I have no doubt you’ve seen the popular verse about God’s love.
It’s plastered all over poster boards at sporting events. The verse is used by street evangelists by the hundreds. We even see it subtly displayed by some well-known retailers. But if you had to explain what it means, could you do so effectively?
John 3:16 says, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (HCSB)
Those without understanding are apt to question:
- “How does anyone give a son?” or
- “How does believing in Him give us eternal life?” or
- “How does this keep us from perishing since everyone dies?”
Maybe you’ve heard questions like these. I know I have.
Then, there are the characteristics of God which seem opposite of the love depicted in John 3:16 – like hearing God described as “Judge,” or reading of His intolerance and wrath against unrighteousness.
Such things often cause people to shy away from what they perceive as an inconsistent Christian message.
But let’s dive in and take a closer look. It’s necessary to look at the context of the Scriptures and consider that He is a holy God.
God’s Love Expressed in Reconciliation
Holy means set apart and sanctified. It means that it is impossible for God to dwell in the presence of sin, or even overlook it. Because of God’s very nature, the people whom God created and loves cannot abide with Him when sin is in the way.
What is sin? It has a broad meaning: it’s anything that we think, say, or do that is not in accordance with God’s commands.
Anything we think.
Or do . . .
I sin every day. In fact, all of us do and the tremendous cost of our sins is eternal separation from the Lord. Because of my sin (which includes things as simple as thinking critically toward others), I cannot enter the presence of our holy heavenly Father without a covering over that sin.
In His great love for us, God provided a way of reconciliation.
By giving His One and Only Son to die on the cross, God Himself provided a covering that allows for our reconciliation with Him. He gave us Jesus who paid the price for our sins with His life that He laid down willingly. His blood provides the covering for our sin.
Why was there such a great sacrifice? A sacrifice of life? As an expression of God’s love for the world; for love expressed toward you and me.
Many of us wouldn’t think twice about laying down our lives for one of our children. We’d do it out of our great love for them, because we want what’s best for them, and because we’d do anything for them. Perhaps considering what you’d do for your own kids and the motivation behind it will help you wrap your mind (at least a little) around God’s love for us.
Taking God’s Love a Step Further
To gain more insight on God’s love for the world, let’s consider the verse that immediately follows John 3:16: “For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17 HCSB).
Some of our negative opinions expressed toward God stem from the assumption that He is condemning. But Scripture teaches us that He didn’t come to condemn us, but to save us from the cost of our sin.
Along with the title of “Judge,” (which is often reflected negatively by the world), Christ also wears the names of “Advocate,” “Redeemer,” and “Defender.”
Most of these words are common knowledge but let’s look up the definitions, shall we? These are from the New Oxford American Dictionary:
a public official appointed to decide cases in a court of law. • a person who decides the results of a competition or watches for infractions of the rules. • a person able or qualified to give an opinion on something: she was a good judge of character. • a leader having temporary authority in ancient Israel in the period between Joshua and the kings.
a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy: he was an untiring advocate of economic reform. • a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf: care managers can become advocates for their clients. • a pleader in a court of law.
compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something): a disappointing debate redeemed only by an outstanding speech • (redeem oneself) do something that compensates for poor past performance or behavior: they redeemed themselves in the playoffs by pushing the Detroit Red Wings to a seventh and deciding game. • (of a person) atone or make amends for (error or evil): the thief on the cross who by a single act redeemed a life of evil. • save (someone) from sin, error, or evil: he was a sinner, redeemed by the grace of God.
a person who defends someone or something: a defender of family values. • (in soccer, hockey, and other games) a player whose task it is to protect the team’s goal.
God’s Love In Action
It’s possible that you have done – or will do – something you consider terrible. Maybe you hurt someone physically, emotionally, or mentally. Perhaps the harm came through a snap decision, or an accident, or maybe through longtime contemplation.
Allow me to share a true, personal example:
As a child, my best friend and I were playing on some old farm equipment out in her family’s pasture. We sat on the machinery and started pulling levers of all sorts. Suddenly, my friend was screaming her head off.
One of the levers I’d pulled caused two pieces of strong, heavy metal to pinch together with the skin and muscle of my friend’s thigh caught in between. It was pure accident, but it caused tremendous pain and a scar that she wore for the rest of her life. I feel terrible to this day, and remembering her wails still brings tears to my eyes.
We know that our behaviors – even our accidental mistakes – come with consequences. Often, they’re not pleasant.
The Justice of God’s Love
Let’s imagine that one of the consequences of the accident I described involved legal charges or court proceedings. While questioned legally, I would have to say, “Yes. I did that. I’m guilty.”
Entering the courtroom beside me is Jesus who is my advocate, pleading my case on my behalf.
As my defender, the Lord protects me from harm.
The one who makes the final determination in my case is the judge. That role also belongs to Jesus and He judges with the love of a Father, plus the full understanding of my heart at the time of my actions, and my level of my remorse.
Should the judge require restitution or penalty of any sort – consequences for my actions – guess who steps up? Jesus, once again. He says, “I am her redeemer. I have already paid it all. Her debt was paid when I laid down my life on the cross.”
The Judge’s eternal decision: pardon. Every time, with every mistake for the children of God.
God’s Love Gives Liberty and Joy!
God is always working for our good and for His glory. Wearing the proverbial hats of advocate, defender, and judge, Jesus provides for our liberty and joy. He is not one who condemns, but one who sets us free from the bondage of sin. Glory!
God’s love for the world is greater than we can understand or imagine. Every measure of Jesus and the activity He has in our lives was planned – from the very moment He came to earth as a baby in a manger.
If you’d like to read the blog series for Advent, it helps us all pause and focus on Christ during this busy season. The series celebrates all that Jesus is to the world – so much more than a baby in a manger. You may click the links to read God’s Gift of Joy to the World and Jesus is the Light of the World – a Devotion of Praise.
May you rejoice in His love this Christmas.