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Reading the Gospel of John: Believing in Jesus

Reading the Gospel of John: Believing in Jesus
An excerpt and first lesson from New Testament Everyday Bible Study: John
By Scot McKnight
From the Introduction
In this Gospel we read not about the kingdom of God but about eternal life; we encounter miracles as signs, and Jesus often gives what are called “I am” sayings; instead of short punchy episodes John’s Gospel sketches fewer scenes but at length and with longer discourses. He likes dualities, like light and darkness, above and below, believing and unbelieving, salvation and judgment. Miroslav Volf calls these “oppositional dualities.” Jesus uses stiff and strong dualities, like good and bad—not good, mixed, and bad as we might prefer—but he does this for a reason: to present stark alternatives as he pleads for decisions about Jesus.

Which is the purpose of this Gospel: to promote believing and to enhance those who already believe. Which is why we will begin at 20:30–31 (and not 1:1).

Bring the Bible to Life and Learn what it means to follow king Jesus

 Lesson 1: Believing in Jesus
John 20:30-31


Special Note to the Reader: The purpose of the Gospel of John is explicitly stated at the end of the Gospel (20:30–31). Because that passage is so important to understand how this Gospel works, we begin with it. The purpose is to enhance faith in both believers and to promote faith among those who are not yet believers. If we keep this in mind as we read the Gospel, we will read the Gospel as John wants us to.

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John waits until near the end of his Gospel to tell us why he wrote the Gospel. After Thomas offered the truest confession of all truths, that Jesus is both Lord and God, John closes the scene by saying Jesus did dozens of wonderful “signs” John does not even record. But what he wrote was enough. Enough that “you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30–31).

John wrote about Jesus so people would believe. Not in a simplistic sense of accepting Jesus into one’s heart but in the Gospels’ fullest sense. To believe is both to begin believing in Jesus and continuing to believe, that is, to become allegiant, faithful, ongoing believers. To promote faith like this John told stories about Jesus. For one example, the signs (miracles) and discourses of this Gospel were mapped onto the life of Jesus so readers could encounter the Lord, God enfleshed, the Lamb of God, the Glorified and Raised One, the Bread of Life, and many other titles for Jesus we will encounter. John wants such an encounter to generate believers.

We need to say more about how important believing is. In this Gospel believing is both a one time act of trusting surrender and ongoing trust and deeper surrender. Perhaps the best English term for believing in John’s Gospel is “abiding” or “indwelling.” It is a life of constant communion with and participation in Jesus. John never uses the noun pistis (“faith” or “belief ”) but always the verb pisteuō (“to believe”). In fact, he uses that verb 98x in a NT that uses it only some 243x. But that word is surrounded by friends, which can be broken into the four categories below. As a college student I began underlining these various terms in my Bible. The result was a seriously marked-up, almost unreadable, Gospel.

To see how wide-ranging and deep-diving believing is for John, each of these terms comes into play, and by the time you get to 4x we realize believing is a massive mountain in John.

Believing is:


  1. seeing
  2. hearing
  3. remembering


  1. coming to
  2. rejecting/receiving


  1. drinking
  2. eating
  3. abiding


  1. disciple
  2. keeping
  3. serving
  4. worshiping

This Gospel was written so its readers would see Jesus for who he truly is and respond throughout life in all these ways. Take a moment with each and ponder how you have responded to Jesus like that, and what it did for you. What each of those terms does to us is usher us deeper into participating in a “life in his name” (20:31).

Questions for Reflection and Application

  1. Why does John say he wrote his Gospel?
  1. McKnight writes that in John, believing means “both a one-time act of trusting surrender and ongoing trust and deeper surrender.” How does that challenge the prevailing evangelical idea that “believing in Jesus” means simply once praying a sinner’s prayer?
  1. What are the four major terms McKnight uses in his expanded definition of believing?
  1. How have you lived out believing in Jesus over time?
  1. How can you change the way you share the Gospel to better present this greater understanding of believing?

Dive into the remaining sessions and pick up a copy of John Bible Study from ChurchSource here!