Monday, January 29, 2007


John 3.16 is the most well known verse in the Christian church, and rightly so. This verse tells us of the Father’s love for us, as Paul will say, even while we were yet sinners. This verse, and the one that follows it, form the core of the Gospel, explain why God was interested enough to send Jesus to earth, and establishes the basic expectation of Man’s return to God.

It is that basic expectation with which I want to deal in this essay. The expectation is “…he who believes....” But what is that belief that is spoken of in this passage? If we go to our Greek dictionaries we will find words that deal with the apprehension of facts, or assent to a proposition. Many people will take that simple definition and expand it to include a following through on that belief. Namely, repentance is often included in a rightly understood belief. After all, if we really believe that Jesus is who He said He was, we must be compelled to make ourselves look like Him.

While I acknowledge the foregoing definitions and parameters of the word in these two verses, I also think belief includes an expanded definition in this passage.

Here is the text that I’d like to consider (John 3.14-21, ASV):

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God.

The word “loved” used in describing the way Man considered darkness is the same word we use for a good love. It is agape. Man so loved [cared for, nurtured, sought to expand, looked to the interests of] darkness that they failed to, no, could not, see the Light. When we read these verses, the idea of belief takes on another shade of meaning or implication. Belief takes on an idea of recognizing God in Jesus, in His life, and in His words.

In other words, those who are saved are those who can see God in Jesus. Those in whose souls God resonates when they see Jesus are saved because they come to the Light. That recognition, that resonating beat, that feeling that says “Yes!” within us causes us to move toward Him, to live like Him, to be formed in Him. It is those who are saved.

When Jesus is with the Samaritan woman (John 4.10), He says to her that if she “knew the gift of God” she would have received something much better than regular water. The word “knew” carries with it an expanded definition as well. It is not simply mental assent, but recognition, awareness, or understanding. Again, here we see that it is those who perceive God in Jesus that are the receivers of His grace.

It seems reasonable then to enlarge the idea of John 3.16 and 17 from simple belief to apprehension and recognition of Jesus as God. This is important to grasp because it not only describes Man’s response to Jesus, but provides insight into the kinds of people who are saved – those who perceive God in Jesus. These are not just people who have learned a catechism or who have learned the intellectual arguments. These are people whose very beings identify with Him.

And that is no wonder. Man we are told is made in the image of God; we were made and remain so in the image of the Divine. We have become disoriented, misled, duped, and misguided by our own pride into thinking that we know best, that life is about getting ahead, that others come after me. If we continue in this path too long, our consciences become seared and we cannot recognize God when He presents Himself to us. We come to love the darkness rather than Light. We lay on our beds at night devising new and novel ways of taking advantage of others to line our pockets or stroke our egos.

But if we can come to our senses before it is too late, or if we encounter God before we are too long gone, our souls are awakened, they are stirred to repentance at the recognition of God, of what is right, of who we were meant to be, and we are saved. Our response to God becomes not a legalistic response but a whole-being, no-holds-barred leap into His arms. This leaping feels right because we identify with God from our very essence. We cannot do anything else. And in the Light we are saved.

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