Who Condemns Us?: March 10, 2024

March 14, 2024

B, Lent 4

            John 3:16 is probably one of the
most well known verses in the Bible. 
It’s definitely one of the only ones that you will see repeatedly held
up in the stands at a professional sports event. That’s not because it’s
specific to any professional sport. Over the years it became a defining verse
for some Christians.  There is nothing
wrong with wanting to share Bible verses with the world. Yet I worry that anytime
we remove a verse entirely from its context, we risk misusing it.  This verse has been used as a weapon at times
to differentiate between those who are saved and those who are not.  Some Christians use it to make themselves
feel better about their own place in this world (and the next).  It gives them permission to judge those who
aren’t Christian—or sometimes just not their kind of Christian.

you heard part of the context, but not all of it.  For instance, if you just heard what we read
this morning, you don’t know who Jesus is talking to. He’s talking to a
pharisee named Nicodemus who came to him at night to ask him a question.  Often times in the gospels, when pharisees
asked a question, they were trying to trap Jesus, make him provide an answer
that would get him in trouble.  This was
not the case with Nicodemus. He was genuinely curious (as were many pharisees)
about Jesus.  He was more than curious
because later in the gospel he became a follower of Jesus, even making the
arrangements to bury Jesus.  At this
point in the gospel story he was really just trying to figure things out and
the questions that he asked, ended up eliciting some powerful statements on
Jesus’ part. It shows that asking God questions is a helpful and fruitful thing
to do.

out of this conversation with Nicodemus that comes this iconic verse: “For God
so love the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in
him may not perish but have eternal life.” 
It’s a lovely verse and very effective in conveying the crux of our
faith.  However, it has become a weapon
because people have emphasized “not perish but have eternal life.”  In other words, the emphasis has been on, how
do we not perish and get to this end goal of eternal life.

I started reading the Bible, it was often coming from a defensive place for
me.  I was around a fair number of
Evangelicals in college and I felt like there was way too much emphasis on how
to save other people. I would look up the texts they quoted at me and read what
came before and after. Sometimes, that helped my cause, sometimes not. When I
looked up John 3:16 , I was so excited to read the very next line. It was going
to become my new weapon.  Right after
this line that turned into a litmus test for salvation Jesus said, “Indeed God
didn’t send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the
world might be saved through him.” 

was so excited when I read this, I highlighted and underlined.  Then I read the next line, “Those who believe
in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already;
because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” There it
went, my verse to counter all the judgement was contradicted in the very next

was it? Notice it doesn’t say who does the condemning or what the condemnation
is.  Jesus clearly said in my perfect
verse that he didn’t come into this world to condemn the world.  If not Jesus, who is doing the condemning?  Maybe we do the condemning ourselves.  What if we condemn ourselves by not believing
that there is a God who loves this crazy world so much that he would risk living
and dying as a human just to know us and help us know God?  What if we condemn ourselves by depriving
ourselves of the grace that God freely give us? 
God doesn’t condemn us.  We do
that ourselves. 

we are the ones condemning ourselves, there has to be a way to stop.  Because we all condemn ourselves in our own
unique ways and for different reasons, then there are different things that we
can all do to move away from that which condemns us.  Since we are in church, I am going to tell
you one way that applies to all of us—that’s deepening our relationship with
God. The self help industry has some great stuff going on, but we have to be
careful when we start focusing too much on the self.  Sometimes that makes things harder. Often
it’s when we focus outside the self when we can truly free ourselves from condemnation—that
means focusing on other people and other parts of the world that might need
God’s love.

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his
only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal
life.”  In the past when I have read this
verse, I have always interpreted “eternal life” as life after death.  That is the reward for believing in God.  That is what we are being saved for.  In chapter 17 of this same gospel, Jesus
said, “And this is eternal life,
that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have
sent.”  Jesus defined eternal life as
knowing God. 

When we hear the word eternal, we often equate it
with immortality.  I am not sure that was
what Jesus meant.  Perhaps Jesus wasn’t
talking about the quantity of years as much as he was talking about the quality
of life.  What if we define eternal life
not by a time or even a place, but a relationship?  Eternal life is our relationship with God now
and forever.  Eternal life starts
now.  It’s not a reward for good
behavior.  It’s a relationship. It’s a
relationship that makes our life better in the future, but also right now. 

That also means we can’t just ignore the
challenges of this world and say, “Well God will fix it all in the next world.”
We have to work for change now because this world matters.  It’s the very same one God created. These
people on this world matter. They are children of God. Eternal life starts
now.  Condemnation can end now. 

We know this because God came to this world not
to condemn, but to save. What we as Christians can do is make sure people know
that they are not condemned by a God that they cannot see or touch—that God
lived and died so that we could know what it is to be loved and to be whole.  Eternal life starts now.  Condemnation ends now.  Salvation is here and it’s been here all