16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.
John 3:13-21 CEB
David M. Schell
John 3:16 is probably the most well-known verse in all of Christian scripture. I've certainly memorized it numerous times, but I have not often heard verse 17 quoted. In the Christian fundamentalist world from which I come, the hammer of the judgment of God was a sermon staple. God was going to judge America, or churches, or states, or entire denominations, for some slight or another.
The scandal I see in verse seventeen is that God did not send Jesus to judge the world. God sent Jesus to save the world. All of it. Not just Christians. Not just people like us, who vote for the right political candidates and share the right pictures and stories on Facebook.
The dual statements here, that God did not send Jesus to judge, but did send Jesus to save, create a dichotomy between judgment and salvation, one that many Christians, me especially, are loathe to acknowledge. If we don't judge that those people are wrong, how can we save them from being wrong?
Jesus responds in a fascinating way: “Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged.” The judgment has already happened. Men (and women) loved darkness rather than light. “I'm not here to judge,” Jesus says. “The judgment already came down. I'm here to save.”
Jesus' salvation looks different from the salvation to which I am accustomed. Jesus doesn't judge people to cajole them into asking for salvation. Jesus sees that they are judged already and offers salvation, without any further judgment piled on top.
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God of salvation,
I am quick to criticize and speedy to judge, but this is not the way of Jesus. When I encounter a world in need of your grace, please teach me to extend the hand of salvation instead of the hammer of judgment.
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David is a former English teacher, former computer repairman, former delivery driver, Film major graduate, future seminarian, and current blogger at davidmschell.com. David is husband to a wonderful and supportive wife. He likes hiking, camping in national parks, and reading almost anything he can find. He didn't grow up around large bodies of water, but after two long walks beside the Pacific Ocean, he decided he very much likes long walks on the beach.