Saturday, May 14, 2011

That Most Needful Thing (John 3) Part 5 of 5

3:18-19 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

The Lord has reached a point in His sermon to Nicodemus in which He reveals the reason why men would reject Him and the salvation He offers. As Jesus Himself put it: “this is the condemnation.” What might that be? That light (God’s truth, Jesus Christ come in the flesh; John 1:9) has come into the world. But men loved religious invention rather than God’s truth; men loved Satan’s lie over Christ because Satan’s lie promised self-improvement. God’s truth brings first and foremost conviction and condemnation. We are in darkness because we have received and hold as truth that man is a good creature with character flaws; instead of a sinful creature that dimly reflects the image in which he was originally cast. God needs to bring a man to his knees before He can elevate him to any useful position in the kingdom. Christ came presenting the gospel of salvation, but men were more interested in perfecting their own views on God to be interested in what God said about Himself. God’s light reveals sore truth in every life that it shines upon.

God’s searching light first reveals our base nature: we are sinners separated from God by the impassible gulf caused by our sins. Men will flock to religion (or therapy, or medication) because it salvages self-esteem and dignity (a more civil word for pride). Roman Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism; all teach perfection by effort on our part and eventual approval by a God who is merely a spectator in man’s affairs…if that religion even admits such a God’s existence. Religion has the shoe on the wrong foot. We are not good people that have gone astray; we are evil people who are perverted inwardly. Christ said that evil comes from the heart of men, Matthew 15:18-19. James wrote that outward expressions of evil (war and murder) erupt because of our inward perverted nature, James 4:1-2. We are also enticed not by outward influence, but inward desire, James 1:14. I’m not saying the exterior stimuli does not entice; what I am saying is that if man did not have a predilection toward the sort of stimuli that snares him (drugs, alcohol, sex) then no amount of outside enticement could provoke us to do what we know is immoral, harmful or wrong. It starts within; with a soul that is marred by sin and drawn to sin. Our natural state is fertile ground for sin to grow, and the outside temptations are only fertilizer that spawns it more quickly. When I sin no one is holding a gun to my head. My fleshly desire is aroused for whatever sin catches my fancy. James is stating a universal truth we all know deep down: sin begins in us and the sins we commit are outward expressions of a perverted nature.

When we so speak and act, we are validating the biblical teaching of our sin nature. Evil is not something “out there” in the world. Want to know the source of evil? Look in the mirror. Sins are only the manifestation of the sin nature within us. Think of it like an illness: sins are the symptoms and sin (our sin nature) is the disease. Outward treatments (religion and self-improvement) can alleviate or mask symptoms, but only something internalized can cure the disease.

This is Christianity. Christ is the medicine we are meant to ingest so we might live from the deadly infection of sin in our life. That is why Christianity is not a rigid system of checks and balances; that is why Jesus tells us to come as we are. Sin is the issue, not the sins that erupt in our lives due to this disease. Christ means to kill the disease at its source, and once the disease has been taken care of the symptoms will eventually fade away as the patient recovers.

This is hard medicine because it forces us to admit something if we are to agree with it. We are forced to admit that we are not as good as we would like to be; we are very far from being “good enough” to be acceptable in God’s eyes. We are in fact carrying the sentence of death in us, and Jesus was manifested to remove this death sentence, Hebrews 2:14-15. God’s love does not flow from our natural attractiveness. Far from it; His love was an act of will, not of emotion or sentiment. God so loved—that is, chose to love us—that He sent His Son to be our propitiation, 1st John 2:2. That term “propitiation” simply means “satisfactory payment.” When Jesus was dying on the cross and yelled “it is finished” that was a Greek term for buying and selling. It literally means “paid in full.” Christ was our satisfactory payment (propitiation), or full payment to God. What man is incapable of doing God became a Man on our behalf to do.

Verse 18 has a parallel passage later in this chapter that is worth quoting. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” John 3:36. Jesus tells Nicodemus that anyone who does not believe in Him already stands condemned. You will not be condemned; according to the Lord you already are. John the Baptist adds that anyone who does not place their faith in Jesus Christ will not so much as see life. It won’t be stripped from you; because you have not been born again through faith in Jesus you never possessed spiritual life. God entered the world to tell us what is necessary to receive eternal life; the goal and ambition that has spawned a thousand religions and philosophies. But men think too highly of themselves and too little of their Creator, and that is the condemnation. Every one of us is guilty of building their own Tower of Babel in some way. If your car breaks down would you not consult an expert on the matter? If it was under factory warrantee would you not send the car to its maker, because the maker knows his creation best? God knows what is best for us, and the first thing He prescribes is to be reconciled to Him. We are not meant to exist apart from Him; nor will we have the ability to function eternally without Him. If we do not act today, will we have tomorrow?

3:20-21 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

The NKJV translates “reproved” as “exposed.” None of us likes exposure. No one wants everyone else to know what we are really like within, and the thousand personal battles we wage daily. We quickly justify ourselves and condemn others. We tend to view our own person in a very different light from everyone else around us. We can’t think of this exposure as coming into the examining light of Christ so He may see how evil we are at heart. Jesus already knows this, Hebrews 4:13. Coming into the light, as it were, is so that light may first proclaim to us (not God) how filthy we are. Until we understand this, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection does not mean anything to us. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that He came to call sinners and not the righteous to repentance. Now, the Bible tells us there are no righteous men on earth, Romans 3:10. No single man will be in Heaven on his own esteem. What Jesus was telling the Pharisees was that Christ could only effectually call anyone who saw their need of him; hence He came to save sinners. Paul wrote that Christ is the Savior of all men, but especially of those that believe, 1st Timothy 4:10. How can this be? Jesus purchased the prerogative to save every man alive or who has ever lived, but this salvation only saves you and I when we receive it by faith.

This involves an understanding of our basic nature. Men love darkness over light because our deeds are evil, and we long to justify our evil deeds behind a thousand excuses. What God calls on is for us to come into His light and examine ourselves according to what He defines moral behavior toward God, others, and ourselves. Anyone with a wit of sense knows that everyone falls far short of the mark. In fact that is the literal definition of sin: falling short of the mark. We must repent. Now, repentance should just come naturally when someone believes on Jesus as his Savior. In order to believe in Christ we must believe the substitution He became on our behalf was necessary. Previously we had a mindset that was enmity toward God, blaming or dodging Him and excusing ourselves, Romans 2:15; 8:7. We must surrender this mindset and change our minds about Christ. The gospel involves the abandonment of human efforts to establish a right relationship with God. God put forth the effort when He made Himself known in Jesus Christ and died on our behalf. As the Scripture states, God loved us first and such love should provoke a loving response, 1st John 4:10.

The believer stands in a different plane than the unbeliever. An unbeliever will only expose his deeds if he believes they have a chance of commending him to God. We think that God likes or appreciates when we do things or deny ourselves things on account of Him, to better our standing or relationship to Him. This reveals a deep ignorance of God’s person. The believer who has passed from death to life by faith in the Son of God now may do good works, but these are freely subject to inspection by both God and men. When they are done in God, as Jesus said, they are done to reflect a love spawned of gratitude. Being brought into fellowship with the Lord becomes a motivator for good works in Christian life. We now do things to please the One with whom we now love. Don’t you please your lover, or family whom you love with acts of charity and kindness? Are these provoked, or are you doing so for an ulterior motive? If so it is unacceptable to them, and infinitely more so to God.

God said that when we are born again the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by His Holy Spirit, Romans 5:5. Therefore such love on our behalf as we seek to please God comes from the very heart of God; and since God knows what pleases Him best we can know that our deeds, however imperfect, have touched the heart of God. They were done in love; therefore they were done in God. Our motivation as Christians ought to be, “Does my action please God? Will this bring Him glory, or me glory?” Even a work perceived (by us or the world) as a “failure” may meet with God’s approval—He looks at the heart, not the result. What was the source of one’s motivation? Such failures may well be humbling stepping stones to make one ready to receive spiritual victories in Christ. A failure humbly received is in fact a spiritual victory of itself, because it demonstrates that pride, the Spirit’s enemy, has been tempered.

Do you now see what I’m trying to relate? If you are doing good works to placate God then you are doing something to glorify you, not Him. It elevates you in His sight (so you think) and by your efforts makes you more saintly and more natively acceptable to Him. This is patent nonsense because the energy empowering such thinking is pride. If we think we can offer anything to God that puts Him in some sort of debt to us, or provokes Him to respond, we fail to comprehend that everything about us—everything in this universe—was created by Him and for Him and through Him. We offer only what is His back to Him; how can this serve as payment for anything? If you owed me fifty dollars, and then stole my own money from me and tried to pay me back, would I cancel the debt? Hardly.

We should not be afraid to come to the light to have our deeds clearly seen for two reasons. One: Christians should not act in such a way as to shame ourselves and our calling. We are to conduct ourselves on this earth laboring under a different motivating energy than the unsaved world. Our chief concern is the kingdom of God and His glory, not how does it benefit/please me? Two: we want our deeds clearly seen so that God may receive the glory for them. When people know who we are and what we stand for, they also know why we do what we do, and that all that is done in love, is done with the name of Jesus Christ on our lips and hearts. It is for Him, but it is also by Him. It is Christ working in us to perform the work, Philippians 2:13. When we know that it is not our natural ability that accomplished something, but the Spirit of God working in us, then we have no place for pride, and God receives the glory. One cannot be proud of something he did not do. If you built a magnificent house yourself and I began to brag about how incredible of a job I did because I might have held a box of nails for you, you might be a little upset that I am diverting attention from your hard and commendable work to my own petty “assistance.” So it is with God.

How did Nicodemus react to all of this? We do not know for certain. Verse 22 carries on with an “after these things,” letting us know that John was moving on in his narration of events. Was Nicodemus saved or converted (the same thing)? I believe so. He came with Joseph to bury the body of our Lord when He had been crucified, which exposed Nicodemus to extreme ridicule and shame for being associated with the Nazarene that suffered a humiliating Roman execution. But as Jesus just said, His followers would not care about coming into the light, into the open as it were, to have their deeds examined. Nicodemus clearly cared for Jesus enough to suffer the stigma of caring for the body of a condemned criminal who died the worst death the Romans could offer. The social implications, especially for a Rabbi like Nicodemus, were horrendous. I would not be surprised to find him among the redeemed in Heaven, singing the praises of Him who loved us and washed us in His own blood. I will also be surprised to find myself in that company of saints.

Don’t look at our neighbors, friends, family or church members. Stop comparing yourself to so-and-so to see how well you’re doing morally or socially. The measuring stick isn’t set by you, and behaving in such a way you act (perhaps unknowingly) as though it was. You set a standard that you must achieve and which God must accept. God’s measuring stick is far different, and it is perfect. God’s measuring stick is the law; in other words: perfection. Anyone who is not perfect cannot of themselves approach God. Christ, who is perfect, satisfied the law’s requirements and procured eternal life for anyone who believes. This is the gospel; this is that most needful thing. Do you realize it? You may be better than so-and-so from a human standing, but God does not judge you by so-and-so; He judges you impartially. We like to play favorites; we display partiality every day toward ourselves. God is not partial. He has opened a door of salvation that anyone can enter (young, old, rich, poor, intelligent or a fool). The ground is level at the foot of the cross. The only thing that prevents you from entering is your unwillingness to come. “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life,” John 5:40.

I pray that God use this for His glory and the salvation of anyone who does not know that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, and that by believing you may have life in His name. Amen.


  1. Far too many are trying to hide the symptoms, rather than acknowledging the disease. Ho much of modern medicine is focused on the symptoms rather than the disease. It doesn't cure the problem until we fix the root problem, whether medical or spiritual.

    Great post.

  2. Amen. I agree with dfish. "It doesn't cure the problem until we fix the root problem, whether medical or spiritual." God's blessings to you. Lloyd


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