The Gospel Coalition

Note: FactChecker is a monthly series in which Glenn T. Stanton examines claims, myths, and misunderstandings frequently heard in evangelical circles.

We hear this often in good Christian circles. The credo is adopted by many Christians in an effort to declare and live by a more stripped-down faith. They want their Christianity unleaded, organic, unplugged, non-fat, free-range, locally sourced and sustainable. The real-deal without the fluff.

Except it's not.

Believing that all we need is Jesus is simply an incomplete theology and fails to understand Christianity and what it is that God teaches us about our life in him.

Let's examine this in four key parts.

1)    Jesus never taught this.

John the Baptist pointed us to Christ and Christ points us to His Father.

Jesus, in John 14, explains something very important about himself to his disciples. He proclaims to them,
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will knowmy Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

And we can know the Father because the Son points us to him. Now, how would the "just give me Jesus" folks answer Jesus?

Jesus says he is the Way, the way to somewhere or someone. Jesus told us he is going to prepare a home for us in God's home, a place where we can dwell with the Father, through redemption from the Son, by the Holy Spirit's drawing and keeping. Jesus tells us that he is obedient to all the Father has commanded him "so that the world may know that I love the Father." (John 14:31)

What are the first words of Jesus' recorded in Scripture? They tell of the center of Christ's life, when he tells his parents,
"Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2, ESV)

The New King James puts it this way,
And He said to them, "Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"

Jesus announced to his parents, as if it is obvious, that he must be about his Father's business, in his Father's house. The meaning here is literally, "I must about the things of my Father!"

Jesus our Savior makes a way for us to know and dwell with the Father. It is Christ's delight and unwavering heart to do this, which leads us to our next point.

2)    The God of Christianity is not Jesus alone.

Jesus' fundamental essence, personality, and being is as the Second Person of the divine and eternal Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Most of the early creeds of the Church were carefully written and proclaimed to make this central tenant of our faith clearly understood for all. We declare and confess one God in Three Divine Persons. We cannot take one member of the Godhead over the others, for to do so is to deny each of them.

This makes the "Just give me Jesus" claim problematic even while it might be very well-intentioned. Consider the ancient Trinity Shield, created to easily communicate to the illiterate the mystery of the Three-in-One. Each of the three are fully, completely, God---one no more than the other---but each of the three are distinct from one another in their divine personhood, character, and nature.

We cannot take Christ without taking his Father and the Holy Spirit. To do so is to not take Christ in actuality. And because of this dramatic and profound truth, addressing the "All I need is Jesus" topic is not mere theological quibbling.

Now, it would be wrong to say that those who take this "All I need is Jesus" attitude are denying the Trinity. It's just that they don't seem to have really considered the fuller implications of their position. While Christianity is not complex, it is neither this simple.

Some who proclaim this singular need will certainly say, "Well, of course. When we say all we need is Jesus, we mean we need God the Father and God the Holy Spirit." To this, the question "Then why don't you say that?" is not unreasonable. The word "all" is by definition an exclusive term.

This leads up to our third point, because to say all you need is the Trinity is not biblical either.

3)    Good Ecclesiology Refutes It.

We cannot simultaneously hold the "All I need is Jesus" position and understand how and what Christ established the Church for. There are no lone-ranger Christians.  Doesn't Paul tell us that "we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body . . ."? The body of Christ is made up of each of us who are baptized in the name of the Trinity. I Corinthians 12:21 tells us "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you?'" We are told here that "God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be"?

And Hebrews 10 commands us in our relationships with the others that we make up the mystical body of Christ with,
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

By our very nature as Christians we are bound to others. We need them and they need us. That is how God fashioned his Church to work as Christ's beloved Bride. As such, we cannot forsake the assembling of ourselves together.

4)    Creation contradicts it.

In the very second chapter of the first book of scripture, God says something deeply profound that curiously contradicts this seemingly noble idea. Here we have the second telling of humanity's creation. God has created man first. It's a remarkable situation for Adam. Man is there in God's wonderful, untainted creation with every tree (save one) for his delight, pleasant to the eye and delicious to the tongue. And best of all, the man had perfect, unhindered communion with God. They walked and talked together. If anything was ever idyllic, this was.

But in this very setting, God said something quite profound about the man. Perhaps the most profound statement uttered about humanity in all of human telling, second only to explaining that male and female are uniquely created in the image of God.

What was this statement?

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone . . .'"

(Genesis 2:18)

Before the Fall had touched and defaced humanity and creation, God said there was something that was not good. It was not good for man to be alone.

But what might we have said to God in response to His statement? I know what I would say:

"But God, I'm not alone. I have You, what else could I possibly want or need?"

God did not forget or overlook the fact of his own sufficiency. He wants to show us something very important about us, what God made us to be. Man was made for another, like him, but different as well. And it was not good without . . . her.

God made us in such a way that even in our sole relationship with him, we are not as we were created to be. Yes, that is very curious, even startling, but it's what God said.

Just as God is a community of Divine Persons, man as God's unique image-bearer in creation must live in a community of human persons. And the first community of human persons that God established is the communion of husband and wife called to enter a union of intense physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy of love which is life-giving, just as the Trinity is life-giving. This human pro-creative union will bring forth the third member of this human trinity after their own kind. A baby. A new generation God-imagers.

This is what God gave us to satisfy and solve the original problem of man's solitude.

Jesus is Lord of all creation. We must hold him above all and before all. But we don't hold him alone. We honor the Lord of all creation by enjoying, glorying, observing, and participating in the wonder, beauty, majesty, and fullness of His creation.

Christians are not  gnostics nor solipsists. We live in our Father's world. And we do so with others.

Other articles in this series:

Misquoting Francis of Assisi

The Cross an Electric Chair?

Divorce Rate Among Christians

Do Faithful Christians Take the Bible Literally?


Comments:

Allen D.

November 9, 2012 at 11:06 AM

Glenn, it seems to me that the problem you are addressing is unclear and insufficiently nuanced. The comments following the article confirm this as people are defending Jesus as essentially nesessary for everything else, which you agree with. But I assume you're trying to address an oversimplified, reductionistic view of Jesus that ignores the rest of Christian essentials. I don't think any of the comments below are even suggesting such a view. So you end up arguing against one view of "Jesus Only" and they another. Could it be that we actually agree but we have defined the essential problem differently?

To get specific, songs like "Only Jesus" and "All I Have Is Christ" are anything but reductionistic and oversimplified. The lyrics are specifically Trinitarian and Gospel-nuanced. With that particular understanding of "Jesus Only" I can sing those songs with great joy and still agree with your article. So could you help us understand the problem as you see it, becuase I doubt most readers of TGC and most commenters are going around saying that all we need is Jesus and we don't need the church or that the Trinity is unimportant. Your opening paragraph is a clever way to lay out the issue, but a clearer diagnosis of the problem may have been lost to wit.

Chevas

November 8, 2012 at 12:43 AM

Glenn, overall I agree with your theology, but you are splitting hairs over phraseology that people use in songs and passing conversations. I don't feel like you are fairly considering the spirit behind what many are trying to say when they say "I Only Need Jesus". I think your rebuke is best warranted when people use this phrase to defend their defection from the church body.

Disregarding pithy pseudo-biblical sayings, there is value in these short statements, especially when the moment can't contain the mental processing required to orate an exhaustive theological statement, such as one about *needs*. Even Jesus summed up the law into two commands.

"I only need Jesus" is helpful and can carry the Gospel message when said in juxtaposition to the things of this world, to addictions, to groping after toxic relationships, and so forth.

A bitter well educated man who has left the church and says "All I need is Jesus" is saying something different than the simple minded Grandmother who is serving in her church body and the homeless, telling the friends she meets "All you need is Jesus". The word "all" can be used loosely at times in American culture.

Whatever promotes the Gospel and loves the best is a good route to take.

Thanks for reading.
Chevas

Around the Horn: 11.8.12 | Treading Grain

November 8, 2012 at 03:22 AM

[...] FactChecker: Is the “I Only Need Jesus!” Declaration Christian? We hear this often in good Christian circles. The credo is adopted by many Christians in an effort to declare and live by a more stripped-down faith. They want their Christianity unleaded, organic, unplugged, non-fat, free-range, locally sourced and sustainable. The real-deal without the fluff.  Except it’s not.  Believing that all we need is Jesus is simply an incomplete theology and fails to understand Christianity and what it is that God teaches us about our life in him.  Let’s examine this in four key parts. [...]

steve murray

November 7, 2012 at 12:54 PM

I see your point but I think you are making a distinction without a real difference. When I use phrases like "I only need Jesus", I am not seeking to some how divorce Him from who essentially is nor am I seeing His gifts as somehow separate from Him, the Giver of every good gift.

Look briefly at your quote from John 14, in it Jesus makes two essential points. One is that "No one comes to the Father except through Me" (Jesus), and the second is that if we "really know Me [Jesus], you will know My Father as well." Jesus and the Father are one in essence, so if I have Jesus, I have access to the Father and no other access to Him is granted and by knowing Jesus, I know the Father. When I have Jesus, I have the Father. They are not somehow separate from each other.

Saying I only need Jesus includes all the implication of having Jesus in my life, which includes the Father. I do not need Jesus plus anything else because in Jesus, He gives me all I need. That is the reason I say phrases like that, Jesus provides all I need.

Let me ask you a question, does the Father provide anything outside of the Son? Everything the Father and the Spirit does is in unity with the Son and we are beneficiaries of it because we are "in the Christ."

The reason Jesus must have been about His Father's business was because it was also His business. We cannot divorce Jesus from the Father, the Father's business is Jesus' business.

The reason I have the Church and am a part of the body of Christ is because I am in the Son and only for that reason. Can I have the Church without Jesus, no the church is the body of Jesus. My only means of coming into the church is Jesus. He alone gives me access. I don't think we can separate Jesus from what His finished work accomplishes. I think that is a fuller ecclesiology.

It was God who brought Adam his Eve and it is through Jesus and all He has accomplishes and gives that I can find mine. I am not sure I could find her by accident. Believers seeking to find their mates outside of Christ, His direction and a relationship with Him is why the divorce rate among believers is so high.

I say "I only need Jesus" because there is no other means by which I can receive everything else I need. He does not satisfy some of the needs of my life but all.

Robin Jester

November 7, 2012 at 12:08 PM

From a single woman who has been single for a long time, it becomes more than a theological exercise. Yes we are given each other, other people, from God as gifts to us to walk through life together. Yes God gave Eve to Adam. Yes God created the Church to bear each other's burdens and to look to each other's interests. But we also know that all our fountains are in Him. We also know that when everyone else fails us, and they all will, He is our Rock and our Foundation and our Shield. We somehow don't need to be reminded of our need for others and so we tend to err on the other side of this theology.

[...] FactChecker: Is the ‘I Only Need Jesus!’ Declaration Christian? – The Gospel Coalition Blog. Share this:TwitterFacebookGoogle +1Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Comments RSS feed [...]

Flotsam and jetsam (11/7) | Everyday Theology

November 7, 2012 at 08:02 AM

[...] Is the “I Only Need Jesus!” Declaration Christian? Believing that all we need is Jesus is simply an incomplete theology and fails to understand Christianity and what it is that God teaches us about our life in him. [...]

[...] at Gospel Coalition, I have a new piece addressing the wisdom and reasonableness of the statement we hear from many well-meaning [...]

glenn stanton

November 7, 2012 at 04:00 PM

Steve:

Appreciate your thoughts, which you clearly gave good thought to. But you miss some key points. What you seem to be saying in your conclusion is actually, "All I do and will ever need, I get through Jesus." Completely agree!! This, of course, means that all that we need is provided by Jesus. But this is very different than saying "All I need is Jesus." Do I need this? Do I need that? No, *all* I need is Jesus. That IS over spiritualizing what our God-given needs really are.

And to your question: "does the Father provide anything outside of the Son?" Ask Jesus. He said he does the will of the Father. He didn't say "I do my will."

We hear from Christ that there are things that seem to come from the Father directly. Consider Christ's request in the High Priestly prayer (vs 15): "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one."

And another difference between Father and Son. The Son went to the Cross. The Father did not. There was a very real and dramatic relational isolation there. It cost the Father something of unspeakable, immeasurable value. The Son was forsaken by the Father on the cross, but our salvation through the Son was not compromised. Yes, the Son is in the Father, but they are also distinct and can act in distinction from one another. That is why the obedience of the son meant something. This inter-relatedness and singular essence, but uniqueness of Father and Son (and HS) is found in the theological idea of perichoresis. It is a central part of our historic and distinct Christian faith that the Trinity Shield was created to explain.

Cody Brisco

November 7, 2012 at 01:49 PM

Great comment, Steve. Church is the whole body of Christ, and Jesus is the only Way. The idea of church has strayed from New Testament practice, which articles like this one really underscore.

Steve Cornell

November 11, 2012 at 05:39 PM

Thank you for bringing focus to this!

[...] Continue Reading Related PostsGlenn Stanton – FactChecker: Does Abba Mean ‘Daddy’?Essential Theological Video and AudioJohn Owen – On Communion With GodDominic Statham – Tools of Satan?R. W. Glenn – Condensed TheologyJonathan Dodson and Brad Watson – Living the Resurrection? by window.fbAsyncInit = function() { FB.init({appId: "", xfbml: true}); FB.Event.subscribe('comment.create', function(response) { }); }; (function() { var e = document.createElement('script'); e.async = true; e.src = document.location.protocol + '//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js'; document.getElementById('fb-root').appendChild(e); }()); [...]

[...] Is the ‘I Only Need Jesus!’ Declaration Christian? [...]

Sara

January 9, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Actually, I think I get what he's saying because I've dealt with this some with my sister. She is quick to say "I only need Jesus" and somehow thinks that means she does not need the Bible or doctrine.

[...] I need is Jesus: We are called to be part of a Christian community and need each other.  Jesus is also part of community in the [...]