“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.”
This may be one of the most misused verses in the Bible. Often taken out of context and plastered onto banners for use in protest marches or NFL games, it has been used to beat non-believers over the head, fear tactic and all, into changing their non-belief.
This illuminates a divide that we Presbyterians (and all Reformed Christians) have with our more Pentecostal/evangelical brothers and sisters. We come at faith believing we are all a wretched mess and without God we are nothing. And we see God through a different lens – primarily coming at us first and foremost with love and compassion, not exclusion and judgment. Grace alone. Grace first.
It’s not a better way to read scripture, just a different approach. It is not our activity that is primary, but God’s then, in this approach.
When I see JOHN 3:16 signs I am tempted to hold up a sign that says “John 3:17”. Read on! John 3:17 declares “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.” The passage goes on to talk about judgment as if it is something for God alone, and not for us to be deciding. Our focus in on good deeds and staying in “the light.”
It turns out that John 3 warns against the very thing that people intentionally or unintentionally do with their “3:16” signs. If we begin by casting judgment on people, we miss the point of God’s purposes for us.
Recently at a college campus here in the Toledo area, this kind of divide of faith came into play. Some involved in the campus ministry were coming at their faith primarily through a lens of judgment, demands from God, or worse from fear. The leadership thankfully was coming at things with a broader, fuller understanding of Scripture, primarily that God’s LOVE comes first, and if God’s love and desires for us to discover that love predominate our lives, we need to approach the campus in that way too.
This is the radical nature of John 3:17. We need to suspend judgment and leave that up to God alone. We need to embrace God’s love, and love God and neighbor as ourselves. God’s welcome must comes first. Everything else will follow.
For John, everything seems to stem back to the premise that he laid out at the beginning: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” Everything that follows is an explanation and expansion of that main thought.
And where does that leave us as believers? It means that our lives’ focus have changed. We are to revel in the wisdom that is all around us. We are to enjoy God, celebrate God, and feast on the goodness of God, sharing that feast with others. We are not to disrespect God by taking on the position of judgment or condemnation. We are to seek love in everything we do – in every relationship – in every place we go.
I am thankful that our campus ministry is on firm footing, deeply rooted in Scripture and washed in the LOVE of God