“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.” – C.S. Lewis
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)
John 3:16 might be the most recognizable verse in Christian history. It’s a verse that in our southern Christian culture is as American as hotdogs, apple pie, and baseball. And I think there is a good reason for that. John 3:16 sums up all of the word of God and all of the gospel. It explicitly states the gospel proper; that God came to save sinners. All of us were destined to perish. Because we exist in a broken world, but more than that because we are broken ourselves. And because of this we cannot save ourselves. We can do nothing. Yet while we were yet sinners, God sent His Son to die for us.
The beauty of the gospel is that we bring nothing to the table in regards to salvation; other than the sin that we are being saved from. So salvation is not by works in any shape or form as Paul makes abundantly clear in Ephesians 2. No, instead salvation is found alone in faith. Or as John 3:16 puts it, belief. Or as other parts of the Bible, and especially Jesus in his parables, by love. We fall in love with Jesus more than anything else. We put our faith and belief in Jesus’ salvation and love for us. And we let go of our own ability to satisfy our own desires and measure up in any real way. So John 3:16 makes it clear that we need saving and that God alone does that saving.
Notice the absolute beauty of who God is in this verse and yet how small it mentions our situation in comparison. We see the grandness of God, the generosity of God, the uniqueness of God, the eternality of God. And yet all that is mentioned of our wickedness or our brokenness is “perish.”
Now this does not mean that the brokenness of the world, our sin or its consequences are small. By no means is that the case and when we really read scripture we see this reality emphasized over and over again. Our fallenness, our brokenness, our sin, our rebellion, is huge, it is black, it is dark, it is heavy, it is destructive, it is horrific. But in comparison to the beauty, and love, and nature, and grace, and favor, and favor of the eternal God it is small. One of the beautiful realities we see in John 3:16 is just how big God and his salvation is and how small our sin and its consequences are in light of the gospel.
This should encourage us to worship God and to let go of the little happy-meal toy, aluminum foil things of this world. We cling too easily to breakable happiness. But the bigness of God and his gospel can sustain that joy far greater. This also means that the brokenness of the world and our own brokenness are small in comparison to his goodness and grace if we would rest in them.
The story of the prodigal son teaches us that sometimes the miserable circumstances we find ourselves in, he was eating pig food in a pig pin, are of our own making, he wasted his money, and that of the brokenness of the world, there was a famine in the land. This son is suffering from his own brokenness and the brokenness of this imperfect world. And so here at the end I ask what our verse asks. What are you going to believe in for real joy and real love and real fulfillment? Are you looking to something other than Christ to fulfill? But the reality is that He is enough. He can hold your joy; he is worth holding after; he is worth resting in. Do not rest or place your joy in your own ability or the things of this world; even the good things. Instead believe in Jesus and in this you will find eternal life.
Pastor Andrew Bowman serves at Rocky Ford Christian Church.