The Gospel of John is sometimes characterized as the “love” Gospel. Accuracy can suffer inversely to generalization. It is beyond the scope of this writing to go into detail, but the bulk of John’s Gospel is a prolonged interpersonal conflict between Jesus and various disputants. From John 3 (perhaps even John 1) through John 10, Jesus is sorely in need of a PR consultant. He does not seem to know the “seven keys to growing a dynamic ministry!” He clearly has not studied His demographics, nor His target market. He is pointedly insensitive to seekers, seemingly determined to offend just about everybody. Why, He didn’t even offer a staffed nursery! Perhaps He missed the latest church growth seminar in Nazareth, or could not afford the registration fee.
Everything He says seems to aggravate somebody: the more religious and legalistic the individual or group, the greater the aggravation, and the more hostile the response. His church gets smaller with the turning of every page. The conflict peaks in John 8 in a whole-hog, “in your face,” finger-pointing, insult-hurling, name-calling match. This passage is one of the clearest Scriptural examples of the Mediterranean/Semitic custom of challenge and riposte—the cultural practice of verbal jousting, “one-upmanship” that determines honor status in the community. Our Western sensibilities of propriety—what is considered rude or polite—simply do not apply to the Scriptures. Our cultural concepts of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” will not fit John 8, nor the entire New Testament revelation of who Jesus really was and is.
John chapters 7–8 are a microcosm of the cosmic conflict of the Gospel. It is a battle for identity. Who has the right to claim filial relationship with God the Father? Who are sons and who are slaves? Later, Paul picks up the gauntlet in Galatians chapters 3 and 4 (which we will discuss in another chapter). The battle of the ages is an identity and slavery dispute.
Jesus had the nerve to tell the literal descendants of Abraham that they were slaves. Yahweh was not their Father! (John 8:33, 39.) This wonderful “message of God’s love” was nearly His last! In John 7:31, many of the Jews believed on Him. In John 8:59, the same people wanted to kill Him—from followers/believers to would-be murderers, from hero to zero in their eyes, in one chapter. What could cause such a dramatic reversal of affections? A message about identity. He asserted His, and challenged theirs.
Nothing stirs religious passions to hatred and murder like preaching a message of freedom to people who think they are already free. Performing religionists do not appreciate being told that God is not impressed with Adamic spiritual gymnastics done in the name of Jesus. God will not stand and applaud the somersaults of the Adamic nature trying to please Him. Exposing the deluded confidence of the privileged always gets you stoned. People do not use granite anymore—wagging tongues and feet hustling through the back exit door are the stones of choice for Americans.
Our churches are full of the bound who think themselves free because somewhere in their misty past they were psychologically extorted into muttering a prayer by a persuasive spiritual shoe salesman. More concerned about being “nice” than preaching the truth, numb to the Holy Spirit, indifferent to conviction, valuing size over substance, and potluck dinners over the presence of God, our churches are full of the walking dead who would not accept Jesus in their pulpits if He walked in and announced Himself on Sunday morning. The prophetic voice of freedom is received as warmly in our day as it was in Moses’ and Jesus’.
A SECRET IDENTITY
Knowing our new nature, our identity in Christ, is paramount in overcoming a legalistic and performance-based spirit. In three of the most critical moments in our Lord’s life—at His baptism in preparation for the wilderness, on the Mount of Transfiguration preparing for the cross, and on the eve of His crucifixion in John 12—an audible voice from heaven was heard. In each case it affirmed His identity and status as a Son. Jesus did not begin His “work” for the Father (His ministry) until He was first affirmed in His identity as a beloved Son.
We need the same experiential assurance before we launch into service for the Lord. Without the assurance of sonship in our hearts, we will be little more than slaves—insecure production units of the kingdom. Believers who do not know their God-given identity in Christ—the track their divine train runs on—will be vulnerable to a striving legalistic spirit. They will exhaust themselves trying to be something they are not, doing things for which they are not divinely suited. Discouragement, frustration, and exhaustion will result.
The reason an eagle flies and a fish swims is because their identity suits their environment and mission. An eagle in the water or a fish in the air is a problem. Swimming is only a challenge if you are not suited for the water. Scales and fins are an indication that you are called to swim. In Christ, we are fully equipped for both this life and the next. Knowing one’s identity in Christ and knowing Christ within as the source of one’s life is the rest we are to labor for. It is the rest promised to the faith-filled sons of the covenant that frees them from a striving and performing spirit. We are sons, not slaves.
This article is excerpted from The Silent Killers of Faith by Dr. Stephen Crosby. Copyright 2004, Treasure House/Destiny Image. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for noncommercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact email@example.com.