The most famous Bible verse is probably John 3:16, words spoken by Jesus about God’s love for each of us — the whole world. As we read that verse and the verses that follow, we learn many things that are critically important, and yet are not so well know. This passage, John 3:16-21, is most poignantly translated in The Message Bible, which says:
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.”
“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”
Main points from the passage
1. God loves people very much, and does not want anyone to be condemned. Jesus came into the world and ultimately died on a cross because God loves us so much, and he hated that we were trapped in a state of being condemned.
2. A person who does not believe is condemned. Jesus, God’s son, tells us in verse 17 that he did not come into the world to condemn people, but to save people. However, in verse 18, he tells us that without faith, people are already in a state of condemnation.
3. People who truly desire to do good choose to follow Jesus. Verse 21 shows that belief in Jesus — our running toward light — reveals something about our hearts. That if we have in our hearts to do things that honor God, then we will put our faith in Jesus.
4. Those who reject Jesus expose their hearts as loving evil. Jesus says in verses 19 and 20 that the real issue that keeps people from coming to God is that they love doing things their own way — they love doing evil.
While most Christians have always seen putting faith in Jesus as the key to salvation, it is not as well known that responding to the invitation also reveals things about a person’s heart: a desire deep down to serve and love God — to live dependent on God and in relationship with him. In a similar vein, those who do not seek after God also reveal things about their heart, and that it that they desire to do evil — to live independent from God.
We often think about people being evil if they do really horrible things. Jesus sees that at the heart of the matter, people are evil-doers when they reject God so that they can do their own thing. We also often think that a life of faith is about a life of trying not to sin. Jesus seems to say that it is more about depending on him and living in relationship with him, and out of that, we live lives pleasing to him.
Responding to God
For those reading this who perhaps have not responded to God, or responded only partially, but now are feeling a strange sense of being drawn: Jesus loves you and died for you so that you could be forgiven of your sins (which have included all sorts of things that come from living independent of God) and so that you could be reconciled to God (restored to an intimate friendship). If you want that kind of relationship, talk to Jesus in plain language (i.e., pray in your heart or out loud), telling him that you are putting your trust in him and that you will do your best to follow him, living in dependence on him. Jesus promises to respond and come and live in your heart (he says this in John chapter 14).
In order to grow in your faith, please tell someone who is already following Jesus about your decision (you can email me if you want). Then spend time each day talking and listening to God, so you can get to know his heart for you (it’s so thrilling when you hear him say he loves you — I never get tired of hearing that). And try reading the Bible. Don’t start at the beginning, but try something that is written about Jesus’ life on the earth, like the book (Gospel) of John (or Matthew, Mark, or Luke).