Belief and Judgment

Last Sunday’s conversation was wide-ranging, befitting a couple of scripture passages (Ephesians 2.1-10; John 3.14-21) that are rich in meaning.  Most of our dialog focused on John as it contains what is probably the most memorized verse of scripture in the Christian faith, 3.16.  As I still remember it from my childhood: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever should believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Unfortunately, like any text, the meaning and promise of this verse can be distorted by the lack of context that comes with memorizing it in isolation.

The Gospel of John is a very complex book.  The language loops back on itself to call into question what we think we know.  It can be read again and again with new insights.  It’s like watching a movie a second time and seeing all the foreshadowing you missed before you knew the outcome, but more.  Each time one reads the text one is transformed, so that the next reading is done from a different place than you were before.

When we read v. 3.16, we see that the difference between those who are saved and those who will perish is belief.  But in John, that does not mean what you might think it means – believing a set of propositional statements.  No, John uses a unique construction that is best translated as “believe into,” indicating an ongoing process of transformation.  In a sense, “believing” in John is becoming.  In related language, “knowing” is to open oneself to God’s ongoing revelation.  Thus, we are always progressively entering into the life of God as presented in Jesus.  If belief is merely the acceptance of a set of facts, it requires nothing more of us than to name those who disagree, to divide ourselves into believers and non-believers.

But John’s Jesus would reject this division.  Verse 17 tells us that Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it.  The condemnation from which we are saved is actually a trial (krima) that brings about judgment (krisis).  That is, all of life puts us to choices about whether we will live into light or shadow, freedom or slavery, life or death.  Division is a quality of life and our choice is which side of that division we will live into.  It contains its own judgment: if we live into death, we will die.  Jesus, the Light of the World, reveals these choices for what they are and invites all to the life-giving side of those choices, what the Gospel of John calls eternal life.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we continue to talk about suffering and calling.  This week we’ll go old school, like, Hebrew Bible old school, with the prophet Jeremiah (31.31-34) and build some connections with last week’s discussion of John by jumping forward to 12.20-33.  We hope to see you!

Grace & Peace,

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