Over the past several Mondays, the contributing writers at Of Larks have been sharing a series on Jesus' I AM statements in the book of John. This is the seventh post in the series. Read the introductory post to the series here, "Bread of Life" here, "Light of the World" here, "The Door" here, "True Vine" here, and "The Resurrection and the Life" here.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
The early church had a nickname in apostolic times, referring to themselves as members of the Way; they spoke the message of Jesus, according to one commentator, as “not one among many ways to God but the only way to God.” It continues, “The early church was even called ‘The Way’ because of its insistence upon this point (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23).” In Acts, we see Peter proclaiming this truth: “Salvation exists in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The early church taught Jesus as the only Way; how compassionate to share this essential truth with our friends too. Because Jesus is the only Way, He is the Truth—He speaks what we need to know; how comforting to share with our friends that they may find rest amidst a pluralistic, confusing, restless society if they turn to Jesus, whose exclusive truth makes Him our immoveable, steadfast rock of salvation.
Believing the Faith
To know what the Way involves and means, we can first look to the meaning of “faith” in the New Testament. It is used in two ways “designated by two Latin expressions: fides quae, ‘the faith that we believe,’ and fides qua, ‘the faith by which we believe.’” Faith is our expression of trust in Christ—we’re familiar with this—yet, the faith is what we believe.
Dockery and George write in The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: “the faith is the essential content of the Christian kerygma, the Christian message—the proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings; the way, the truth, and the life. The faith is what it is we have to say and tell the world about what God has once and for all done in Jesus Christ.”
In Jesus, we have essential information to believe and trust. As the Holy Spirit breathed the Scriptures, He taught (and teaches) this to us—we need look no further than to the purpose statements of all four gospels.
The gospel of Matthew was written to teach that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel (Matthew 1:1) and Mark that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 1:1); Luke that was written “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4); John was written that we may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (John 20:31). We cannot recreate the purpose statements of the gospels any more than we would want others to rewrite the thesis statements of our research papers because of how they understand some of the supplementary information. We see in John that the miracles of Jesus were written to us as a way of authenticating His message (John 20:30); they were written so that we would believe He is truly who He says He is, Son of God and Messiah. We cannot know Jesus as the Way or the Life without the Truth—and without His version of it.
Rule of Faith on the Fides Quae
The early church valued the Truth, understanding this—that there was no Way or Life without it. The apostles were highly concerned with protecting it and passing it along (Jude 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:9; 2 Thess. 2:15). Even we can look back in history since the time of Christ to learn much from how the Holy Spirit has protected the church from false doctrine, as men returned to and depended upon the Bible in their unique circumstances of opposition to Christ and Scriptural teaching.
I can imagine it’s also out of that motivation that the church father Irenaeus (d. ca. 202) recorded in Against Heresies an essential summary of the fides quae known as a Rule of Faith. We can be immensely grateful for those throughout history who have stewarded the faith well; I hear in Irenaeus’ words, below, the reverent and serious belief of the church about who Jesus is.
The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father 'to gather all things in one,' and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, 'every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess' to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send 'spiritual wickednesses,' and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.
To cherish Jesus as the Truth involves standing firm in the traditions once for all delivered to the saints, found in Scripture (Jude 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:9; 2 Thess. 2:15), and learning from those since the time of Christ who have done this well.
“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.”
To Know and Believe Jesus
The disciples needed to understand who Jesus was; He gave the metaphor for Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life when He was conversing with His disciples about leaving. They wanted clarification about His future and theirs (John 14:5). Where would He be going? How could they follow? They wouldn’t fully understand until after His death and resurrection, and until they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (John 16:13), and yet, Jesus assures them with Himself through this figure of speech. Marvin Vinvent writes in Word Studies in the New Testament, “The disciples are engrossed with the thought of separation from Jesus…‘Therefore, with loving condescension the figure is taken up, and they are assured that He is Himself, if we may so speak, this distance to be traversed’ (Milligan and Moulton).”
We want to know how to follow Jesus too. Just like the initially-perplexed disciples, we can hear Jesus’ words and become assured through the Holy Spirit that to know Jesus is to know God. For “He is the image of the invisible God...in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:15, 19). As Jesus said, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). What comfort are these words! With a future and eternity we do not yet see or experientially understand, Jesus lovingly exhorts us that to know and believe Him is the only security we could need.
True Facts and Their Sturdiness
Through Jesus we can know the One we were created for on the authority of God Himself: “For I have not spoken on My own authority, but the Father who sent Me has Himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49). Christian life is not equivalent to a particular feeling or qualitative attribute; it’s a Person, being saved from wrath to know and love God forever.
That is why Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17 (NIV) is full of compassion and love: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better” (emphasis mine). For every believer, gaining life in the Way has required both knowing and believing truthful information (1 Tim. 2:3-4). And maturing in life in the Way has required knowing and believing increasingly more of it (Heb. 5:12-14). May we know God better; we can join Paul in seeking and praying for the intake and understanding of knowledge, according to what Jesus has come to reveal, by the help of the Holy Spirit every day.
We have the eternal privilege of being recipients of true facts about God through Jesus Christ. We receive these facts into our minds and hearts as precious through the faith we exercise, the fides qua. Because the truth informs us about how we come to know God in Christ, biblical facts are anything but dry. Being true, they underpin us with necessary sturdiness and strength for our believing life in the Way.
Dockery, David S., ed. Holman Concise Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.
 Dockery, David S.; Timothy George (2012-04-30). The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student's Guide (Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition) (Kindle Locations 976-979). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid (Kindle Locations 995-997).
Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.
"Saint Irenaeus Against Heresies." Internet Archive. Accessed March 30, 2017. https://archive.org/details/SaintIrenaeusAgainstHeresiesComplete.