For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.
John 3:16-19 NRSV
It’s so easy to assign this passage of Scripture to “Sunday School status,” that is, to think of it as being so simply that little kids can understand the whole thing. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Some have said that the entirety of the Gospel is found in these words, and while there’s some truth in that, it’s an oversimplification. Because, there’s some more complex truth in this for us right now, today, in OUR cultural context.
Verse 17 says that Jesus did NOT come into the world to condemn the world, and yet we so often want to shake the Kingdom like a fist at the world and speak words of condemnation as if we were being spokespersons for the same God who provided us this statement. We look at the people with whom we disagree and we try to claim the moral high ground using Jesus to stake our superior claim.
But, that wasn’t His mission, and if we truly want to be like Him, how can it be ours.
His mission was that the world would be saved through Him, literally that the entirety of creation would be restored to its original relationship with the Creator. It’s pretty hard to see that mission being accomplished when we lead with words of scathing condemnation and separation.
Of course, the passage goes on to make note that the people of this world who select darkness over light will have condemned themselves in this great salvation attempt. And, the writer of this Gospel account says that the decision point is the belief in the Son of God.
This IS the Word of the Lord, so we have to accept that this is truth.
But, we also have to understand what it means.
It means that this great salvation comes through accepting Him, not through accepting the stylized version of Him that we’ve woven through our human attempts to codify the “rules” of the Kingdom. Too often, we substitute the words of our cultural adaptation of Christianity, even our own personal understandings of what Scripture “really” means, for the Spirit of God that is the ONLY reconciling agent between Creator and creation.
Believing in Him is not synonymous with subscribing to the doctrines and special rules of the Church of the Nazarene. And, for you non-Nazarene’s and possible Nazarene haters out there who are giggling about that, it applies to you and your preferred theological statements, as well. Repeating the words of some personal evangelism road to salvation (you know what I’m talking about) is NOT what gains your place in the Kingdom.
He offers eternal life to those who believe in HIM.
Here’s an idea: let’s try to see if we can get out of His way and begin to simply point the way to the cross where He can do His work in the lives of those He came to save.
Always praying for you,
Your Older Brother,