In 1988, John MacArthur published The Gospel According to Jesus, which was one of the most controversial books in conservative evangelicalism when it hit the bookstores. Phil Johnson, one of MacArthur’s closest friends and partners in ministry, compiled some of MacArthur’s key points and published Only Jesus in March of 2020. Like its predecessor, Only Jesus confronts the “easy believism” that dominates many Christian circles today. MacArthur emphasizes that the Christian life is that of surrendering to Christ as Lord and Savior, and in doing so allowing Him to govern our lives according to Scripture.
Key Scripture Passage
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26-27
The Aim of this Book
The aim of this book is to gain “a thorough and proper understanding” of the fullness of the gospel in a concise study (p. 8). Specifically, MacArthur examines the statements made by Jesus—the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2)—that indicate He is the only way to salvation (John 14:6).
Introduction: Come and Die—In order to follow Jesus, we must die to ourselves daily and serve Him (Jn. 12:24-26).
1) Master and Slaves—“Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8); no matter what, Christ is our Master.
2) What is the Gospel Message?—“Jesus is both Savior and Lord (Luke 2:11)” (p. 26); repent and be saved by grace through faith in Him alone.
3) You Must Be Born Again—“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
4) In Spirit and in Truth—True, authentic worship that is “in spirit and in truth” flows from the heart seeking to know God and be known by Him (Jn. 4:23; 17:3).
5) Good News for Sinners— “Christ’s call to salvation and discipleship is extended only to desperate sinners who realize their need and desire transformation” (pp. 84-85).
6) To Seek and Save the Lost—In dining with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners, He lived out His message of hope to the lost: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt. 9:13).
7) Repentance—When Jesus calls someone to repentance, He’s calling them to continually turn away from sin and turn to Him for salvation.
8) Faith—Faith is humbly coming to Christ as you are , and trusting Him to not leave you as you are.
9) Justification—This is when God imputes Christ’s righteousness to believing sinners, forgives them of all unrighteousness, declares them to be righteous in His sight, and delivers them from His just condemnation (p. 136).
10) The Cost of Discipleship—Even though the cost of following Jesus is high, the reward possesses an eternal weight of glory that makes the calling worth it.
11) The Cross—The work of redemption was finished on the cross when Jesus made perfect atonement for sin by His blood.
One of the things I like about MacArthur is that he explains issues and doctrines in a clear and concise way. He doesn’t get off track or become too confusing for readers, especially those studying the gospel for the first time. Another notable highlight is MacArthur’s straightforward attitude. This is often lacking in not only church ministry but also in the world. This is what MacArthur says about the call to discipleship:
The call to Christian discipleship explicitly demands just that kind of dedication. It is full commitment, with nothing knowingly or deliberately held back. No one can come to Christ on any other terms. Those who think they can simply affirm a list of gospel facts and continue to live any way they please should examine themselves to see if they are really in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5) – p. 149
MacArthur’s clear and candid writing style makes him unique in the realm of writing and ministry. He rarely shys away from controversial issues, and it shows in his writing.
Personally, I love deep theological studies. Intense doctrinal studies intrigue and captivate me. I would imagine many of you enjoy deeper studies as well. If you’re looking for a deeper study into soteriology, Only Jesus is not the book for that. It’s an excellent book for a foundational understanding of the Gospel or for group study, but not for deeply studying the doctrines of election or atonement, for example.
Why this Book Should Be in Your Library
I firmly believe this book should be in your library with copious amounts of underlines, highlights, or notes in the text because this book contains several excellent statements that are concise and understandable. This would also be a great book for a simple refresher on the gospel. Group study of this book would also be excellent. While you’re reading this book, examine yourself to see whether your life of pursuing Christ is rooted firmly in the teachings of Scripture and is clearly evident among your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Here is the link to the book on Grace to You website: https://www.gty.org/store/books/451189/only-jesus
I graciously received this copy for free from Grace to You.