All Scriptures are “God breathed”—given by God to change us (2 Tim. 3:16). So, for anyone ready for spiritual formation, try this: read all of John’s gospel in a single sitting. With a print Bible to mark-up. You can read the whole in three hours or less.
Pick a quiet time and place. Maybe away from home. No phones, screens, or devices around; and no food or friends—anything that might block the Spirit’s gentle voice as you read. Don’t turn it into a study. Read for flow. Study is good, of course, but save it for another day. To get started try reading aloud if that helps you concentrate, then after ten- or fifteen-minutes shift to silent reading. Pause to stretch as needed but stay focused.
Here’s the aim. John wrote the gospel to stir faith: “… these [words] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” [John 20:30-31]. Many of us are like the father in Mark 9:24 who called to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” We all have room to grow, and John helps. Paul, too, reminds readers in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Faith grows with Bible exposure, especially as we chase God. He’s waiting for us.
Another key in this reading-that-forms-faith is a prayer for lively eyes and ears. God’s Spirit will be your companion if you embrace him with a heart open to what he wrote. He doesn’t force his way in but he does offer God’s love. So, be sure to say, “thank you!” for any insights he offers.
This is the first of five reflections I expect to write on John’s portrayals of belief. Each will be just a snapshot—a suggestive glance. The aim is to accompany readers as we all share in reflecting on the gospel content.
Let’s start with the prolog. John 1:1-18 sets up the whole book. Our key word, “believe,” is used once, in verse twelve: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Human initiative, it’s clear, is not the key to making faith work. And we’ll see how this counterintuitive starting point continues as we move ahead in the gospel. The “right to become children of God” is something we “receive” and not something we “do.”
This right to be God’s children offers a family status. The problem posed by philosophers, that Creator and creation are incommensurate—separated by obvious differences in being—is brushed aside. The benefit of family access to God is promised. So, a question arises: what in believing brings about a bond with God as his children? Is it cognitive agreement? Volitional or spiritual submission? A fusion of aims? We don’t have any answer other than that it comes about through the “will of God” and not through “the will of man.” More explanation comes later.
Before we move ahead let’s notice the present context for belief. The gospel starts with God’s innate relationality. God is one with the Word, yet with a distinction. The “with God” status doesn’t reduce him. We’re also reminded the “Word was God.” And, in words that look back to the creation of Genesis chapter one, this Word is a starting point for “life and light” in humanity. We also find, as in Genesis, God is the creator. “All things were made through him”—and God, the Word, accomplished the creation.
John also presents the Word—identified as Jesus Christ in 1:17—as God’s “Son” who is “full of grace and truth.” He carries with him a unique “glory” that teases readers. Many big concepts here need the rest of the gospel to make sense. But two issues stand out in the prolog: “the world did not know him” or “receive him” (1:10-11). And the major role of the Son-who-is-the-Word is to make the unseen God—his Father—known.
Is this account believable? That God is both seen and unseen? And that one dimension or aspect of this relational God is “the Father” and another is his “Word,” the “Son,” who makes him known? There’s a lot to digest here! And John, as our guide, sets us up to discover much, much more about the Word. And it’s a crucial calling, “For from his fulness we have received grace upon grace” (1:16).
It’s a profound start. Let’s keep on reading.