why I strongly feel that John’s Gospel should form the fundamental content of our ‘Gospel’ teaching and preaching for 2019. Then it is my aim to begin blogs on John’s three letters in order to look further at the message of John for today.
For several centuries biblical Christians have tended to base their understanding of the fundamental ‘Gospel’ on the writings of Paul. For several reasons which will become apparent as we proceed, I believe that Paul’s approach and message do not relate as easily as John’s to most non-Christians today. But Paul will become highly relevant as people come to faith in Jesus the Messiah and begin to worship the all-holy God.
To demonstrate their truly biblical faith, many Christian writers and preachers assert that ‘of course the Gospel never changes’. But is this true? Clearly, the word ‘Gospel’ is just an old English word meaning ‘good news’. What may be excitingly good news to one generation may not particularly concern a later generation. In reminding ourselves of this basic fact, we inevitably begin to face a question which I was asked to speak on in a Malaysian Chinese church. The church was sensing a call from God to help the British church in its mission in the hard context of post-Christian Britain. In one meeting they asked me to teach on “What makes Jesus good news to contemporary British”? So, is the message of Paul felt to be ‘good news’ when declared in Britain today? Or is the message of John more likely to meet people’s felt needs and thus prove more obviously ‘good’ news?
Salvation from Sin
It has been said that “Evangelicals love sin”! We tend to stress the Fall in Genesis 3 more than our creation in the image and likeness of God in Genesis 1 and 2. So often our fundamental message is built upon the foundation of a profound sense of sin. This stems from the Reformation and the letters of Paul, with their emphasis on the saving work of Jesus in redemption from sin and the consequent justification which is granted to all who believe in Jesus.
Many people today suffer from a nagging sense of guilt, but few seem to have a genuine awareness of our inherently sinful nature. Despite all the contemporary evidence to the contrary, it is still commonly believed that humanity remains basically good and also that public opinion will have right on its side. If most people remain unaware of their sin, then our message of salvation from sin will hardly come across as good news, as ‘Gospel’.
Of course there are exceptions to this general rule. The occasional person does suffer from a deep burden of sin which dogs their conscience and casts a shadow over their whole life. For such people Paul’s message of redemption from sin comes as a wonderful relief and in our churches we love to hear that sort of testimony. But let us not forget that such testimonies remain the exception. They may not apply relevantly to most people.
But when we come to faith in Jesus and begin to worship the all-holy Lord, then we shall become heart-breakingly conscious of our sin. As Paul declares, we all fall short of the glory of God. In prayer and worship we cannot but see how unworthily sinful we are. Then, as believing Christians, the message of Paul becomes essential for our spiritual life and growth. How wonderful that the death of Jesus has bought total cleansing and forgiveness from all sin! Through Jesus’ sacrificial death our sin is removed and we become in the Father’s eyes entirely righteous with the perfect righteousness of Jesus himself. “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed are they whose sin in the Lord does not count against them” (Psalm 32.1/2). Paul also delights in these words and notes that they apply universally through faith not only to Jews, but also to Gentiles (Romans 4.7-9).
In contrast to Paul, John in his Gospel shows little interest in questions related to sin and atonement. He does just note John the Baptist’s declaration that Jesus is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29), but otherwise barely mentions this aspect of the biblical message. He is more concerned with the glorious 21st century message of LIFE for all who believe in Jesus.
So we shall look more in our next few blogs at the message of John and how this may form ‘good news/Gospel’ in our contemporary society.