There used to be a time in America when almost everyone could quote John 3:16. We still see signs at sports arenas that state, “John 3:16,” and, for the most part, we yawn because we’ve seen it so often. We might think “religious fanatic”–maybe not out loud but in our minds. “What has that got to do with sports?” we may scoff, as we continue down a path that leads to life on our own terms minus God or if not “minus God” we definitely put Him on the sidelines and out of our way, except maybe on Sunday morning if we go to church.
The trouble sometimes with quoting only one verse, such as John 3:16, is that it doesn’t give us the rest of the story. Let’s look at it in context (John 3:16-21):
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (Jesus Christ), 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 [emphasis mine]. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
These are the words of Jesus to a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council named Nicodemus. “He (Nicodemus) came to Jesus at night and said, ‘Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him’ ” (John 3:2–you can read the rest of the dialogue in John 3). Nicodemus, unlike most of the Pharisees, came to Jesus with an open heart.
The Pharisees were the religious leaders of their day and were great at following rules and demanding that others follow them, too. Unfortunately, the Pharisees were all “show” and while they, themselves, often fell flat when “following the rules,” they loved the outward approval along with the prosperity and prominence that came from being a member of the ruling class. Jesus addressed their hypocrisy in Matthew 23. Let’s look at the opening verses (Matt. 23:1-7):
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ ” And it only gets worse from there (there are a total of seven “woes” that Jesus stated about the Scribes and the Pharisees in Matthew 23). It’s not a pretty picture.
Many times in many of our churches today there seems to be two extremes at work–on one side we have the “God loves you and wants the best for you” folks who treat God as if He is a magic genie ready to give us our every request and grant us a happy life; and on the other side there are the folks who tie us up in so many knots that we end up condemning ourselves for not being “good enough” and are always striving to be “better,” or we get a self-righteous attitude that “we” are somehow better than “others” if they don’t live up to our standards. Well, God is neither a magic genie nor a religious killjoy. And both of these “versions” of Christianity in America today are killing us.
Let’s go back to John 3, specifically John 3:17-18: “ For God did not send his Son (Jesus Christ) 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.” Did you get that? God did not send Jesus Christ into the world to condemn the world, but to SAVE the world through Him. However, and it’s a BIG “however,” whoever believes in Him is not condemned but those who don’t believe in Him are condemned. You see, it’s our choice. OURS.
The ultimate expression of real, true, lasting love (and not all the “pseudo love”–mostly self-love–that is so much a part of our culture–both inside and outside of the church–and our world) is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. He died in our place. Our place. And He rose again to give us new life–His life. But the choice is ours and He doesn’t force it on us. We can continue down our own path and live life on our own terms like the rest of our culture and world, or we can follow Him–and the path to real, true, lasting love–and not love for ourselves and what we want, but extending that love out to everyone else on the planet and serving them (being salt and shining our light—Matt. 5:13-16), whether they ever choose to follow Him or not. This life is not about us, folks. It’s about Him.
It’s an oddity that nowadays (at least in the past few decades) we have turned the Gospel of Jesus Christ around to serve us instead of serving Him. We may disguise it to look like we are serving Him (shallow Christianity has a way of doing that), but unless you get into the Word of God on a regular basis and learn what He has to say about life and how to live it, we’ll continue to live just like the rest of the world with a “pseudo” and lifeless form of “Christianity” that’s about an inch deep and wants for our own happiness all the time. If you want to know how to truly live life on God’s terms, start by reading the Gospel of John. And if you want to know how He wants us to live, start with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
The choice is yours. You can continue to live life on your own terms, or you can give it over to the One who died for you. Which will you choose? And remember also that no choice is still a choice. There is no middle ground.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
UPDATED: June 27, 2012—decided to add this short devotion for today from Dr. Jack Graham at PowerPoint Ministries that fits in very well with the topic of my blog post:
Are you really committed?
Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. ~Proverbs 16:3
I picked up an article years ago with the headline, “Fewer than 10 Percent of Americans are Deeply Committed Christians.” It was from pollster George Gallup Jr., who commented on the findings, “(The 10% who are committed) are more tolerant of people of diverse backgrounds, they are more involved in charitable activities, and they are far happier than the rest of the population.”
But then he went on to observe, “Most Americans who profess Christianity don’t know the basic teachings of the faith and they don’t act significantly different from non-Christians in their daily lives. Overall,” he added, “the Sunday school and religious education system in this country is not working. Not being grounded in the faith, these professing believers are ‘open for anything that comes along,’”
This is a very sad reality that we face in our churches today. It makes me sad about those 90%… and it breaks my heart that they want to identify with Jesus Christ but not to the point they’re truly committed. At the same time, the poll above is correct that, for years, our system for religious education in many churches was not up to par, and in many ways still isn’t.
When it comes to the cause of Christ, I pray that we become a people of God who are sold out to His purposes. Commit yourself to God today, and live your life fully for Him!
COMMIT YOURSELF WHOLLY TO GOD AND BE SOLD OUT TO HIS PURPOSES!
Thank you, Dr. Jack Graham!
YouTube Video: “Use Me” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here