Most of us could probably quote at least one verse of the Bible and most likely that verse would be John 3:16. It has been called the greatest love story ever to be told.
Martin Luther, (the early church reformer) called the verse the Gospel in a nutshell. Someone else once said that “if the Bible was destroyed and only John 3:16 remained, that would be enough information of God’s love that could change the human heart”.
It is also by far the most popular verse for cardboard signs at any sporting event as well as for wooden roadside reminders.
Personally though, I sort of disagree with Martin Luther and others who hold this verse in such high regard. If anything, taken by itself, I find it to be symbolic of contemporary theological perspectives that find their way into books like the Prayer of Jabez and The Left Behind Series. They are overly simplified and promote a bumper sticker kind of theology that says, “Jesus did it, so come and get it.”
When we let John 3:16 stop at an understanding of “Jesus did it come and get it,” we are only telling half the story.
The remainder of the story is up to us.
You see for me John 3:16, is incomplete without 1 John 3:16 – or at least the meaning behind 1st John 3:16. Let me read them to you together. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
I’m much less concerned about the theological question of atonement would encourage us to do and more concerned about what the life and teachings that lead to the cross would encourage us to do.
In my way of reading these verses, in John 3:16 we learn how far Jesus was willing to go to show us how much we are loved, then in 1st John 3:16 we learn how far we should be willing to go in response to that love to show others how much they are loved.
Far too often, those of us who consider ourselves, call ourselves, “Christian” forget to practice our faith as if these two verses go together.
Somehow, we don’t realize that on it’s own John 3:16 is only half the story. When we think it is the whole story, it is just a little bit too easy to feel slightly privileged, it is just a little bit too easy to measure the rest of the world by your own standards, judging whether people measure up rather than just loving them.
The truth is we all need to be a little bit better about turning our faith outward.
You see as John 3:16 says, the ultimate sacrifice was made for us, but it’s not some sort of soul saving buffet – “Jesus did it, come and get it.” It comes with requirements, some assembly required, the work is not yet done.
When we act like the work has already been done FOR US, so there’s nothing left to do, we lose sight of the call to respond to that love and share it. We become judgmental, less accepting of those who are different from us and we start to slowly slip into a life motivated not by love, but by hate.
Dr. Martin Luther King puts it this way, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”