For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the Light and does not come to the Light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:16-21).
John 3:16 is likely the best known Bible verse in the New Testament, possible the whole Bible. It is the Gospel – the Good News. God not only sent His son to save us; He gave His Son to save us. Jesus is the Gift. God gives and does not take back. And here is the miracle in it: whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (vs 16). Remember in the passage prior to this one, Jesus is telling to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Jesus is saying that all those rituals and steps that have been prescribed to him by men, the traditions passed down by the religious elite, are unnecessary. Jesus is freeing Nicodemus (and all of us) from a works-based salvation and showing him (and us) the better way, the only way. Nicodemus has come to Jesus under the cover of darkness for explanations, for teaching, for answers. John, the narrator, explains Jesus’ message to Nicodemus in today’s reading, that we are saved by faith alone, by believing in God’s Son. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him (vs 17). He is explaining the intention of God’s gift – God’s intention was loving and redemptive.
Verse 17 is also setting up the next verse – which explains the natural consequence of the Gift. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (vs 18). Though God’s free Gift was not sent into the world to condemn the world, the arrival of the Gift does bring condemnation because some will believe and some will not. Here is an important truth: in our own human experience, condemnation does not technically occur until judgement – the accused is brought before the judge, the evidence is weighed, and if he is found guilty, then he is condemned. Yet, according to Jesus, those who do not believe are condemned already. They are condemned for eternity, and that starts now. Here on Earth, they are condemned to life apart from God. They are condemned to manage their problems, their futures, their children alone. Here is one place that some churches sell salvation short. If you are seeking Jesus only because you fear eternal death you are missing the point. Jesus died so we could be in relationship with God right now. Jesus died so that the Holy Spirit could reside in us to comfort us, teach us, and change us (John 14:26, Gal 5:22-23).
When God says, “Be holy for I am holy” (Lev 11:44), He is showing us our need for Him. Personal Holiness cannot be accomplished by man: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:9-11). Here is how John explains it: And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the Light and does not come to the Light, lest his works should be exposed” (vs 19-20). People reject God’s message because people are evil and do not want to confront their own sin. How can we come to God then if we are evil? This is only possible because God pursues us. He seeks after us to reveal the depth of His love for us. So He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!”I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance (Luke 15:3-7). God’s pursuit of an unholy people demonstrates His grace. This is yet another way He reveals His character; what He does tells us who He is.
Whereas those who do not believe are already condemned, those who do believe are already free. We do not wait until death to taste the Kingdom – we enter His Rest as soon as we enter relationship with Jesus (Hebrew 4:3). Relationship with Jesus does not mean freedom from trouble, but it means that, in any and every circumstance, we are assured of God’s love for us, and of His presence, and of the goodness and wisdom of His plan for us; this gives us peace in spite of our difficulties (John 3:16; Matt 28:20; Jer 29:11). Paul said, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Jesus warned the disciples (and us), “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
Because Jesus has overcome the world, not only are we able to enter into His Kingdom, but also to participate in it. In verse 20 we see: But whoever does what is true comes to the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. As we draw near to God, He enables us to do good, and this brings glory to Him, not to us. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:14-17). Since we are not able to truly do good without relationship with Jesus, we cannot take any credit for it. This is a welcome relief! God will do the work in us and through us, so all we need to do is yield to Him. No more striving for goodness, just learning to let go and allow God to have His way. Yet, that is a paradox: both a very easy and a very difficult thing to do. Thankfully, God has got this part for us too. He teaches us how to rely on Him. Some learn that more easily, some take the hard road. Either way, His will is done. As the Lord says Himself, “So is My Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
justAgirl…just like you!
Please forgive an error on my part when I posted this the first time. I attributed today’s verse to Jesus rather than John. The post now reflects the correction!