14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 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. 17Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those 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. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
John 3:16: Talk about a verse that represents the entire popular Christian experience. Every professional football game, baseball game, monster truck rally, rodeo, and even wrestling bout in North America features an excited Christian waving John 3:16 around like a code for the world to decipher. This same sign appears on billboards, in Christian media and literature, and on the sides of hills in remote villages in India. I even had a family friend who, upon becoming a Christian, changed his name to John 3:16. He had to eventually change his name again because too many people in India assumed he was working for the secret service!
To be fair, this verse is profound in our circles for very good reason. It is the Christian faith in a nutshell: We have God’s love. We have God’s Son. We have God’s promise of eternal life. This is beautiful.
And yet, lurking beyond this verse is a one that is overlooked: “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” (v. 17). God did not send the Son to condemn but to save the world. My mother comes from a faith background that did not emphasize the love of God this way. She grew up in fear. Fear of doing the wrong thing. Fear of retribution. Fear of having her eyes poked out by a God who might find her imperfections and punish her in cruel ways. When she read this verse for the first time, she found a God who came into this world in the flesh, not to condemn but to save everybody. Not to destroy but to save!
This is our Jesus. This is our role as followers of Jesus. Not to condemn or destroy but to save the world through God.
Prayer: God our Father, we thank you for sending your Son into this world and for reminding us of our call to love just as you loved us. May we see this world the way you see it, as a place worth saving. In Jesus’s name, amen.
JP Sundararajan serves as the India-Asia director for Audio Scripture Ministries. He is married to Katy and together they have two children, Leila and Reuben. He loves telling stories, hacking technology, and participating in God’s mission around the world.