When I saw the scheduled reading for today, I was frustrated. I really don’t like this reading – it’s one I would be fine with avoiding for the rest of my tenure. But there it was and here we are.
There is one verse in this passage that is often pulled out and put on public signs by Christians who are witnessing to the faith. And if you don’t know what I mean by put on signs, when we are able to gather again, look around at sporting events. I come almost guarantee that you’ll see this verse somewhere on a sign – just sitting there, by itself, no explanation. Or as Jayme pointed out to me, you can look at Tim Tebow’s eye black. There it is – the verse – John 3:16.
In case you don’t remember, here is what John 3:16 says:
16 “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.”
As Pastor Jayme articulated this week in Bible Study to Go conversation – this verse can be hard to embrace. I am a Christian. I believe in the divinity of Jesus, but I don’t believe that those who are not Christian are damned. So now what?
If we look ahead two more verses, I become even more conflicted about this passage. The scripture goes on to say,
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 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.
…”those who do not believe are condemned…” – the verse that is used to suggest that Jesus is the only way. This verse makes me very uncomfortable and quite frankly, it makes me angry. I just cannot accept that people are damned by God if they don’t accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I do not believe that I need to bring people to accept Jesus because of what will happen if they don’t. So what can I do with this passage?
Well, I realized, I do believe that I can embrace sharing the story of Jesus with people when I focus on what can happen to them if they choose to embrace the story.
There is an important theological distinction I need to explain with regards to my understanding of Jesus. Some theology says that Jesus is the last and ultimate sacrifice. Once Jesus dies, the animal sacrifices of the Jewish tradition are no longer required, because Jesus was the final sacrifice. His death “paid” the price for our sins. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that God has some kind of ledger going to see if we’ve paid up. I don’t believe it’s Jesus death that redeems us, I believe it’s Jesus life. I believe that Jesus demonstrated how God hopes we will live. And if we live how God hopes we will live, that’s redemption.
Let’s look back at John 3:17, “…God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world…,” This is important to me. Jesus is not about condemnation, Jesus is about redemption. So my understanding is, Jesus shows me how to live the way God intended and that when I live the way God intended I experience redemption, I am saved.
Following Jesus releases us from the constraints of our sinful culture and moves us into the freedom of life that God intends. Jesus essentially coaches us to see and understand God because the culture that we have created as humans obscure God from us. The culture that we have created as humans focuses/worships things that are self-centered not God-centered and as such, we can no longer see what it means to be God-centered anymore.
Here’s the good news and the bad news. The good news is we have the Bible and Christian community to remind us how God intends us to live. The bad news, we still live in a culture that blinds us to God’s intentions for our lives. And so we have to be intentional. We have to work at looking for God. We have to keep re-orienting ourselves to God’s ways. We have to keep engaging questions that invite new ways of seeing the world and ourselves in the world.
So here are my questions for you this morning. Using the working definition of redemption as being saved from sin, error, or evil, how do you understand redemption for yourself? What does it mean to be redeemed? What does it look like when you are living a redeemed life?
Christianity is not a philosophy meant to live in our minds. Christianity is a way of life, a way of understanding and a way of acting. So I will leave you with this final question, In the spirit of Mary Oliver, “What will you do with your one wild, precious [and redeemed] life?”