We often remove John 3:16 out of its context and neglect how challenging this must have sounded to Nicodemus. Throughout the nighttime conversation with the curious Pharisee, Jesus consistently challenges Nicodemus’ worldview and religious assumptions. The next few words of that most beloved verse may also challenge our worldview and assumptions – if we’ll let them.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16–17, NASB95)
“For God so loved the world.” This is a religious shattering phrase in Nicodemus’ ear. Up to this point in history, God only seems concerned with the Jewish folk. The forefront narrative of Genesis through Malachi concerns the creation, struggles, and triumphs of the Hebrew race. But Jesus didn’t say “for God so loved the Hebrew descendants of Abraham;” He said the “world.” The entire cosmos; the people of every race, tribe, and tongue.
Jesus also described God as loving the world, even though much of the world was and is hostile towards God. We may expect God to have a certain level of concern over His creation. But Jesus says that God cherishes the world and loves every person regardless of their faith, belief, race, tribe, or actions. That obliterated Nicodemus’ Jewish centric worldview – and ours as well.
God loves you. That is true, no matter what. There is nothing that stops God from loving you. The floodgates of His love are open wide. Yes, there’s more to it. We have a choice to make, do we accept His love or reject it? Most of you reading these words already know God’s love through Jesus Christ. For those that haven’t and desire to know more, this resource may help https://lambchow.com/2014/03/receive-gods-love/
But understanding “For God so loved the world” doesn’t end with accepting Christ. We may wrongly adopt a mindset where God’s love is limited to those that are Christians, or of our denomination, or maintain a particular set of doctrines, or behave a certain way. There’s something about religion that grows a kind of “us vs. them” and “in vs. out” mentality. There will be a time when the tares will be separated from the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30) and the sheep separated from the goats (Matthew 25:31 and following), but that time is not now! In both examples, the separation comes at the end of the age.
Instead of adopting an “in/out” mentality where some of the world is “in,” and the rest are “out” may I suggest the mindset of being on a journey. Everyone, whether they know it or not, is on a journey of faith either towards discovering Christ or further into Christ. Some on that journey have been making great strides; some may seem stuck, while others seem to be running the other way. Regardless of their “progress,” the journey remains.
We tend to think in slices of now and that “now” is the whole story. But life itself is a journey, a long series of moments strung together like pearls. Right now, we are at a particular place concerning God and faith. But where will we be in a few days, several months, or after a lifetime of moments? That’s the journey we’re all on. We can either encourage others to continue the journey or build stumbling blocks and walls to prevent their progress.
Let me be clear; the deciding factor at the end of the age will be whether we embraced or rejected the revelation of God given to us. How did we respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ? Or if we’ve never heard the Gospel, how did we respond to the revelation of God in the world around us? (see Romans 1:20) God loves all on the journey, whether they are still stumbling over His existence, struggling with accepting our need for a savior or striving after Christlikeness. In the end, God will separate the tares from the wheat. Our job is to encourage and proclaim and model God’s love to everyone without qualification. We may see their sin and the evil within, but their story is not yet finished – neither is ours. The floodgates of God’s love are open wide for you…and for them. After all, “for God so loved the world.”