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For God so loved the world


Last updated 5/15/2008 at Noon

“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.” (John 3:16-17)

It is not hard to see why many Christians find these two verses so comforting. God loved the world and so did not spare even his own Son! How great is his love! So let’s take a moment and think about God’s love.

What is the love of God? I have noticed over the years that many people do not understand the love of God. There are usually two kinds of situations where someone recites John 3:16-17 to me. I may be talking to someone about God’s holiness, and that the evident lack of desire for holiness in his or her own part indicates a wrong understanding of God. Often they reply they indeed ought not to think about sin because God is love. To believe God is angry against sin just does not sit well with their idea of God’s love.

Or John 3:16-17 is sometimes recited as a proof the biblical doctrine of election cannot be right. After all, if God loves the world, how can we believe that God elects some to be saved and not others?

Both objections, the first against thinking about sin and the second against the biblical teaching of election, miss the point of God’s love. If we read through John’s gospel and see how he uses the word “world,” it will be easy to see that he uses “world” to describe the effect of sin that gladly opposes the Son of God. So in John 3:19, the world hates the light that has come into it. In 7:7, the world hates Jesus. In 16:20, the world rejoices at the death of Jesus. These are only a few examples.

That is, God’s love is great precisely because it is given to undeserving sinners. So the measure of God’s love is not that it covers all sin. (If by that we mean because God is love, sin is not an issue.) And the measure of God’s love is not that he only saves some people and not the whole world. The true measure of God’s love is rather for what kinds of people God sent his Son to die. Jesus came to die for the sinners who deserved to be condemned and perish. Think about what John 3:17 is saying.

There is therefore only one meaningful way to understand God’s love. We understand God’s love in light of our sin. If we do not know our sin, we will never know the love of God that sent his Son to the cross. But to know our sin, that we have all fallen short of his glory, that by nature we are objects of his wrath, and yet he has sent his Son to the cross for us, is to know the love of God that takes our breath away.


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