“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”John 3:16–21, ESV
These verses in John 3 are rarely read together in today’s churches. The focus of the gospel has shifted to almost exclusively the love of God. Thus, Jesus, who says, “For God so loved the world,” is translated into “since God loves the world, that must include everyone in the world.” Our God is not only the author of salvation, but he is also the judge of sinners. Jesus made clear that he was not sent into the world to judge (condemnation), but that there is condemnation already present among those who do not believe. The unbeliever has reaped condemnation because “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness.” How do we know this to be true? “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light…”
Jesus was not wasting his words. When he spoke, he spoke truth. These verses are the gospel message. They cannot be separated from one another. None of these words are difficult to comprehend. Whenever and wherever the gospel is preached, both salvation for belief and condemnation for unbelief must be a part of the conversation. One without the other denies the gospel as proclaimed by Jesus.
The Jesus loves me gospel has become such a focus in many churches that the gospel has become something like fire insurance. If you don’t believe, you are going to hell, but if you do believe, you will go to heaven. Furthermore, belief does not have to be anything more than an altar call a person is tricked into going down for. Music, worship space, preaching are all laid out for an emotional response. They demand a response of feeling guilty. However, those who feel guilty do so regarding a few specific sins they have committed. Unfortunately, the individual does not recognize that everything he does is in some way steeped in his or her sin nature.
So, such individuals may pick up the language of modern Christianity or even start attending church occasionally. But there has not been a fundamental change in their life. They think everything is good between them and God. Yet, when Junior has a soccer game that conflicts with the gathering of Christ’s body for worship, they choose the soccer game. After all, God would certainly want us to support our child in his activities. That is what good parenting is all about. Few think that Junior should not be playing a sport instead of the communion of the saints with voices raised in worship.
Nevertheless, our culture demands to be our first love. The temptation to love the world is strong. I know it well. What helps me are two things: the love of God who called me to serve him and the fear of God’s wrath. This may sound odd to many but think back to when you were a child. I hated doing yard work, but my dad would assign some chores for me to accomplish before he came home. I would put off going outside to work as long as I could. Yet, there always came a time when I decided my father’s praise was much better than his wrath and disappointment.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1, ESV)
With this background, we may now turn to the Creed. It has presented the birth, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascent to sit at the right hand of the Father. “From there, he will come to judge the living and the dead.” The idea of judging the living and the dead could mean that Jesus will judge those who are alive when he returns, and the dead are those who have died before his return. I don’t really think this is an adequate interpretation. The living are those who have been born again and the dead are those who are wicked.
How will Jesus judge?
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”Matthew 25:31–46, ESV
Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd separating sheep from goats. The difference between them is demonstrated by their works. James wrote that “faith without works is dead.” Jesus had John write 7 letters to the 7 primary churches in Asia. Below is the one he wrote to the Ephesians.
“ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’”Revelation 2:2–7, ESV
The other six also refer to works, either by praising or condemning. Paul presents the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians as a picture of true Christianity. These characteristics are the natural outworking of the Holy Spirit sanctifying us. For those who remain true to Christ, especially in times of trial, there is a promised crown as reward.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12, ESV)
“Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV)
“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4, ESV)
With this knowledge, we are responsible for judging all things in our culture. We are not called to condemn people but to judge the righteousness of works. The past few weeks, we have had a clear indication of the hearts of humanity apart from God. Allow me to explain.
Kyle Rittenhouse was placed on trial for killing two and wounding one during a Black Lives Matter riot. In the end, the jury declared that Kyle was not guilty. Yet, so many media commentators are rehashing their initial judgments of the incident ignoring the facts that the jury found as false since that time. There is a narrative being pushed on the American people, a narrative that has divided is preaching racism, that has crushed good people saying that all white people are racists, that has ruined the reputations of people who have done nothing wrong but offer a cool drink to those who are thirsty.
We are being told what is up is down, right is left, men are unnecessary, men can become pregnant, all white people are racist, conservative blacks are white supremacists, and more. So many lies that if repeated often enough by the majority of the media, many will eventually come to believe. We as a people have lost our first love: a love of liberty, a love of federalism, a love of objective morality, a love of order, and more. Yet our first and greatest love that is all but forgotten is our love of neighbor, our love of righteousness, and our love of God.
Let us be clear about the gospel in our churches. Let us be honest about the gospel in our preaching and evangelism. And let us not fear rejection no matter how harsh. It is God our Father and Christ our Lord who work all things. It is not our job to change hearts or lives. It is our job to shine the light everywhere. It will reveal what needs to be revealed. The Holy Spirit will work in the hearts of those who are called.