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Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1999-Volume 12:23


A Hymn of Grace

THE PASSION OF THE APOSTLE JOHN

A Hymn about God's Grace in Christ from The Gospel of John

 

BOB KENAGY

Chaplain

California Youth Authority

Whittier, CA

 

Word became the God-Man, in flesh, full of grace and truth from heaven;

Jesus dwelt among us, true light, we beheld His glory!

God so loved the whole world, He gave, His begotten Son to save us;

Those who only trust Him, He saves, when they trust Him only!

 

Love from Son and Father, grows deep, if we love our Savior deeply;

Christ is manifested, to us, if His words we're keeping!

Full joy comes from Jesus, true vine, if in Him we are abiding;

Jesus said He calls us, His friends, if we love each other!

 

Saying "It is finished," He died, making satisfact'ry payment;

Giving up His spirit, His life, took our place in judgment!

God the loving Father, looked down, separated from our Savior;

God the just Judge canceled, our debt, "paid in full" forever!

 

Death could not contain Him, He rose, proving He is the Messiah;

Son of God-the Savior, gives life, guaranteed by promise!

Life that's everlasting, God gave, in the moment we believed Him;

More grace after each grace, God gives, life that's more abundant!

 

Refrain

Jesus is the bread of life, the living water: gift of God;

We will never hunger, thirst, our destination-certain!

We have confidence in Jesus Christ our Savior;

Everlasting life was given to us, when persuaded that His guarantee is true!

Amen, Amen.

 

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The Passion of the Apostle John (alternate title: Confidence in Christ) seeks to highlight the apostle John's primary purpose in writing the Fourth Gospel. John wrote the only book of the Bible that has as its primary purpose that you may have eternal life through faith in Christ, the Guarantor of that life (John 20:31). It is not until John's other writings, The Epistles of John and Revelation, that Christian growth through fellowship and encouragement toward perseverance are primary themes.

Verse one of the hymn relates God's appearance on earth through the incarnation of Christ. God made Himself known as the loving God who provides eternal life and salvation as a gift received through faith in Christ. Verses three and four address the death and resurrection of Christ which provide satisfactory remedy for the sin of humanity, authenticate Jesus' role as Savior and Christ, and give us everlasting life the moment we believe Him.

Verse two of the hymn reflects a theme that is secondary to John's immediate purpose. He writes that the experience of joy through growth in discipleship is conditional upon our continued faith and participation in obedience and love. John's secondary theme is especially evident in chapters 13-17 of his Gospel. Our response as a child of God to this theme carries with it its own set of consequences, good or bad. The result of a life of discipleship is joy, fruitfulness, and friendship with God. The result of a life devoid of discipleship is the loss of joy, fruitfulness, and friendship with God. John records Jesus' pertinent principle in John 13:17. He said, "If you know these things, blessed [happy] are you if you do them" (italics added). The reverse is also true. We won't be happy, blessed, or joyful if we don't obey Jesus' commands. But eternal condemnation is not one of the consequences of mediocrity, apathy, or even rebellion. Eternal condemnation results from not having believed the promise of everlasting life (John 3:18).

Clarity of the relationship between John's primary and secondary themes in The Gospel of John is critical to personal stability and confidence in living the Christian life. Consequently, that relationship is being given disproportionate comment here. Some people think that John insists that the living out of this theme of discipleship is an automatic, supernatural outcome of the presence of eternal life, and necessary in order to authenticate the presence of eternal life. Others assert that discipleship is necessary even to maintain the continuance of eternal life. Rather, the apostle John maintains a distinction between birth through faith alone and growth through discipleship. This distinction is reflected particularly in the hymn's refrain. Though distinct, John's primary and secondary themes are related: we cannot grow in discipleship unless first we have been born from above.

The refrain of the hymn underscores and celebrates the possession of God's gift of life through one moment of faith in Christ, emblematically portrayed, in Christ's words, as one taste of the bread of life, or as one drink of the living water. One taste or drink satisfies eternally (John 6:35). Once having believed, we can venture into the hardships of life on earth with confidence in Jesus Christ because there is absolute certainty of eternity with God and absolute freedom from everlasting condemnation (John 5:24). The refrain closes with a double amen, reflecting Jesus' strong affirmation of some of His own statements variously translated "truly, truly" or "most assuredly" (John 3:3; 5:24, 25; 6:47, 53).

Even if one were in rebellion as a child of God, he or she could experience underlying certainty about his or her eternal and heavenly destination. He would be believing that the promised gift of everlasting life was already his when he believed that Christ's guarantee is true. However, he would not be able to enjoy confidence in Christ for daily living (John 15:5-6). Neither would he anticipate with confidence Christ's evaluation of the quality of his life at the believers' judgment (1 John 2:28). Only through confession of sins and the attendant forgiveness from God (1 John 1:9) would he be able to enjoy living his eternal life. Upon confession, he could then sing in full confidence and joy again the primary theme of the Gospel of John as rendered in the hymn, and especially in its refrain.

The hymn is set to the stately tune of St. Anthony Chorale, a piece ascribed to Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), but more well known from a work by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) entitled Variations On a Theme by Haydn. The hymn is arranged by my son, Aaron Kenagy, a graduate of Willamette University. This hymn is written in dedication to the memory of my mother, Marie G. Kenagy (1921-1997), who told me in response to a question about heaven at the age of 7, that I would have everlasting life if I believed in Jesus. I believed.

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