If you’re exploring Christianity and don’t know where to begin, I recommend starting with John’s Gospel. It tells you what Jesus did for you through His death and resurrection and reveals His divine identity. And crucially, it presents what some call the promise of life. Simply put, Jesus told people that if they believed in Him, they would have eternal life (John 3:16).
Typically, when we read Jesus’ evangelistic conversations in John (and other key passages), we focus on the good news for believers. But in those same passages, Jesus warned about the bad news that’s true of unbelievers. Although that bad news isn’t always emphasized, let’s go through the evidence together over the following few blogs, starting with what many people call “the gospel in a nutshell”:
“For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Everyone knows this verse; it is truly fantastic news for everyone who believes it. But what if you don’t believe in Jesus?
Then you’ll perish.
The Greek word apollumi has a wide range of meanings. Ordinary people used it to mean something was lost (cf. Moulton and Milligan). The Dictionary of Biblical Greek adds that it could also mean destroy/ruin, fail to get, or die. Craig Keener claims that by the time of John’s Gospel, it could refer to “eternal destruction” (Keener, The Gospel of John, p. 1:570) or, as another lexicon puts it, “eternal death” (cf. BDAG).
If that sounds bad (and it does!), Jesus continued:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God” (John 3:17-18).
Judgment is a prominent motif in John’s Gospel (cf. 3:17-19; 5:22, 24, 27, 29, 30; 7:24, 51; 8:15-16, 26, 50; 12:31, 47-48; 16:8, 11; 18:31). God wants to save everyone and to condemn no one. That’s why He sent Jesus—to make salvation as easy as a single act of faith in Him. Do that, and you’re saved forever. But if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re condemned already. Shocked? You should be. Where salvation is concerned, there’s no sense of being innocent until proven guilty. If you believe, you aren’t condemned; if you don’t, your condemnation is a foregone conclusion. In fact, it’s a present reality. As John goes on to write:
The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36).
If you don’t believe, you won’t see life, implying you’ll see death (cf. John 5:29). Indeed, since the unbeliever is condemned already, the wrath of God remains on him (while being removed from the believer).
Do you want death, ruin, condemnation, and wrath to be your present and future realities?
If so, that’s a tragedy of your own making because God created you, loves you, sent Jesus to die for you, and is drawing you and working to save you. Do you believe it—or rather, do you believe in Him?
Send your questions or comments to Shawn.