We are going to be looking at the most well known text in the Bible. Even if you don’t have much of a background in church, you have seen this verse waved at you. If you have ever watched a football game you have seen it flash on the screen from a fan in the stands on a poster board. If you have ever watched a basketball game, you have seen it when held up when a player is shooting a free throw. Even those who are not believers in Christ at least have a framework of reference for the text.
This verse it perhaps the greatest verse in all the Bible. It is the best loved and best known verse. It is the most power paced twenty-five words in all of Scripture. Martin Luther called it the miniature gospel. Some have called it the “gospel in a nutshell.” It has also been called a love letter from God written in blood for everybody. This is the one verse Satan would love to remove from the Bible because it makes hell tremble.
This verse makes me afraid. You might ask, “Why would such an incredible promise and verse make you afraid?” Because I am afraid it has a tendency to become so familiar that it loses it’s power and meaning! We can fly right through it and miss the awesomeness of what God has done for us especially in what has been commonly labeled “the Bible Belt.” We can read the words but totally miss the much needed message.
Society has a way of deceiving us and selling us a “bill of goods” when it comes to love. All the movies, sitcoms, and songs that are based on the idea of love are really based on a very unhealthy kind of love. It is a shallow, hollow, and empty kind of emotive love that looks down on a deep, genuine and Biblical love.
Predominantly love is emotive and can be fallen in and out of. It is a love totally based on how happy the other person is making us. So when that is the case, we really don’t love the other person; we really love us. That is not love! Love is not “You make me happy, so I love you.” That is a self love and not a love for somebody else.
What do you hear people say all the time today? “I’ve fallen out of love. I just don’t love them anymore.” Something that is frowned upon by a large part of society is someone who loves by the will. In the Hebrew culture they had a word for this type of love. It was the Hebrew word, “ahava.” It was a love of the will and it meant, “I’m not going anywhere.” “Ahava” love told the other person, “I have seen the ugly side of you and I’m staying.” In our culture we predominantly view this as unhealthy.
In a situation like this, what do we say? “You don’t deserve this. You deserve better than this. Life is too short to live like this. Are you really going to spend it like this?” Love is very flippant in our culture. It can shift and change at any given moment. The love we see played out all around us in culture is very conditional and circumstantial. It is not sustaining and it is definitely not safe.
Love is seen like the car we bought that Josh drives now. It’s a 2004 Nissan Altima. I have had Nissans in the past and they were always dependable. The car looked good, it ran good, and had a good price. So I bought it. A little while later I heard it knocking and it was almost out of oil. No sign of leaks but it was just about gone. I then found out that from 2002-2004 Nissan had some problems with their valves and rings. So what was my first thought? Get rid of it. Sell it or trade it on something else. That is how many people treat love today. Things come up that are not so good and then we are ready to get rid of it or trade it in. If you want to understand why people are putting off marriage or choosing to avoid marriage altogether all you have to do is look at how we are defining love. Why would anyone want that?
In our English language we don’t have words that differentiate between our different types of love. With the same word we say, “I love my dog, I love pinto beans, I love my kids, I love my wife, etc.” Most of the time when we say, “I love you” what we are really saying is, “You make me happy, so I love you.” This is a weak form of love and will not sustain moving forward. We all want and need emotion in our love. There needs to be a little bit of “ahava” love to make it in the long run, to be safe and grow as people. During your worst times when you show the worst of you what you need is somebody to say, “Yeah, I’ve seen that. It is ugly but I love you. I’m not going anywhere.”
I have said all of this because if we don’t understand what love actually is and should be we can’t really understand God’s love. If your understanding of love doesn’t have some depth, some root and an anchor to it, it’s impossible to comprehend God’s love for you. It won’t feel as incredible as it really is.
If you haven’t already turn in your Bibles to John 3. We are going to be reading as we always do from the ESV but if you are like me this is the first verse I ever memorized and it was from the King James Version. I want you to look on the screen with me KJV version before we get into the ESV version. “16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 from KJV). In the most famous verse ever about the love of God, Jesus Himself thought it was important to point out that God’s love is what rescues us in our eternal perishing. “16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
Look at how God loves us. It says, “For God SO loved the world . . .” (John 3:16). The most insignificant appearing word really is one of the most important words in this verse. It’s as if there was a volume button to God’s love and when it comes to loving us He cranks up the volume. When Jesus mentions the “world” (John 3:16) here, He is not talking about the planet earth. What He is referring to is us . . . all the people of the world.
Several weeks ago I made a statement to you about God’s love for you and what that looks like. I said, “God loves you just they way you are; but God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.” You can see this being fleshed out in John 3:16. “16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .” (John 3:16). What you see in this is God’s love initiating towards us. This is so amazing and what makes it so amazing is that because “God so loved” (John 3:16) us He chose to move towards us.
God looks down and sees us the way we really are. In our sinful state He sees our rebellion, pride, selfishness, arrogance, self-righteousness, etc. We all struggle with sin and we all have junk in our lives. God sees our junk. He sees our issues and struggles. And yet in the middle of all that junk, God sends Christ to be the righteousness we need. In the midst of all the mess, the hatred and the rejection of Him, He chooses to jump right in the middle of it with us. Rather than being repulsed by all that, God came to rescue you!
You at your very best will never be adequate to pay your sin debt. You will never be able to save yourself! God knows that and that is why in His great love He was not repulsed by what He saw but moved in to rescue you. John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .” I really like The Message translation of that verse. “14 The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” (John 1:14). He looked down and saw that we needed a Savior! He saw that I needed a Savior! He saw that you needed a Savior!
Why would God do that? Why would God choose to jump right in the middle of our junk? To really understand why Jesus came you have to read John 3:16-18 together. “16 . . . that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 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. 18 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. ” (John 3:16-18). God extends a gracious invitation to everybody. An invitation that says regardless of where you are, regardless of where you have been, regardless of what you have done or regardless of what you are doing, He will take away your sin and give you the free gift of eternal life.
This “eternal life” (John 3:16) obviously speaks about the future and eternity . . . thus the word “eternal.” But it’s not just heaven; it’s also fullness of life here and now. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). So, God doesn’t want you to perish in eternity or perish now. He wants you to experience abundant life now and experience life in eternity with Him!
I want to ask you, “Do you want abundant life now and to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus?” Most of you would say, “Yes.” To receive that, there is something you have to do. It says you have to “believe” (John 3:16). Here is where it gets complicated. This belief is not just intellectual assent. It’s not just, “Oh yeah, I believe in Jesus.” It’s not just that “Bible Belt/Southern thing” that is the acceptable thing in our culture. “Why, yeah, I believe in Jesus. I’m American and I live in the South so of course I believe in Jesus.” To believe in Jesus like John 3:16 is to believe He is who He says He is and He did what He said He did!
This puts a whole new twist on belief because Jesus says He is God and He also says He is the only way to God. Believing in Jesus means you have declared war on the sin in your life and that you are serious about growing in your knowledge with God. If that does not describe you, you do not really believe in Jesus. If there is no seriousness about sin in your life and no desire for you to grow in an understanding of who God is and who Jesus is, you don’t believe in Him!
Based on that definition of belief, have you ever truly believed in Jesus for your salvation? Have you ever realized that salvation is a gift, earned entirely by Christ? Have you ever understood that without Christ as your Savior you are an otherwise hopeless sinner? The true test of your belief is what you do with your sin. Do you have an awareness of sin? Are you convicted by your sin? Are you willing to confess your sin? Are you willing to repent of your sin? Jesus illustrates all of this by the analogy of light and darkness.
When you truly believe in Christ as your Savior, God rescues you from condemnation. “19 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. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20). People get this backwards. When sin is confronted people will say, “You are condemning me.” Really that is not true. This says in sin you are condemned already and confronting that sin is releasing you from condemnation. Let’s illustrate it this way.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12). Although light does cast shadows, the purpose of light is really to illuminate. The general purpose of light is to illuminate and eliminate the darkness. Jesus coming into the world as the light of the world exposes the sin and darkness that is already here. People who are without Christ are condemned already but they just can’t see it because they are trapped in darkness.
If you have truly believed in Jesus, it is mandatory that we share what Jesus means to us and what He has done for us. “21 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 3:21). Once you realize how free you really are in Christ, you run to God even with your sin because you have experienced what real freedom feels like. You know what real joy feels like. You know what real peace feels like. You want to tell everybody because you want them to experience what you have experienced and are experiencing. When you know that you are an otherwise hopeless sinner without the gift of salvation which is earned entirely by Christ, you are compelled to tell other hopeless sinners where to find hope!
Why would we spend so much time on John 3:16? To nail down what it really means so you can know if you actually have practiced that kind of belief. Our new series is about being bold and sharing your faith. But you can’t share what you don’t have! Are you serious about your sin? Do you have a desire to grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus? If you can’t answer yes to both of these questions, you don’t have it!