Four Reasons Youth Need the Gospel of John

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As families find their ways into “back to school” rhythms, our church’s student ministry leadership team is preparing to teach through John 11-21. Having studied the first ten chapters last year, the completion of our study of the book of John is a scriptural journey which will last through the end of the 2016-2017 school calendar.

The book Father, Son, and Spirit (by Andreas Köstenberger and Scott Swain) notes that the Gospel of John possesses “virtually unparalleled theological compactness and coherence.” It was the depth and breadth of the Fourth Gospel’s contents which made the book attractive to study with our church’s students. And yet a journey through the book is not without a cost to a church’s or ministry’s overall teaching landscape. The necessary amount may vary between teachers, but the faithful, thoughtful exposition of the book’s contents is a process which demands time. Though we have taken breaks from the series when a relevant topic or current event dictates, a study through John’s Gospel presents an opportunity cost to teaching shorter, equally relevant books of the Bible in the same time span.

In my mind, the study of John’s Gospel is well worth any associated opportunity cost, particularly when one is teaching teenagers and/or young believers. Here are four reasons why I feel it to be so:

1.John’s Gospel is useful for leading lost people to Jesus. The book stimulates in-depth theological conversations: the nature of our Triune God, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the role of signs and miracles in the Christian ministry, etc. At the same time, the entirety of this theological content falls under the umbrella of a simple, powerful statement of purpose provided by the author of the Gospel himself: “[These things] 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 20:31).

Eternity hangs in the balance for the students to whom we minister. Through robust theological reflections and engaging narrative, John’s Gospel introduces readers first and foremost to a person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who alone is able to bestow eternal life.

2.John’s Gospel stretches and encourages believers into faith and surrender. While the “purpose statement” from John 20 reveals the evangelistic priority of the Fourth Gospel, the depth and breadth of its theological content reveals the priority of Christian growth as well. As Craig Keener writes, “Throughout the Fourth Gospel signs call forth a basic level of faith, but only as an invitation to a deeper, persevering faith…”

In John 10:10, Jesus himself states “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” With instructions for believers to “love one another” (13:34), to “keep [Jesus’] commandments” (14:15), and to “Abide in [Jesus’] love” (15:9), it is clear that John’s Gospel does not limit its definition of “eternal life” to something which is only possible in an afterlife. Rather, John presents the view that it is possible (and quite normal) for Christ-followers to experience the realities of God’s Kingdom in the course of their lives on earth.

Initial faith in Jesus is important; the Gospel of John challenges anyone who has not trusted Christ for their salvation to do so! But for many of our believing students (and for many of us), John’s encouragement is to allow the faith we’ve placed in Christ to penetrate “below the surface” of our hearts and minds. We’re invited to truly encounter the person and work of Jesus Christ – to allow him to renew us, convict us, and ultimately change us at our core. John helps us to see Christianity beyond the scope of a “one-time decision,” or something which impacts us on Sunday only. We see everlasting, abundant life as immediately relevant: at school, playing sports, navigating social and family pressures, and beyond.

3. John’s Gospel presents the beauty of a Christ-centered identity. Now more than ever, young people are encouraged to define themselves in whatever ways they feel to be appropriate for them. The Gospel of John presents readers with a better view of who we are as individuals: that our identity is an objective reality which stems directly from our spiritual lineage. Passages such as John 8:39-47 reveal that what we do reveals whose we are. That’s not naturally good news! Like the religious leaders to whom Jesus spoke in those verses, we are all inclined toward sin and self-salvation. We incessantly seek to re-define ourselves using the vocabulary of the world because we, like Satan, aren’t naturally satisfied with submitting to God’s standards and gracious rule.

But John’s Gospel doesn’t stop at diagnosis only! It clearly addresses the deep longings of the human heart for identity and belonging with this powerful truth: because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, Christ-followers are defined as children of God. As Jesus says in John 17:25-26, “O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” In Jesus, we are given a new identity: “a share in [Jesus’] filial relationship with the Father by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” Because of Christ, the same love the Father lavishes upon the Son is lavished upon us forevermore. Our youth need to hear this truth every day. They need to know that – no matter what they’ve done or not done – the fullness of God’s love and acceptance is offered to them freely in Christ.

4. John’s Gospel unleashes God’s people on mission. Two statements from Jesus in the Fourth Gospel are sufficient to ignite the church on mission:

  • John 14:12: “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
  • John 20:21: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Saving Faith. Abundant Life. The very identity of Christ in us. These are the fruits of our salvation, accomplished through Christ’s redeeming work. How each speaks so wonderfully to the longings and desires which are found in every teenage heart! But we are not only the beneficiaries of the mission of God; in Christ, we are active participants as well. Just as the Father sent the Son on a victorious mission of redemption, so too does Jesus send out His followers to continue His work on earth. We are promised trials and tribulations as we engage in the work (see John 16:18-25), but not without the promise of fruitfulness which flows from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What great encouragement for both ourselves and our students to engage our new identity in Christ, and in so doing, engage in the mission of God!

(For a great resource for helping your students share the message of John’s Gospel with friends and family, please review http://thelifebook.com/).

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