All believers love the Gospel of John and for many reasons. It is often termed the evangelistic Gospel and the Gospel of love. If you are a Greek student, it is one of your favorite books of the New Testament because of its simple vocabulary and syntax. And many believers have popular verses memorized from the book like John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word…”, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”, 13:34, “love one another even as I have loved you…” and many more.
Actually, every word of John’s Gospel is awesome because every word of it is “inspired” (literally, “God-breathed”) and is for the purpose of feeding our soul and enabling us to grow in spiritual maturity (2 Tim 3:16). So technically, there is no one Bible verse that is better than another. But there are some verses that are more difficult to understand, and then there are verses that often get overlooked and the full impact of their truth goes unnoticed or unappreciated. I think John 1:16 might be one of those all-too-often forgotten or neglected verses. It reads as follows,
“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”
The Context of John 1:16
I admit, isolated out of context it is not possible to appreciate all that John was saying when he made this statement. In context he was telling the believing reader that Christ is completely sufficient for every child of God, and the evidence of that is that Christ Jesus continues to shower you with one blessing after another…non-stop…all the time….every day!
Stop and read John 1:1-18. This informs the context of John 1:16. In verse 1, John proclaims that Christ is the Logos, the Word, which means He is a personal, rational being. And as the Logos He has existed for all eternity, before creation, with God the Father, and He himself is God, or deity. John 1:1 even tells us the Logos was equal to the Father and in eternal personal fellowship with God. John 1:3 says Christ created all things. John 1:4 says Christ gave life to every human. John 1:4-9 says Christ is the Light, which means He is the only source of truth. And people come to know truth only through Him. John 1:12 says that Christ is the one who gives spiritual life to sinners, and He does it by grace, to those who believe in Him. It is a supernatural transaction that does not result from human religion, human works, or human associations.
And finally, John 1:14 tells us that the eternal, uncreated, personal Logos who is equal to God took on a human nature and became truly human in the Incarnation, when He was born of Mary. The eternal logos, the Word, became a man and He was named Jesus at His birth. Jesus was, and is, the God-Man.
John has described for us in these fourteen short verses the majestic, incomparable and all-glorious Christ, Jesus the Lord of lords and King of kings. He is the perfect Creator, Judge and Savior of the world. With special emphasis on His role as Creator (John 1:3-4, 10), Jesus is shown to be completely sovereign and omnipotent.
With that background, now go back and consider John’s words in 1:16, “of His fullness we have all received.” The Apostle John was saying, “As a believer in Jesus, one who has become a child of God by believing in Him (cf. 1:12), I have already received the fullness of what Christ has to offer.” John is talking to believers. If you are a Christian, then this is true of you. Because you have believed in Christ you have been made a child of God and as a child of God you have already been given the fullness of what Christ has to offer. No Christian is exempt or is left out. No believer falls through the cracks here or was forgotten. John is crystal clear. He says “we…all” have received. That is every believer. And what have we all received? Christ’s “fullness!”
Do you “feel” like you have received Christ’s fullness? Many believers do not mediate on this truth much nor understand what it means and its implications. Let’s dig a little deeper on what it means that as a Christian you have already received “the fullness” of Christ.
The Greek phrase has the definite article, “the,” so John is being specific: “the fullness.” It is not a generic, undefined, ambiguous “a” fullness. And even more specifically, it is fullness related to Christ. It is a fullness defined by all that John just said about who Jesus, the Logos, is.
The Greek word for “fullness” here is pleroma. It means to be completely filled up, nothing lacking; all-sufficient; abundance. Paul uses this word in reference to Christ five times to highlight that all the attributes of God are summed up in Christ. For example, Paul says that in Christ “all the fullness [pleroma] of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9). And “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness [pleroma] to dwell” in Christ (Col 1:19). As the Head and Lord of the Church, Christ embodies “the fullness [pleroma] of Him who fills all and all,” meaning Christ manifests His fullness of power and glory through the Church, His redeemed. Paul adds that because we know Christ, believers can be “filled up to all the fullness [pleroma] of God” (Eph 3:19). And finally, Paul says the Church is ever growing and maturing through the ages until we all reach full maturity that is exemplified by Christ’s current “fullness” [pleroma] (Eph 4:13).
The Matchless Christ
In all five uses of pleroma Paul is saying that Christ is defined by “fullness.” In other words, Jesus is complete, with nothing lacking, without any deficiency; He is complete deity and fully self-sufficient. He possesses all power, all glory, all sovereignty, all wisdom, all perfection, all holiness. His resources and power are vast and beyond measure. No human can plumb the depths or exhaust the limits of His being. Jesus is the matchless Savior. And you can have a personal relationship with that Savior.
Jesus possesses infinite and complete fullness of all that is good, glorious and blessed. And upon salvation He confers that fullness of blessing, unmitigated abundance, on every believer. If you are a Christian, then this unspeakable reality has already happened to you. John says that this is a past event for believers. He wrote we “have all received.” “Have received” is the verb and it is in the past tense (aorist active indicative). It already happened when you believed and got saved, when you were adopted as a child of God (John 1:12). When you were born again you were given complete fullness in every respect that comes from knowing Christ. Salvation in Christ issues in complete sufficiency for every Christian, because Jesus is a completely sufficient Savior.
Applying Biblical Truth
Some might think, “Wow, I don’t feel like I have received complete fullness when I got saved. I still feel lacking. I need something more. I’m not content. I feel inadequate. I’m not sure this fullness thing happened to me. How can I get more fullness of Christ? What can I do to get greater fullness?” These are natural thoughts for us finite, fallen, ignorant sinners to have on occasion…or for some, quite often. So, a few reminders are in order to set our thinking straight. Consider the following:
- Don’t rely on your feelings. Feelings are deceptive and change with the wind. God wants us to live the Christian life being led by our thinking, not our emotions. “Think on things that are true” (Phil 4:8). “Love the Lord your God with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). “Set your mind on the things above” (Col 3:2). “Know [think on] the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Your emotions are a by-product of your thought-life and based on your thinking. Your emotions are supposed to result from you thinking on truth; your emotions are not supposed to drive your thinking. Be more disciplined in your speech and refrain from saying, “I feel…” when it is not appropriate. It is never appropriate to say, “I feel such and such” when it is in conflict to a stated promise from God given in Scripture. God said in John 1:16 categorically that if you are Christian then you have already received the fullness that Christ has to offer. The reality of it is not based on our feelings.
- We can’t do anything to gain more fullness of Christ. The fullness of Christ can’t be earned by us. His fullness is granted as a sheer gift of His grace, sovereignly bestowed to us when we embrace His gospel. To think that we can work for more of His fullness is to undermine the sufficiency of salvation given through the gracious work of Christ.
- To desire more of Christ’s fullness as though His provisions are lacking is evidence of discontentment. Christ has provided everything we need to live a life that pleases God. Our problem as sinners is not that our resources in Christ are lacking. Our problem is that we fail to appropriate the resources already given to us. We should desire to experience more and more of Christ’s fulness as we walk in obedience. That is different than saying, “I need more than what Christ has provided.” Christ has given us boundless resources. The question is, “Are we using them, or not?” Paul said he learned the secret of being completely satisfied in Christ, whether living in plenty or in poverty (Phil 4:11-13). Christ is to be every Christian’s sufficiency. The degree to which you are totally satisfied by Christ in this life is a clear barometer of your spiritual maturity.
- Meditate regularly on the fullness of what Christ has imparted to you when you were saved. God adopted you into His family forever. You are secure in Him. All your sins were forgiven. God gave His Holy Spirit to live in you, empowering you for life in this fallen world. Christ gave you a new mind by which you can now understand glorious spiritual truths that unbelievers are blind to. Christ is with you wherever you go, He will never leave you or forsake you. Christ gave you a spiritual family, the Church, which provides for all your social and relational needs. Christ gave you the gift of prayer and the invitation to go directly to the Father anytime, anywhere. Jesus promises to meet all of your material needs in this life. Christ saved you from Satan, God’s wrath, the world and eternal hell. Christ has given you a future inheritance, guaranteed. Christ will give you a perfect resurrection body and eternal physical life. He has already given you spiritual eternal life. Christ has given you the Scriptures, the very Word of God, God’s thoughts written down, so you can know truth and live life in a way that pleases God and satisfies the soul.
The fullness of Christ comes to us every day with every practical blessing and every answered prayer and every desire of the heart that is fulfilled. Christ’s blessings of fullness are non-stop and too many to count. The problem is that we fail to see all the fullness that Christ has already given us or we get them so often that we just take them for granted. The second part of John 1:16 says that the fullness of Christ issues or flows into our lives on a regular basis in the form of “grace upon grace.” This means we keep receiving the fullness of God’s gift “one on top of the other” like a ceaseless flowing river of blessing, one wave after the other.
In light of this great reality add the truth of John 1:16 to your regular daily thought life, conversation and private prayer time. When you pray, regularly thank Christ for the past fullness of His provision already given to you when He saved you. Then thank Him continually for the wave after wave of the gifts of grace in your life that come every day, the big ones, and the countless little ones you experience at every turn. Number them, name them, showcase them. Remember them. Give Him thanks for every one of them. This is what it means to live in God’s will. And living with this mindset will help you walk in the Spirit. As a result, your heart, soul and thought-life will bubble over with the fruits of the Spirit and a true spiritual satisfaction, the best kind of satisfaction.
So Christian, mediate deeply on that blessed truth that you have already been given the fullness of Christ that is experienced and evidenced in an ongoing manner, every day, through one heavenly grace of goodness compounded upon another.