1 John 5:13 - These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
The Purpose of John
Let's suppose one of your non-Christian friends agreed to read one book of the Bible at your request. Any book--of your choosing! Which book would you suggest? Song of Solomon? Revelation? Leviticus?! There's a good possibility that you would pick the Gospel of John, and that's a good choice. Why? Not only is the Gospel of John far easier for a non-Christian to understand than Song of Solomon, Leviticus or Revelation, but the particular purpose of the Gospel of John is to lead an unbeliever to salvation. How do we know that? Because, near the end of his Gospel, John tells us so! In John 20:31 we read, "...but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." Because the purpose of the Gospel of John is evangelistic, it is an excellent book of the Bible to share with non-Christian friends. If they read it, the Holy Spirit can use it as He purposed--to lead unbelievers to a saving knowledge of the Son of God.
Seven Sign Miracles
The Gospel of John is structured about seven miracles of our Lord. Can you name them? These seven "sign miracles" were specifically selected to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Therefore the entire book of John should be read with that theme in mind--because the inspired writer has told us in no uncertain terms that this was God's primary purpose in having him write this Gospel. Is it any wonder, then, that there are so many "gospel verses" to share with an unbeliever in the Gospel of John? The fact that Jesus is fully God and the only way of salvation is impossible to miss in the Gospel of John.
God can certainly use Leviticus, Song of Solomon or Revelation--or any other book of the Bible, for that matter--to bring a person to Himself. However, evangelism is not the stated purpose of these books. Leviticus is a wonderful book of Old Testament Law but does not contain the a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Song of Solomon is obviously not evangelism! And the book of Revelation, with all of its symbols concerning the future, is hard enough for even a Christian to understand, let alone an unbeliever. So while it should be emphasized that the Holy Spirit can use any portion of Scripture to begin His work in the heart of a person, it is usually better for us to practice the priority of purpose and suggest that our non-Christian friends read the Gospel of John!
In the selection of the seven sign miracles of John, the Holy Spirit emphasized the deity of Christ by showing His absolute power over nature, over disease and over death. Clearly these miracles, in line with the purpose of John, back up Jesus' claims that He is God and that He has the power to save and give life to those who believe in Him. The fact that all seven sign miracles were acts of love to help and to heal people not only demonstrates the Lord's power. They also demonstrate His desire to save those who believe in Him. Everything else included in the Gospel of John--the narrative passages, the discourses and the "I am" statements--all tie in to that overall purpose of the book: "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."
Because John's purpose was to indisputably demonstrate the deity of Christ, it is interesting to note that he chose seven miracles that would be difficult for any hard-headed skeptic to explain away--then or today! All seven of the "sign miracles" were public acts that could easily be checked as to their historicity. When John wrote his Gospel in about 85 AD, many eye witnesses of the events he recorded were still alive. They could have readily been questioned about the accuracy of John's record of the miracles. Indeed, they could--and would--have come forward to deny that these events had taken place if John's account was false or heavily "embroidered."Consider, for example, the first of the sign miracles recorded in the Gospel of John. It was the changing of water into wine at a public wedding, which probably involved almost everyone in the town of Cana. The power of Christ to take at least 150 gallons of plain water and change it into the best-tasting "aged" wine could not be explained away by some sleight-of-hand trick! You just can't purchase and transport and hide that much wine in a small community in preparation for a staged "wedding miracle" without people knowing about it! And you can't "make up a miracle" of this character and magnitude and get away with inserting it into real history when many eye witnesses could come forward to deny the story. And you can't explain it away as the gradual exaggeration and acceptance "over the years" by gullible Christians of the early church. No! The time gap between this public event and its widely circulated write-up was too short for such historical revision and reconstruction. The only sensible explanation is that here we have an accurate account of God at work. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, graciously transformed water, a basic substance of life that He Himself had created in the beginning, into wine--a symbol of the joy of mankind, so appropriate for this wedding occasion. This was God's stamp of approval on the union of a man and a woman in marriage as God had ordained it at Creation. In line with the purpose of the Gospel of John, in this miracle we have unmistakable and undeniable evidence that Jesus Christ is God.
A quick analysis of the other sign miracles further indicates how hard it is for the critic to explain away such solid evidence for the deity of Christ. It would be impossible to get away with concocting the story of the instant healing of a well known public official's son (John 4), or to invent the miracle of the healing--in broad daylight, in a very public place--of a paraplegic who had been a fixture at Jerusalem's Pool of Bethesda for38 years (John 5), or insert into the record the dramatic healing of a well-known adult synagogue member with congenital blindness (John 9). And how could more than 5000 people of all ages and experiences have been fooled into thinking they had been fed as the result of a miracle, if indeed not a single loaf or fish had been multiplied (John 6)?The "ball" is surely in the critic's "court" to explain why some early eye-witness didn't come forward to set the record straight and inform us that this so-called miracle was, at best, a figment of the early Church's imagination, or at worst, a hoax or an outright lie! And how can the skeptic explain away the record of the raising back to life of Lazarus--a specifically named individual from the specifically designated small town of Bethany--after he's been dead for four full days (John 11)? Notice that once again there were many eye witnesses, some of whom were hostile to the Lord! If John's record was false, it's just not possible that numerous people would accept it, when there was only a 50 year time gap between the events and the writing. And that time gap was not a blank, but was filled with reliable Jewish oral tradition. Would those who were actually present, whether they were skeptics of Jesus or followers of Jesus, have let John get away with such a revision of the real facts?
Even the miracle of Christ walking on water, which was observed only by the disciples, would have been hard for the skeptics to dismiss for two reasons. First, anyone in the Galilee area who was questioned about the events of that special night could have denied that there was a sudden windstorm and a sudden calm if this was all a made up story. Second, anyone of the thousands involved in the "feeding of the 5000" event could have denied John's account of the Lord's walking on water if indeed the Lord had set out in one of the boats or had traveled back around the lake to Capernaum by foot. (See John 6:22-25.) The fact that we have no record of anyone "correcting" John's account of this miracle--or any other of the seven sign miracles in this Gospel--is very convincing evidence that John's purpose was accomplished. His Gospel presents irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. In fact, many first and second century readersbecame believers as a result of John's gospel!
The purpose of John's Gospel continues to be realized today. As people, even skeptics, read John's account of these amazing works of Christ, the Holy Spirit convinces them that Jesus of Nazareth was not only a real Person who actually lived in history, but that He is the Son of God. The Gospel's ultimate purpose is realized when the readers not only believe John's record, but when they personally trust Christ and receive new life in His Name.
The Purpose of First John
In contrast, the purpose of the First Epistle of John is quite different from the purpose of the Gospel of John. In 1 John 5:13, John states "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life." We see that John's purpose in writing this epistle was not evangelistic--he wrote this letter specifically to believers. His stated purpose was to give his Christian readers--in 90 AD and today--assurance of their salvation. Again, this specific purpose doesn't mean that a non-Christian can't come to saving faith in Christ as a result of reading First John! The primary purpose of this epistle, however, is to lead believers to a greater appreciation of their sure salvation. Therefore, while the First Epistle of John might not be your first choice of recommended reading for unbelievers, it might very well be your first choice for believers who are doubting their salvation. Do you have doubts concerning your salvation? Then practice the priority of purpose principle, and read First John!
A Family Album
First John is like a family photograph album. If you open your family album and see your own face scattered throughout the book with other family members, any doubts you may have had about your being in the family dissipate into thin air. On the other hand, if you leaf through the family album and don't see yourself in any of the family photos, there is good reason to question your family ties. In the same way, as you read through First John you will catch glimpses of yourself if you are truly in the family of God, and you will be assured of your salvation. If, on the other hand, you don't see yourself portrayed by the descriptions of believers throughout First John, you should ask yourself, "Have I ever really been born into the family of God?"
Let's look at a few of the photos of the true believer contained in the "family album" of First John. In 1 John 1:8-10 you will see your picture if, as a believer, you readily acknowledge that you have sinned and that you are a sinner by nature. If you desire to keep the Lord's commandments and practice righteousness instead of sin you will find your photo on the pages of the album containing 1 John 2:4-5, 2:29, 3:6-8, 3:23-24 and 5:1-3. If you are in the family of God you will be seen in the photos of happy, loving fellowship with all the members of God's family in 1 John 2:9-11, 3:14 and 4:7-12. Your picture is sure to be seen in 1 John 2:22-23, 4:14-15, 5:1 and 5:10-12 if by faith you confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And your photo is bound to pop up in 1 John 3:17-18 if you're not selfish with your possessions, but are willing to share with family members who are in need.
These are just a few of the photos of the true believer that are contained in God's family photo album. Did you clearly see your picture among the "photos" in First John? If you did, you can be sure of your salvation. However, if you glimpse yourself in the "negatives," such as "No one who is born of God will continue to live a life of continual sin" (3:9), or "Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; neither is anyone who does not love his brother" (3:10), you need a reality check! Is the picture of your life right now seen primarily in the "negatives" of First John? Then you should ask yourself, "Am I really a family member?" or, "Have I been drawn away from close fellowship with my Father and family members, and as a result my picture is not so obvious in happy family get-togethers?" As you respond to the pictures in the First John album, the priority of purpose principle has operated as God intended.
The Principle in Practice
Not all the books of the Bible have their purpose so clearly stated as the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John. But several readings of the book will generally reveal the purpose the author/Author had in mind for writing that particular book of Scripture. Once the purpose of the book is realized, then practice the priority of purpose principle as you interpret the verses contained in the book. Remember that God gave His Word in books--not chapters or verses! Therefore knowing the purpose of the book will help us greatly as we seek to understand the meaning of any book of God's Word.