Monday, March 19, 2012

What Does John 3:16 Really Mean?

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  John 3:16 (NKJV)*

     For those of us who have grown up either going to Church, or in a Christian family, this is one of the first Bible verses we memorize.  Most of us know it by heart, but do we actually understand what it means?  This was something I hadn’t even thought about until a few months ago when, during a sermon, my pastor began to “pick apart” different aspects of the verse, putting it into more modern terms to make it easier to understand.  While he didn’t go over all of it, I took some of the thing’s I’d learned from other sermons and Bible Studies and created my own paraphrase, which I will share in just a moment.
     A lot of the time, unfortunately, Christians tend to use a language that I like to call “Christianese”.  This language tends to use words like “sanctification” and “justification” and phrases referring to “baptism” and “the sacraments” and combinations of words and phrases that, in their context, most people just don’t understand without explanation.  And that includes a lot of Christians, too.
     While this verse doesn't appear to have a lot of big words that no one but a pastor or other Church leader would understand, many of the phrases can be pretty confusing.  When I really began looking closely at the verse, a few things in particular stuck out at me.
         Who or what is “the world”?
         “Whoever believes”― but, don’t even the demons believe?  And tremble? (James 2:19 NKJV)*
         “Perish.”  We all die anyway, how is that any different?
         “Everlasting life.”  We’re all going to spend eternity somewhere, it’s just a matter of where.  Those who don’t “believe” in God don’t just stay dead for all eternity.  They still live for all eternity, it just isn’t pleasant.  So what’s the difference in that aspect between the “believers” and “unbelievers”?
          How long is “eternity,” anyway?
          Why does this verse even matter, to the point where it’s the first Bible verse most kids memorize?
     When my pastor began going over the verse; one by one, my questions started getting answered.  Here are my definitions of the various words that had confused me, according to conclusions my Youth Group has made on the various topics.
        “World”― A bunch of sinners who hate God and want absolutely nothing to do with him.
        “Believers”― Those who not only believe in God, but who also obey and trust in him completely.
        “Perish”― To be sent to hell  to spend eternity.  This means an eternal separation from God.  Imagine the person you care the most about were to suddenly turn their back on you and refuse to acknowledge you at all.  That’s how I think of eternal separation from God, but over 100 times worse.
        “Everlasting life”― Getting to spend eternity in Heaven in the presence of God, our loving, if sometimes stern, Father.  Imagine getting to hang out with your favorite person of all time.  Only, for forever!
        “Eternity”― Forever.  There’s no other way to describe it.
     So, after defining some of those words and changing the language to be more understandable by modern terms, what does this verse really say?  I would paraphrase it as follows:
     “For God loved a bunch of sinners who hate him and want absolutely nothing to do with him so much that he gave his only Son to die a painful death on a cross, so that everyone who not only believes in God, but also obeys and trusts in him completely, will not spend eternity in Hell, in eternal separation from him, but will spend eternity in Heaven in the very presence of God.”
     If you were paying attention, you’ll notice I skipped one of my questions; "Why does this verse even matter?"  My answer is this: John 3:16 is a verse that shows just how much God truly loves us.  He had just one son, and He sent him to die so that we could spend eternity with Him.  And it wasn’t just any death.  He sent His son to die on a cross, one of the most painful deaths at that time.**  It wasn't just an execution, it was also a form of torture.
     Now, maybe you're thinking this isn't such a big deal.  I mean, He's God, isn't that kinda His job?  But let me ask you this: if someone hates you, constantly ignores you, and is just plain mean to you, are you going to want to do something nice for them?  I know I wouldn't.  But God did.  This verse just blows me away, because, God didn't have to do it.  He didn't have to send His son to die so that a bunch of people who hated Him could come to know Him and have their sins washed away so that they could stand in His presence and be loved by Him, but He did.
     Now, if that doesn't put you in awe of God and how loving He is, I don't know what will.

     The Comma Queen


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