The Purpose of John's Gospel:
Believe in Jesus for Eternal Life
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers
If you could sum up the entire Bible in two words, I do not think you could do any better than these: "Jesus Christ." The entire Bible, from the very first page to the very last page is all about Jesus Christ. And so it comes as no surprise that the Bible contains four different accounts about His life and earthly ministry. We call these accounts "The Gospels." They are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
For some reason, however, most people tend to view these four as nearly identical. Some people tend to assume that if you've read one of the accounts, you've read them all. They're all about Jesus Christ after all. I've even heard some question why we even need four Gospel accounts. There are many reasons why we need four Gospels, but one of the most basic is that while all four are about Jesus, each writes about Him from a different perspective. Each account contains different stories, different teachings, different lessons from the life of Christ. Some of the most basic of these differences I have compiled in a chart.
In our lesson tonight, I want to focus specifically on the Gospel of John and how it relates to the last three differences on that chart. Most Christians do not realize that Matthew, Mark and Luke were written to people who were already Christians with the purpose of encouraging them to become more committed and faithful followers of Jesus Christ. While Matthew, Mark and Luke do contain the Gospel message, but not very frequently, and not very clearly. But that is because they did not write their Gospel accounts to tell people how to get to heaven. They wrote to tell people who are already headed for heaven how to have the best journey possible. Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote their accounts to inform Christians about how to become disciples of Jesus Christ. John, on the other hand, wrote specifically to unbelievers to tell them how to get eternal life.
In fact, just by way of example, look at this second hand-out listing all the times in the New Testament where faith alone in Christ alone is the message.
The first side lists the 185 verses on faith alone in Christ alone in the Bible. The second side categorizes all of them for you. But notice on the first side how there is only one reference to faith in Christ in Matthew. Only one in Mark and three in Luke. And then almost 100 in the Gospel of John alone. This condition for eternal life is mentioned everywhere in this Gospel, and sometimes two or three times in one verse!
Some people look at this and say, "Well, this was just John's way of expressing the Gospel. The other Gospel writers used different terminology to get across the same idea." But this is just simply not true. Take Luke for example. He wrote more than one book of the Bible, and so we are able to compare his terminology in Luke with his terminology in this other book which he wrote. And what other book did Luke write? Luke wrote Acts. And when we look at the book of Acts, we see that Luke puts faith alone in Christ alone as the sole condition for eternal life everywhere in Acts! He puts it in Acts almost as much as it is found in John. Why is this? Because Acts contains the account of how the Gospel spread from Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. Luke does not use different terminology to explain how to get eternal life. He knows that there is only one condition, and when he writes to tell about how the message of life spread throughout the world, he clearly states that one single condition.
Do you want to have eternal life? Believe in Jesus Christ for it.
But let's move beyond John and Luke, and talk about Paul. He wrote the majority of the New Testament. And if you look at the books which he wrote, you will discover that when Paul set out to define the message of eternal life in Romans, he repeatedly says that justification is by faith alone in Christ alone. When he sets out in Galatians out to defend the message of eternal life against those who would add works to the grace of God, he again tells them over and over that eternal life is by faith alone in Christ alone. No works are necessary, either before, during or after faith. Adding works anywhere to the equation makes a mockery of God's free grace offer of eternal life to all who simply believe in Jesus Christ for it.
And we could go further here and talk about some of the other things that people like to throw into the Gospel which should not be there. Take repentance, for example. One of the main reasons I do not think the Bible teaches that we should tell people to repent and believe in order to get eternal life is because neither the word, nor even the idea of repentance is found in the Gospel of John. It is not there. And again, some people try to argue that this is because John didn't like to use the word repentance. But this is not the case. Aside from Luke, John uses the word more than any other New Testament writer in his book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. John was very familiar with the word and concept of repentance. But when he wrote a book about how to get eternal life, he completely left it out.
Take Paul also. When he writes his magnum opus of Romans in which he defines the Gospel, he uses the word repentance only once in Romans 2:4 when he is not even talking about how to get eternal life. When he defends the gospel against the legalistic heresy in Galatia, he doesn't use the word repentance at all. We will talk about all of this much more when we get to repentance in a few weeks. The point for tonight is that the message of the entire Bible, over and over and over is that the only way to get to heaven is to believe in Jesus for eternal life. This is the one condition. This is the only condition.
The books of the Bible which were written to explain, define and defend this, make absolutely certain that this is the message that comes out. We could turn to Roman or Galatians or even Acts to see this, but we are going to turn to John because it is the clearest book in the Bible on this most important issue. Luke wrote Acts to show the spread of the church. Paul wrote Romans and Galatians to define and defend the Gospel, but he talks about many other things in these books also.
Only John wrote with the expressed purpose of telling people how to have eternal life. It is the only book of the entire Bible with this single purpose. To see this, turn to John 20:30-31.
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
This verse tells us that in his Gospel account, John has recorded certain signs, certain truths, certain teachings that were specifically chosen to bring people to faith in Christ for eternal life. And when you study the Gospel account, you see that this is exactly what He does.
The Gospel contains many sevens. There are seven signs and then an eighth all-encompassing sign all of which point people to faith in Christ. Beyond this, John includes seven "I Am" statements which reveal who Christ is. There are seven witnesses in John who tell who Christ is. There are seven miracles. There are three keys. There are seven equalities with God. There are also seven comparative pictures John uses to illustrate how to get eternal life. John is an amazing book. The most amazing thing about it is that it simply and clearly tells a person how to get to heaven - how to receive eternal life.
Let's look at a few of these passages.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
John knows that some people who read his account of the life of Christ will maybe not get past the first paragraph. So he makes sure he tells his readers right away how to become a child of God, how to get eternal life. He says that those who receive Him become children of God. And how do you receive Him? By believing in His name. By believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life. By simply trusting in Him, placing faith in Him that He has done everything necessary in order to take care of your sin and get into heaven. When you believe in Jesus for eternal life, you are basically saying that you know there is nothing you can do to get to heaven and Jesus has done it all for you. He paid the penalty for your sin. He bought eternal life for you. And He gives it to you free of charge. And He keeps you from losing eternal life. Christ has done it all.
I really love this picture of being a child of God. For some reason, sometimes, people think that God the Father is a worse Father than some human, earthly fathers. Think about it. If you are a parent, and your son or daughter does something that you told them not to do, do you disown them? If your child disobeys you and rebels against you, do you tell them, "Well, because you did that, you are no longer my child"? No! Some human parents might do this, but the best parents continue to love their children no matter how many problems they get into. When a child strays, the parents hope and pray that the child will come back, but no good parent tells the child, "You are no longer my child."
Eventually, we will be looking at the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, and this is exactly the lesson Jesus wants us to learn about God the Father also. When one of His children slaps His face, and knowingly, rebelliously, blatantly walks away from Him, God doesn't say, "Well, he's no longer my child. Maybe if he comes and asks to be my child again, I will let him." No, the whole point of the story of the prodigal son is that God is waiting and looking and hoping that His child will come home. When we wander away from God, either knowingly, or unknowingly, God does not say we are no longer his children. He is not hoping that we come back and ask to be His child again. Instead, He knows that we are still His child and He is hoping that we come back into fellowship with Him. He is hoping we learn that whatever took us away from Him is empty and void of meaning and insignificant compared to a loving, intimate, day by day, abiding in Christ, fellowship with God the Father.
This picture of us being children of God is so prevalent and powerful in the Bible that we must not miss all the wonderful ramifications of it. John 1:12 says that God makes us His children when we believe in Jesus.
John 3:16 is probably the most famous verse in the entire Bible. It is one of the first verses children learn in Sunday school and is the verse that people hold up behind the goal posts at football games. I know you all know it, but let me read it for you.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
This verse is succinct summary of all that we learned in our last study from Ephesians 2:8-9. First of all, we see again that salvation always begins with God. Remember Ephesians 2:4? "But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which he loved us…" Salvation always begins with God's love for us. It's not because we were lovable, or that we begged Him to love us. No, the Bible says that we love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). And while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).
And then we see that God's love for the world was so great that He gave His only Son. Now let me pause here and ask a question. Jesus says in John 15:13, "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." And that is true, but here in John 3:16, we do not read, "For God so loved the world that He came Himself to die for the world." Do you see the dilemma? If there is no greater love among men then giving your own life for your friends, then how come God the Father didn't just come Himself?
The answer is that John 15:13 is talking about love among men. And giving your life for a friend truly is the greatest expression of love on the planet. But God's love is not human love. It is much greater than that. You see, as great of love as it takes to give your own life for a friend, it takes even greater love to give the life of your Son. And greater still, God is not giving the life of His Son for friends, but for His enemies. No human has ever had this kind of love. Almost all human parents would much rather die themselves than have their children die. We would rather go through any amount of suffering ourselves than have our children suffer. And if we were going to go through suffering or death, it had better be for a good cause, or a good friend. But none of us would willingly suffer for an enemy, let alone give our children up to suffer for our enemies. But this is exactly what God has done. This is how much God loves us. John 3:16 tells us this is what God has done.
And what does the verse say that our response should be? That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. God loves us so much, He sent His Son Jesus to die for us. And in return, God tells us that we have to live a perfect life in order to qualify for spending any time with Him in heaven. No, that's not right. God loves us so much, He sent His Son Jesus to die for us so that He could offer us everlasting life. And to receive this life, you just believe in Jesus for it.
Whosoever believes in Him. This offer is open to all. It doesn't matter what you've done in your past. It doesn't matter what is going on in your present. It doesn't matter how rich or poor you are. It doesn't matter where you live or how old or young you are. This offer is freely given to everyone.
And those who do believe receive everlasting life. Everlasting life is just that - everlasting. In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, those who are on the tour are each given an Everlasting Gobstopper. Now, I've been down to the store and bought a box of everlasting Gobstopper's, and I always thought it was curious that they put about 20 or 30 in a box. If they are everlasting, you shouldn’t need more than one. Well, in the movie, they truly are everlasting. Willy Wonka tells them that you can suck on it forever and it will never go away. You'll never reach the end of it. You'll never need another one. This is the way everlasting life is. You only need one. I think it was Earl Radmacher who said that if everlasting life can be lost, it has the wrong name. If everlasting life could be lost, to be honest, God should have called it temporary life, or "as-long-as-you-are-obedient" life.
But He didn't. He called it everlasting life, and in my book, everlasting means everlasting, and according to John 3:16, God gives it to you the moment you believe in Jesus for it.
John 5:24 is more of the same, but has a few more key thoughts that the other passages haven't mentioned, so let's look at it also.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
Jesus begins by saying, Most assuredly. In other words, "Here are the facts. Here's the truth. Here is something you can know with absolute certainty." This isn't just "pretty certain." This is Most assuredly. In the Greek, this is Amen, Amen. It is the most emphatic way of saying, "Here's the truth." It's like saying, "Here's the true truth."
And then Jesus says, I say unto you. What the verse says next is Christ's words. They are not some pastor's words. They are not someone's mere opinion. Aside from being in God's inspired word, where there is no error, these are the very words of Jesus Christ. And we dare not deny them, or twist them, or add things to them which are not there.
And here are the truly true words Jesus says: He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life. This is exactly what we have seen in John 1:12 and 3:16 so far, except with a little twist. Here, rather than believing in Jesus, we are told that we can believe in the One who sent Jesus. Who is that? God the Father. This verse is key to understanding how Old Testament people were saved. The New Testament says clearly that we are given eternal life by believing in Jesus for it. Peter says in Acts 4:12 that there is no other name, under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.
But the problem is when we try to understand how Old Testament people were saved. They didn't know the name of Jesus. Sure, they knew that Messiah was coming, but they didn't know that His name would be Jesus. They were a little confused on what exactly He would do when He came. Most of them didn't realize He would be born in a stable, would grow up as a carpenter's son, would have a short three year ministry, and then die as a criminal before rising from the dead. They didn't understand any of this, so they couldn't have believed in Jesus exactly as we do.
But Jesus tells us here that believing in Jesus is the same thing as believing in what God has said in His Word. Do you see how Jesus points that out? He mentions both the Word of God, and believing in God the Father according to what He has said in the Word. This is very important to understand. There are countless millions of people who think they are going to heaven because they "believe in God." But most of them have never read the Word, nor do they understand what God has said in the Word. When most people say they believe in God, what they mean is that they believe there is a God, and that because He loves them, He will let them into heaven.
But God says over and over and over throughout the entire Bible that although He loves all people, the only way to get into heaven is to believe in the Messiah for eternal life. The people of the Old Testament didn't know much about the Messiah - only that He would come. And if they believed this, then God gave them eternal life (John 3:10; Acts 10:43; Gen. 15:6; Isa. 53:11; Hab. 2:4). We know a lot more about the Messiah than they did. But the condition for eternal life is still the same. God gives eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus for it. And we find this truth and this promise everywhere throughout the entire Bible.
In John 5:24, Jesus continues to tell them what it means to have eternal life. He says that those who have it will not come into judgment, but has passed from death unto life. Jesus defines judgment as death. In context, this is a very clear reference to spiritual death both in this life, and for eternity. So Jesus is saying those who have everlasting life will not return again to a condition of being under judgment, will not end up or go back to a state of spiritual death.
But there are many who teach this very thing. Many of these teachers say that if we have eternal life, and we sin, or even think of sinning, we die spiritually again. We return to a state of judgment. We return to being spiritually dead. One of these teachers says, "One disobedient decision, even prior to the act of sin, will restore you to a state of rebellion….ANY sin is proof of a rebellious, destructive, twisted self-will that will send them to hell." If that is true, then nobody is saved. Not you. Not me. Not even the apostle Paul.
Did you realize that the longer Paul lived, the more aware of His sinfulness he became? Early in his ministry, he called himself the least of all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:9). Later in his ministry, he called himself the least of all the saints (Eph. 3:8). But right near the end of his life, he called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). Even in Romans 7, it is clearly evident that Paul continued his whole life to struggle with sin.
Here is the Biblical truth. The longer we are a Christian, and the closer we get to God, the more aware we become of our own sinfulness. As we grow in Christ-likeness, the more horrified we become at how sinful we still are. We will never get to a place in this life where we arrive at a state of sinless perfection. Never. You listen to the Godly men and women who have lived in fellowship with God for fifty, sixty, seventy years, and they will tell you of the sin that is still in their own hearts. How thankful we can be that Jesus promises that when He gives us everlasting life for believing in Him, we will never again return to a state of judgment and spiritual death. It's not I who say it. Jesus says it.
I don't know if you have heard of J. Wilbur Chapman. He was a 19th century American evangelist greatly used by God to spread the good news of salvation through faith in Christ.
Here is what he wrote about how he came to know he was saved.
I was studying for the ministry, and I heard that D.L. Moody was to preach in Chicago. I went to hear him. Finally I got into his aftermeeting. I shall never forget the thrill that went through me when he came and sat down beside me as an inquirer. He asked me if I was a Christian. I said, "Mr. Moody, I am not sure whether I am a Christian or not.’
He very kindly took his Bible and opened it to the fifth chapter of John, and the twenty-fourth verse, which reads as follows: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
Suppose you had read it through for the first time, wouldn’t you think it was wonderful? I read it through, and he said, "Do you believe it?"
I said, "Yes."
"Do you accept it?"
I said, "Yes."
"Well, are you a Christian?"
"Mr. Moody, I sometimes think I am, and sometimes I am afraid I am not."
He very kindly said, "Read it again."
So I read it again, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life."
Then he said, "Do you believe it?"
I said, "Yes."
"Do you receive Him?"
I said, "Yes."
"Well," he said, "are you a Christian?"
I just started to say over again that sometimes I was afraid I was not, when the only time in all the years I knew him and loved him, he was sharp with me. He turned on me with his eyes flashing and said, "See here, whom are you doubting?" Then I saw it for the first time, that when I was afraid I was not a Christian I was doubting God’s Word. [I was doubting a promise of Jesus Christ Himself!] I read it again with my eyes overflowing with tears. Since that day I have had many sorrows and many joys, but never have I doubted for a moment that I was a Christian, because God said it.
Yes, God's Word has said that those who believe in Jesus for eternal life, not only get eternal life, but get it forever. Do you believe this? If so, then you are saved, and will always be saved – no matter what. Why? Because God has promised it. Jesus Christ has guaranteed it in John 5:24 and almost 100 other passages in the book of John alone. The Bible is very clear. I hope that the condition for eternal life is more clear in your own mind than it was before tonight. And I hope that as a result of this study, we can be more clear when we tell our family members, co-workers and neighbors how to receive eternal life.
Toward that end, I want to make the best witnessing tract I have found available to you absolutely free. I have used a lot of booklets and tracts over the years, but have found that by far, the best one is this little booklet called Living Water. It's larger than most tracts. This one is 77 pages long. You say, "That's quite a tract!" Yes, but do you know why? Because it is the Gospel of John. God's Word is living and active and sharper than a double-edged sword, so why, when we witness, do we use everything but the Word of God. And aside from this, if you look through most tracts today, even when they do quote Scripture, they use everything but verses from John, which was written specifically to tell people how to receive eternal life!
So when we use God's Word, and when we use the portion of God's Word which was specifically written with witnessing in mind, I have found that God gets involved and does some amazing things in the hearts and minds and souls of the people we are sharing with. I take these with me everywhere I go and I would encourage you to do the same thing. And the most amazing thing about these little Gospels of John is that you don’t' have to remember a single thing. If you forget what to say, or if you only have 30 seconds with a person, this little booklet will help.
If you forget what to say, just take out one of these booklets, and the message of eternal life is plastered all over it. Right here on the cover it tells you the message. "Whoever believes in Me has eternal life." You open up to the Introduction and the message of eternal life is clearly explained here. You can either have the person read it, or tell them to read it later, or read it to them, or summarize it to them. And it's good to point out a few of the verses which show that God gives eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus for it. We've looked at a few of the verses in John tonight which show this. But if you are like me, and have trouble remembering the references, this little booklet helps you out there too.
All you have to do is turn through the pages and look for footnotes at the bottom. When you see a footnote, it gives you the verse reference and why that reference is a key salvation passage. So you flip through with the person, and you see the footnote for John 1:12-13. Have them read the verses, and then use the footnote if you want to explain the verses. Then, flip through, and you come to John 3:16. Same thing. Read the passage. Point out the truths which are contained in the note. Then, flip through, and you come to John 4:14. I didn't talk about this one tonight, but it's a good passage also. Then, flip through, and you come to John 5:24. And so on. Now, this little booklet didn't have room to point out all 98 references to eternal life through faith in Christ, but many of the best and clearest do contain footnotes.
Also, when you get around John 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17, there are some clear passages on discipleship and what a person should do after they are saved in order to get the most out of being a child of God. You can point those out to the person also if you want. And if you have time, there is a good summary and some concluding notes at the back on page 69 for people to read.
If you're going to witness, you can't do better than use the Bible. And if you're going to use the Bible in witnessing, you can't do better than the Gospel of John. And if you're using the Gospel of John, you might as well use a little booklet like this that helps you remember what to say and where the key passages are and that you can leave with the person to take with them and read on their own. So take as many as you want. If we use them up - that's great - we can always order more.
The message of John is that God gives eternal life to anyone who simply and only believes in Jesus for it. Do you believe this?