Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The OTHER John 3:16

Just about everybody is at least a little familiar with the "Gospel in a nutshell," the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. It's message is the core of the whole Bible; God loves you, Jesus died for your sins so that you can live forever with that God who loves you. Maybe people take it for granted, maybe some reject it or don't "get it," and maybe some people don't know the actual verse, but they've seen "John 3:16" on some poster being held up by some religious nut on TV somewhere, right?

But how many of us read any further? Americans are lazy and hate to read. What a shame. Public education is a product of the Reformation. Reformers like Luther wanted people educated so that they could read their Bibles for themselves, make their own intelligent decisions about its meaning instead of just rubber stamping whatever hubris was shoveled out to them from the pulpit. The hope is that your faith would be your own and you'd develop a personal relationship with God. Just as the man who can read but refuses to is no better off than the one who can not read to begin with, we're just as vulnerable to mindless slavery if we leave our Bible on the shelf as those who can't read theirs.

Anyway, if you just read on another two verses, you learn what C.S. Lewis takes an entire novel to explain in his book "The Great Divorce," that God doesn't SEND non believers to Hell- we're all already in a state of spiritual death and isolation from God. If we reject His Son, we condemn ourselves to remain there for eternity. That's an amazing and humbling truth. Hell was prepared for Satan and his angels, not for humanity. Its definitely real and people go there, but not because God wants them to.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. ~John 3:16-18
Here's something else most people never bother to read or study- the OTHER John 3:16, 1 John 3:16. 1st, 2nd and 3rd John are letters or "epistles" written by the same author of the Gospel, the Apostle John, the youngest of Jesus' disciples. He probably wrote 1 John somewhere between 85-95 A.D. John wanted to warn new Christians about false spiritual teachers.

1 John is one of my favorite books of the Bible. John tells us to test the spirits and consider the motives of teachers so that we won't be led astray from the truth of Jesus' teaching. John reminds us that Jesus' new commandment is to love one another, and tells us that God is love. and that Jesus demonstrated His love for us by laying down His life for us. And of course, We love because He first loved us.

And my favorite verse, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..." (4:18a). Too often our decisions and positions are motivated by fear. "Fear and Loathing" as Hunter S. Thompson used to call the primary human drives. Thomas Hobbes called it selfishness and shortsightedness in conflict and competition. Freud called it pleasure and pain, fight or flight. Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to prejudice and anger, prejudice and anger lead to hate, hate leads to violence.

But if God is in us and we are in communion with God, following Him as humble disciples, studying His Word, seeking Him in prayer and confession, thanking and praising Him, we don't have room for fear. If we trust Him and let His love overflow in us and flow out of us to others- we won't be motivated by fear, but instead by compassion and the fruit of His Spirit, joy, peace, patience and kindness, etc. Love overflowing. Now that's the kind of "trickle-down" theory I'd like to see.

But let me finally get to my point about the "OTHER John 3:16."

I think that John 3:16-18 tells us about "Justification," (Jesus' saving work) and 1 John 3:16-18 tells us about "Sanctification," (Jesus' ministering work with and THROUGH us).

This verse is one of the plethora of reasons why I believe that Christians can be Democrats, even "liberal" Democrats- because political progressives believe in helping others and oppose hording wealth or power. You might even go so far as to say that 1 John 3:16-18 is downright "Socialist." In these verses John urges us to follow Jesus' example of love and sacrifice. of putting others before ourselves. This is a verse that Wall Street could stand to learn. Anyone angry about losing their off-shore tax shelters ought to consider this verse carefully.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. ~1 John 3:16-18

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