“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” from the Gospel according to St. John.
These words from the Gospel according to St. John are among the most well known in the Bible. They are filled with hope and love, and reassurance that God loves us, and wants us to live eternally; however, these verses tend to be isolated from a larger section of this Gospel that really needs to be read as well.
Once again, our esteemed authors of the Sunday Lectionary have focused on one part, and left out the rest of the story. So allow me to read the entire section in context:
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. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
Now here is the rest of the story:
18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been done in God.
In this Gospel, the Greek word kosmos is translated into world, which implies all of creation, not just this earth. The kosmos, then, is generally seen in a negative way. In the prologue, John wrote that the Logos was coming into the kosmos, and even though the kosmos was made through him, the kosmos did not know the Logos.
The kosmos cannot receive the Spirit of truth, “for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him,” he wrote in chapter 9. There are more examples of this.
Despite this, God so loved the kosmos, even though no one in the kosmos deserves to be loved, because, as John wrote, people loved darkness more than light.
No one in the world is entitled to the love of God, and none is entitled to salvation.
This is important. We are not entitled to salvation.
When we humans are left on our own, we prefer darkness, so that no one can see what we are doing. That is the human condition. No one is forced to come into the Light. That is a decision that you and I must make.
We are not automatically saved because God loves us. In fact, John says if we do not believe, we are already condemned.
He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God. (3:18)
There are two parts to this message. One is that God loves us anyway, despite the fact that we don’t deserve it. He does not want us to perish, but wants us to have eternal life.
He wants us to accept him on our own faith, of our own free will. Remember last week? He did not want to dazzle us with his divinity so that we really had no choice in the matter.
Secondly, we must believe in Jesus to be saved. We must be the ones who come to the Light so that it may be plainly seen that our deeds have been done in God. (3:21 para)
We must be in the world or kosmos, but we are not to be of the world, or using a word based in the Greek: cosmopolitan.
We must believe in the Name of the only Son of God, and belief is more than just acknowledgement. It involves trust. The Greek word translated to belief is pisteuō which implies a commitment to trust, and to have faith.
And faith is a fruit of the Spirit, a gift from God, and is not something we have to generate of ourselves. When we ask, we will receive.
Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)
So while we don’t deserve it, if we ask, with a sincere and contrite spirit, our Father in heaven will give us eternal life. That is Good News! And it’s Good News that needs to be shared.
And a good way to do that is to invite someone to church. That’s all that some people are waiting for, that someone who cares enough to ask. The church has a lot to offer to those in need, to those who are lonely, or poor in spirit.
We are the ministers of this Gospel, folks. We are charged by our Lord to spread this Good News to everyone. This is our service to the Lord in gratitude for his love.
Let us with gladness present the offerings and oblations of our life and labor to the Lord. Amen.