It's also that time of the year when the church returns to sermons on First Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) and John 3:16--a verse that even most of the unbelieving world out there can quote verbatim.
It is true that God is a loving God. It is His very nature to love, for He IS love (1 John 4:16). Maybe the reason the world can remember and quote John 3:16 so well is because it has been repeatedly quoted by the church to a lost and dying world in just the mere twenty-four words that it contains. But the section of scripture that contains the Bible's most famous verse has much more to tell the world than that God loves them. It also contains the hard truth that our God is also a God of wrath toward the soul that hasn't repented of sin and placed its faith in His son, Jesus Christ. For that soul, judgment and eternal damnation await. Let's look at John 3:16 in its entire context:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. ~John 3:16-21
After having read that verse in context, I’m sure we can all see why the world is only willing to quote the first sentence.
Let’s look at an Old Testament passage that describes that very same principle, showing the urgency of God’s heart towards the disobedient and unbelieving:
Behold, all souls are Mine. The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine: the soul who sins shall die. But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all My statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn away from his way and live?
Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are My ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?
Therefore, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn and live. ~Ezekiel 18: 4, 21-23, 27-32
So, just what does God mean when He says “die?” After all, we all know that those who accept Christ as Savior as well as those who reject Him will all die a physical death. For those who may be unfamiliar with the biblical term “die” in relation to spiritual things, this certainly means a spiritual death. The phrase “to die in your sins” means to die in a state of unforgiveness by God. Without belief in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, we remain in an unforgiven state by God; and instead of receiving eternal life with God after our physical death, we are punished in everlasting torment in a place called hell. To enter this eternal place of torment is what it means to die in your sins.
Likewise, when God says He wants us to turn and “live,” this, of course, means that we believe on Christ and His finished work on the cross, receiving by grace alone, through faith alone, forgiveness of sin, and empowerment by God’s Holy Spirit to obey His statutes and do what is just and right. That is what God means in Ezekiel 18:31 to have a new heart and a new spirit!
What exactly is this place of torment, hell, like? The Bible gives us several picturesque images to help us understand the seriousness and severity of what it means to not take God at His word, and to make the choice to spend eternity there. It’s not a pleasant mental image, but one we must confront if we are to deal truthfully about this eternal option. We see in Matthew, chapters 8, 22, and 25, that unbelievers are “thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jude 13 calls it “the gloom of utter darkness.” Mark 9:48 gives us a graphic image in that hell is a place “where their [the wicked’s] worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Jude 7 speaks of hell as undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Revelation 14:11 gives us this picture: “And the smoke of their [the wicked’s] torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.” Daniel 12:2 says the wicked will experience everlasting shame and contempt. It is interesting that the above scripture in John 3 states that the unbelieving love the darkness rather than the light. So what is their just reward? More darkness. And yet it will be unfathomably more intense than our minds could ever imagine. Matthew 25:46 relates with absolute clarity that this punishment will be ongoing, eternal. Never ending. Please think on this carefully.
Truly, the greatest love God has shown us is by giving us the truth of His Word. In regards to John 3;16, yes, God does love us--so much that He came to earth as a man, dwelling on earth with sinful humans, though sinless Himself, to die a horrific death on the cross so that we may have eternal life. This is truth the world needs to hear. It’s just that the whole story is not just about what God has done for us because He loves us so much. God’s love and grace must be presented in the light of His holiness, His intolerance of sin, and His impending judgment for those who do not believe on His son, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins. We must understand that our sin separates us from a holy God and that believing on the life, death, and resurrection of His son (which demands that we turn from our sin and live His way), is the only hope for salvation and rescue from eternal torment. We can go from being an abomination to being acceptable because of what Christ has done on our behalf. Now, instead of being cast into outer darkness, we can one day hear Jesus say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
And this is why we call the gospel the Good News.
If you want to give a Valentine to those you love, one they will never forget, one that will make a difference for eternity, then give them the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of it. Not just the parts that are easy to swallow. Not just the parts that aren’t quite so awkward for them. Time is short-- not one of us is guaranteed even the next fifteen minutes-- and the day is coming soon, sooner I’m sure than any of us realize, when we will come face to face with our Creator, and our eternal destiny will become an unchangeable reality. That will be good news for some, and a horrific tragedy for others.