The Gospel of John – The Essentials of Christianity

Recently I received preacher Al Maxey’s “Reflections” in my email inbox. A section of this issue caught my attention and caused me to consider some facts about the Gospel of John in the Bible, and it’s importance. These observations did not originate with Al Maxey but I am very thankful that  he chose to include this in the most recent “Reflections”. I quote Al Maxey:

  • The following thoughts come from Virgil Fiske, who lives in the northern part of New Mexico. He says, “I came out of the Church of Christ a few years ago and do house churches now. I preached for theChurch of Christ for over 30 years, but fought the legalism and the arrogance all the way.” I can certainly identify with this frustration. The following is an article he shared with me that he wrote over a year ago, but which came to his mind when he read my last Reflections. I’m pleased to be able to pass it along to each of you.

First principles, the essentials, the basics of Christianity have dominated my mind lately. I was asked which denomination is right, what rules are required to be saved. I had just started a study in John, and it suddenly yelled at me. Since John’s Gospel was written that we might believe and have eternal life (John 20:31), then it can be accepted that the Gospel of John contains everything we need to know and believe. It must also contain every behavior required to gain salvation. Therefore, it could be understood that the rest of the information presented in the NT comes as an illustration of how the basics presented by John play out in the life of the first century church. Should one agree with many scholars that John’s Gospel was the last text written before the canonization of Scripture, then it can be assumed that any emphasis on doctrinal concepts not mentioned is excessive. Since John’s Gospel contains little regarding baptism, Communion, church leadership and attendance, the contribution, worship styles, women’s roles in the church, etc., how can these issues be areas over which we bicker and divide?! If we can recognize the basic principles of love and forgiveness demonstrated by Christ’s sacrifice as the foundation of our faith, then all the other behavior of Christ-like people should not divide us. Jews worshiped one way, Gentiles worshiped another, and though the discussion in Acts 15 was heated, the conclusion was that both groups were accepted by God, though radically different.

Many years after the discussion on how to deal with Gentiles, the apostle John penned the Gospel and the letters that carry his name. 1 John 5:13 says that he wrote this small letter to those who believe so that they might know they have eternal life. How much should we add to what John wrote if we really want to know we have eternal life?!

John wrote as a very old Christian who happened to be the last living apostle. He must have felt that the letters written by others over 30 years earlier were important, yet he does not mention them. I started studying John’s Gospel and his letters as if I was living at the end of the first century and they were all that I had. What would my saving faith and my worship actually look like? You might want to try the same. It has really changed my view of all those who believe in Jesus.

Finally, I heard John say that we should be careful not to listen to the other teachers, but instead focus on the “anointing” we have all received (1 John 2:26-27). I have seen firsthand the damage done by following our emotions, but we may have more damage by following only that which is written. For me personally now, the NT is the tool that I use to verify what I sense in my heart as I am led by the Spirit.

At a minimum Virgil Fiske makes some compelling points about the importance of John’s writings, especially the Gospel of John and 1 John. Both were written that we might believe in Jesus Christ and that by believing we should have eternal life.

Most Bible scholars agree that the Gospel of John was probably written between 85 and 95 a.d.. And, there is also general consensus that John was written from the city of Ephesus where John was a leader. There is some disagreement about his title, (elder, bishop, presbyter, etc…) but not that he was an important figure in the Ephesian church.

In my view it is without question that John had read all of the earlier writings that are now the New Testament. It is especially important, and worthy of consideration, that the elderly John was very familiar with the writings of Luke (the Gospel of Luke and Acts), and the letters of Paul, especially Romans and Ephesians.

Considering the fact that John was “the disciple Jesus loved“, one of the disciples of Jesus in the very inner circle during Jesus’ ministry, and having read the writings mentioned above, the Gospel of John does not emphasize some of the things one must do to have eternal life that many people today do.

I have long thought that of all the Bible, the Gospel of John is the principal book on Christology. John has no equal in regard to the person and work of Jesus, his deity, and that salvation is by believing on Him.

I am thankful that Mr. Fiske shared his thoughts on the Gospel of John with Al Maxey and that Al shared it with the readers of his Reflections. By the way, if you are not receiving “Reflections” by Al Maxey you can easily subscribe here . Send an email and ask for Reflections and you will be blessed by this good man’s common sense approach to Scripture and wonderful ability to communicate the truths he finds there.

I am especially interested in your thoughts on this post.

Royce Ogle
Monroe, LA

Religion vs. Christianity

This post is focused on religion and religious people. Before going further I think it is important to say that most of what I will write here is in the immediate context of Evangelical Christianity. If you think I’m way off base along the way, remember the context of the post.

You would expect that during the time of a man’s life when he is keenly aware of his mortality,  his religious posture would be the strongest of his life. Not so with yours truly. I am less religious than I was many years ago. At least that is the case the way I think of and define religion.

Religion = Human desire to have favor with God, both now and at the end, expressed by rites, rituals, routine church related activities, and ethical and moral boundaries in daily living.

The opposite deserves a definition too.

Christianity = What God has accomplished through Christ for undeserving sinners.

Its a given that both of these definitions are very brief, and not complete by any measure but they are mine and I believe they are fair representations of two polar opposites.

Now my earlier statement “I am less religious than I was many years ago” might make a bit more sense. This idea is true precisely because of my understanding of what it means to be a Christian today vs. about 30 years ago.

In the past few years I have heard from many sources that young people (teens and young adults into their 30’s) are becoming more and more turned off by “organized religion“, or “church” in the traditional understanding. I get it! And, I largely agree. They can see a phony a mile away! Today’s young people will no longer accept people who live double lives as legitimate. I think I know why, at least in part.

In the not so distant past, pre-internet, people largely had only one source for religious teaching, the local church their family attended. Even for those who did not attend church what was heard at the corner market, in the work place, or in public school, was likely sourced in the local pulpit or Sunday school class room. The community had its morality shaped by the local churches its people attended. Most of that dynamic was very good. With the advent of the internet and the accompanying knowledge explosion that ensued came at least two generations of younger folks who get their information from many sources.

People (not only younger people) learned that there were people out there who were just as devoted to Jesus Christ as they but expressed their devotion differently than how they or their parents or grand parents did. Preachers shed the J C Penny suits and hand saw blade ties for polo shirts and casual slacks. The community of faith started finally to do tangible things to help the homeless, addicted, and otherwise downtrodden. In many churches worship included more upbeat singing, “worship music”, and more personal expression in worship.

I think most young people today will not believe you are a true disciple of Jesus just because you are outwardly moral and attend church faithfully. Unless they see you serving, living somewhat sacrificially 7 days a week they are not favorably impressed. I tend to agree.

Here is the bottom line. There is nothing wrong with ritual, rites, and church activity. But, what is your motive? If your motive is to try to get God to like you more, or to attempt to tilt the scales of divine justice your way, you are wasting your life. The Bible says the “Truth will set you free..”. Jesus has already fully accomplished all that ever needed to be done for you and me to be saved. We either receive the gift offered by the gospel or we continue to work feverishly to strike a “deal” with God about our eternal destiny. If that describes you I have bad news. You are in no position to barter with God.

My salvation is complete. My task is to “work out my salvation” now with reverent awe before God and a watching world. At age 64 I am no longer willing to just go through the motions just to appease those who value tradition. I want to be charitable and kind but I am not wearing a suit, even when I die I hope. I love going to worship with the saints each week and meeting other times as well to be encouraged and built up. None of these activities however are done to impress God. He knows me completely and is NOT impressed. But He loves me with a steadfast love that is quite enough for me.

The greatest obstacle to God’s redemptive plan is not the people down at the corner bar or the crowds at the casino, it is the religious crowd. It was true in Bible times and it is true today. Our modern day Pharisees are up to the same schemes to divide and destroy. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day thought they were the only ones doing God’s will. Not much has changed has it? The human condition is common to all ages.

It would be very stupid to have a car in your driveway with plush leather seats, a built in GPS, a top of the line sound system, and the most expensive wheels and tires and NO engine. It would be all show and no go! So, I ask myself what is under the hood of my spiritual life? I don’t want it to be style over substance. I am forsaking the trappings of religion on purpose in pursuit of authentic Christian discipleship.