Sermon: John 1:1-18 The Self-Centered Gospel
Introduction: We talk about being followers of Jesus and spend a lot of time discussing what Jesus wants us to do. But do we talk enough about who Jesus actually is, what is the essence of Jesus? What characterizes Jesus? What are his attributes?
And so I was reading John Chapter 1 and it says that Jesus is full of grace and truth and that from his fullness we have received grace upon grace. So I thought it would be great to look at the definition of grace as it pertains directly to Jesus in this passage.
So I thought “what are the common definitions of grace that we use?
One is that grace is God’s unmerited favor towards those who don’t deserve it.
The second is an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.
So I started studying, getting out my Greek New Testament, my Lexicons (fancy word for dictionary), I’m looking at online resources, I even had Cory Mansfield start doing some research for me with his own software.
What I found was a much fuller definition of grace and its use.
It’s not that the definitions above are particularly wrong but that they are particularly deficient.
And while we use the word grace all the time, I wanted to see what are some synonyms or phrases that help define this word.
So here it is:
Grace is favor, blessing, joy, pleasure, delight, goodwill, kindness, attractiveness, beauty. Grace is used as a noun to describe the essence of God and in John 1 the essence of Jesus (who is God) or adjective to describe God, or even as a verb grace would be to perform an action prompted by favor, kindness, and goodwill toward someone else.
Now, we say that grace is “unmerited favor” because the New Testament talks about how God gives us grace unconditionally, not based on us deserving it. Our sin keeps us from deserving grace and yet God still gives us grace because of what Jesus has done for us in his life, death, and resurrection.
Ephesians 2: 8-9
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
But if we only see grace as it is applied to us then we are missing the truth that grace is first and foremost the essence of who God is. We tend to see a lot of things in the Bible this way. I call it the self-centered gospel. We see what’s in the Bible only as it relates to us and the benefit that we receive.
My challenge to you this morning is to stop seeing and believing in a self-centered gospel.
The Scriptures portray a God-centered gospel and while we are the recipients of this gospel, we are not the end goal of this gospel. Your life is not about you.
So let’s start with our own church’s catechism the Westminster Confession of Faith. The first question in the catechism is:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: The chief end of man is to glorify myself and to enjoy me forever.
No? That’s not the answer?
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
The universe revolves around God not around man.
Remember before the 1500’s, people believed that the sun, moon and planets revolved around the earth. But then Copernicus and later Galileo figured out that actually it was the sun that was stationary and the earth and planets revolved around the sun. This changed everything they thought they knew about astronomy.
We need to have a similar realization. Our lives don’t revolve and orbit around us, for our pleasure, but rather our lives revolve around God and orbit around Him for His pleasure and glory. It doesn’t mean that we are not significant or valued by God. After all, we were created in His image but it’s for His glory.
When we become the end of all things, when our own happiness, our emotional stability becomes the goal of life then we will never achieve that goal. This is because we were not created that way. That is simply not how God has ordered the universe.
Let’s go back to the first four words in the Bible. “In the beginning, God…” It doesn’t say, “In the beginning, man…” It says God. So, if you ever start to get confused about what life is all about then go back to Genesis 1:1 and these four words.
Now, our original text for today is almost identical to Gen 1. (“In the beginning, God…”)
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word…” This is obviously not a coincidence. The apostle John is making his point clear at the beginning of his gospel. This Jesus whom he is getting to tell you all about is God, and he is from the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
What God wants to make clear in His Scriptures is that the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is primary; man was created by God and for God.
John 1:3 says, ‘All things were made through Him [Jesus], and without Him [Jesus] was not anything made that was made.”
Colossians 1:15-16, “He [Jesus] is he image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him.”
God did not create us for ourselves, God created us for Himself, for His glory. [let that sink in]
The frustration we feel in this life goes back to this misunderstanding of why we were created and who we were created for. We live in a world with enough misinformation, so let’s make sure we get this right…
You were created by God and for God, for His glory.
Our Community Group started the study on Psalm 23 by Matt Chandler. Psalm 23 starts out, “The Lord is my shepherd…”
One of the discussion questions asks, “What other shepherds are you following?”
The answer was simple for me. I am my own shepherd. I lead my own life where I want it to go. I will lead myself to the places, feelings, emotions, and actions that make me feel good about me.
But Jesus promises to be my Shepherd and he will lead me to where he wants me to go, for his glory. I need to believe this!
“So am I just supposed to live my life in blind obedience, as a slave to God, doing his bidding without any joy or happiness?” No. Because God has created you and His purpose for you is to live in a RELATIONSHIP with Himself. God loves his creation, his desire to have a full and abundant relationship with you.
Remember the story of the prodigal son from the last two weeks? Why was the father so happy and why did he celebrate when his son came home? Because his son had come home to HIM! Their relationship was restored and reconciled. And the father makes the same point to the older brother. When the older brother says to his father, “this son of yours” has squandered all the wealth, the father answers, “this brother of yours” was lost but now is found. The father wanted the older son to see the good news that his brother had come home and they could be a family again.
Sin separates but the gospel reconciles.
Another way to think about this…
Why are we motivated to missions? Why do we want people to be saved?
Normal answer: So they won’t go to hell.
Biblical answer: So they can worship God in Spirit and truth.
The first paragraph in John Piper’s book on missions, entitled Let the Nations be Glad says this, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
The salvation of souls is not for the salvation of souls. The salvation of souls is for souls to be brought back into a relationship with God. Jesus didn’t die to save you from hell. Jesus died so you could be made holy and worship Him. Don’t believe me? Listen:
1 Peter 3:18
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,
4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us[a] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
“I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.
For your name’s sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, if life is not about me, then how is the gospel good news for me?
Let me put it this way…
As your pastor and friend, I want to relieve your pain and suffering. You are feeling lonely, isolated, stressed, anxious, depressed, you are suffering from cancer, brain tumors, back pain, financial hardship, broken relationships, besetting sin, anger and frustration.
I so desperately want to relieve you of that suffering, for your sake I want it to stop. I don’t want you to feel pain anymore. But unfortunately, it is not within my power to change those things. However, I can pray for God to relieve your suffering, but it will have to be for His glory.
The good news of the gospel for you (and for me) is that God himself suffered so that your suffering would not be in vain. Jesus’ suffering was not in vain, it had meaning and purpose and it was for the glory of God.
Jesus was treated unjustly, Jesus was the recipient of racism, he had friends betray him, he experienced the death of loved ones, Jesus was beaten, spit upon, tortured and executed.
But why? So that a sinful people would be saved, not for themselves, but for their God.
Jesus suffered so that when you suffer in this world it is not in vain, it is for the glory of God. Some of you will experience some relief in your suffering in this world, when physical, mental or emotional ailments are healed, or when relationships are restored and reconciled. But even if you don’t then Jesus makes it possible for you to find joy in your journey, Jesus makes it possible for you to find peace in your pain, Jesus makes it possible for you to experience freedom from your frustration.
And this is only a foretaste of the complete and absolute alleviation of pain and suffering when we will be made whole again and worship the Lord forever.
Remember my challenge at the beginning of our time:
My challenge to you this morning is to stop seeing and believing in a self-centered gospel.
John 1 tells us that Jesus, who is the gospel, was full of grace, He is full of favor, blessing, joy, pleasure, delight, goodwill, kindness, attractiveness, beauty. And he has poured this out upon us. Receive it with thankfulness, receive it knowing that even in the toughest times God’s favor is upon you and He will get the glory through it.