God so loved – Part one

john3_16Arguably, the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. We see the signs at public events; it’s probably the one verse most Christians can quote from memory. And it should be, because it not only succinctly tells us how to be saved, it also says a lot about the nature of God.

But when we read this famous verse in its context, a much richer and deeper meaning is revealed. What I propose to do is unpack this verse in context (John 3:14-21) that, hopefully, will help you see some amazing things about the goodness of God.

This post started because of some questions I got at a recent men’s Bible study I was leading. I found myself answering a lot of questions about the verses surrounding John 3:16 that were confusing to some, and it became apparent to me how much is missed here. Hopefully, I can shed some light on those murkier parts.

God loves…mans hides

hooded_in_darknessThe first thing we should understand is that the normal modus operandi between God and mankind since the Garden is this: God loves…man hides. And we see this in the third chapter of John’s gospel. The chapter starts with a Pharisee named Nicodemus seeking out Jesus in the cover of night (all Bible references NKJV):

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night… (John 3:1-2a)

And this section in John ends with Jesus saying that we prefer to hide from God rather than be embraced by Him…

19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  (John 3:19)

So we must understand this at the outset. That at least part of Jesus’ mission was to get us out of our self-condemning, religious hiding by showing us that God is not the angry, vengeful image we’ve painted on His face.

It was because of love, not appeasement

Zeus_ReligionJesus came, not because God was angry and needed appeasement, but because God so loved…” He didn’t come to condemn us, to push our noses in our sin, but to save us from it…and save us from ourselves.

17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

An important part of salvation is Jesus saving us from a wrongheaded view of God. This is important because, as A.W. Tozer said:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Our view of God often says more about us than about God. I have to agree with Franciscan, Richard Rohr, when he says:

“Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.” (Stricken by God?: Non Violent Identification and the Victory in Christ, loc. 2676, Kindle Edition)

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have gotten the memo. Traditionally, we’ve had a pretty ugly picture of God deeply embedded in our theological imaginations.  We’ve ended up with a picture of God not at all like Jesus.

For instance, John Calvin taught that God’s general disposition toward mankind was one of anger (until we repent):

“God, apart from Christ, is always angry with us, and that we are reconciled to Him when we are accepted by His righteousness.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Romans and Thessalonians, p.76)

My first question is, how can we be “apart from Christ” if “all things consist and are held together in Him”? (Col.1:16-17). How do we even exist at all apart from Him? Ironically, this view reveals the influence of platonic dualism rather than biblical revelation.  You might respond by saying Calvin means, apart from salvation. Okay, fair enough.  But then we need to clarify our language because, in reality, no one can be “apart from Christ.” Jesus isn’t waiting somewhere else for us to let Him in. He’s knocking at the door of our heart because He’s already in!

Second, we are reconciled “when we are accepted“? I thought God already reconciled us to Himself in Christ on the Cross? Not only that, He’s imploring us to “be” reconciled (2 Cor.18-20). So, who’s not accepting who here?

Third, we have to ask if this was Jesus’ disposition toward sinners. Of course, we know it wasn’t. In fact, He was accused by the religious establishment of being a friend of sinners (Matt.11:19).

Fourth, as we see in John 3:16-17, it was because of the Father’s love for us that He saved us, not to appease His anger. And Paul said, while we were still sinners He demonstrated His love for us (Rom.5:8), which means His love has nothing to do with our behavior.

As Rohr says about the nature of God’s love:

“Divine love is not determined by the worthiness of the object but by the goodness of the subject.” (loc. 2673)

As Rohr also points out in the book, this view of an angry, vindictive, conditionally loving god who needs appeasement in order to forgive is closer to that of the ancient pagan gods than the One Jesus “explained to us” (John 1:18). It’s no wonder that this type of Christianity doesn’t produce many mystics. After all, who would want to get cozy and intimate with someone more like Molech or Zeus than Jesus?

No, we were the ones who needed to be changed, not God.

When we become unthankful

complaining_foodBack to our passage, it should not be lost on us that Jesus used the story of Moses and the bronze serpent to illustrate what He came to do. The story is found in Numbers 21:4-9. We will look at the significance of this reference next time, but for now I would like to look at verse 5:

And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” (Num.21:5)

Since we’re coming up on the (US) holiday, this is a good Thanksgiving verse for us to remember! The children of Israel doubted the goodness of God. And when we become unthankful and doubt His goodness, we get bit by the “serpent” (vs.6). We open ourselves to bondage and darkness (Rom.1:21). We need someone to save us from our own ignorant foolishness.

To be continued…

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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6 Responses to God so loved – Part one

  1. Pingback: God so loved – Part two | In My Father's House

  2. “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.” (Stricken by God?: Non Violent Identification and the Victory in Christ, loc. 2676, Kindle Edition)” …. I love that. Very good article.

  3. Cindy Powell says:

    “It’s no wonder that this type of Christianity doesn’t produce many mystics. After all, who would want to get cozy and intimate with someone more like Molech or Zeus than Jesus?” Ha ha, yep 🙂 – but the God of love “Jesus explained to us” sure does!. “Divine love is not determined by the worthiness of the object but by the goodness of the subject.” Amen. When we get that we finally stop hiding. Blessings Mel!

  4. Pingback: God so loved – Part three | In My Father's House

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