"For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16
Division. Barriers. Closed-doors. "We are in and you are out." Each of these words or phrases could be descriptors of several things. Perhaps they describe the relationship between rival sports teams. Or, they might describe the way a group of officials conceal top-secret information. What am I actually describing?
These words are unfortunately often-used descriptions of the modern-day Church (big "C") of Jesus-followers. For centuries, the Church has divided over doctrinal issues, some major and some minor, creating thousands of different denominations of Christianity. The large majority of people who leave their faith cite being hurt by other Christians as the main reason for their departure. Many of those already on the outside of the Church have communicated that the primary reason they will not step through the doors is due to their fear of being judged and condemned by other church-goers.
How can this possibly be true?
Friends, as we approach Valentine's Day, a day that celebrates the action of love, I think we ought to seriously reconsider the meaning behind the most popular verse in the Bible, John 3:16. It is so much deeper and more convicting than just a cutesy phrase tattooed on your favorite athlete's arm or stickered across the bumper of the car in front of you.
Notice how the verse starts: "For God so loved..." SO loved. Not half-way loved, not partially loved, not sometimes loved, but SO loved. Loved who?
You might be thinking, "Wait a second. Are you telling me that God so loves everybody? Every single human being? Every evil-doer, every God-slanderer? Every adulterer and criminal, every prostitute and politician? Every self-centered snob and every self-humiliating loser? God loves all of them?"
Yup. He even loves you and me.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son..." God, our Father in Heaven, gave up his prized possession, his beloved friend, his firstborn and only true Child. God gave up Jesus Christ to be our Messiah and Saviour--to bear the weight and punishment of our eternally damnable sins. All of us, All of our sins. There simply is no greater love than that.
"...that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." You read that correctly. The Creator of the universe loves the whole world so much that He wanted to provide it the opportunity to experience abundant life with him for the rest of forever. The gift is unconditional. But the receipt of the gift is most certainly conditional, received only by those who repent of their sins, believe in Jesus Christ, and confess him as Lord and Savior. Unfortunately, not all will repent and believe. Not all will look at this gift, the sacrificial death and powerful resurrection of Jesus Christ, and call it beautiful. Not all will consider the love of Him who gave us His everything.
But, some of us will. To those of us who already believe and are baptized into the body of Christ, a task has been given: to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). Friends, this commission requires a great and precious love to flow within our veins, and to overflow out of our very nature towards the lives of others.
This Valentine's day, can we be that Church? Instead of the Church that is divided with barriers, whose doors are closed, who practices a mindset of "us vs. them".....Can we be the Church that tears down barriers, that throws open its doors for all types of sinners to come in and taste the sweetness of our Lord Jesus, and that welcomes each person as a brother or sister made in God's image (no matter how tarnished the image may be).
Don't get me wrong, there is a vital need for correction and rebuking of sin within the Church walls, and that kind of sanctification and instruction is an immensely loving action to be practiced with gentleness and respect. But to begin making an image any prettier, you must first lovingly acknowledge that it is an image at all. I pray for each of you today that you may grasp the depth and richness of God's love expressed to us, and to everyone, in the promise of John 3:16.
This week, as a jump start to practicing this kind of love that Jesus commanded, please consider posting on your preferred social media platform about what your favorite way to #SharetheLove of Christ with others is. If you want to take it a step further and introduce someone to the work of IDES, post about how you can #SharetheLove of Christ through IDES! Below are a couple of graphics that you can feel free to use as you will, with the hashtag #SharetheLove.
-written by Chase Cotten, Media Director