Ask most Christians what John 3:16 says and they can quote from memory…
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This one verse, found in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, has gained the distinction of being called the “golden text of the Bible.” It is not without reason this is so because it expresses the gist of the divine plan of salvation in just a few words. Some people have contended that this verse is all one needs to be saved. They argue that Jesus just said that we must believe and not that we have to do anything regarding our salvation. However, every case of conversion in the book of Acts shows that the people who came to the Lord did something in response to the gospel they had heard. They were obedient to the one whom they recognized as Lord. They were obedient to the truth. If one does not obey the truth all he can look for is the wrath of God as Paul says in Romans 2:8
“…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
But there is more to what Jesus said to Nicodemus than just this verse. A failure to recognize where the truth stated in this verse takes us will, in fact, lead to a misunderstanding of God’s will for man as we pointed out above. How many are familiar with the continued speech of Jesus on this occasion?
“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 3:17-21).
Jesus points out in this context the consequence of condemnation that comes on people who do not believe and the lack of condemnation of those who do believe. He said, “this is the judgment:” – the basis of judgment – “the light has come into the world.” The light referred to here is, no doubt, the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5).
The light is the truth that sets men free.
“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:32).
The light is the truth what Jesus said he is.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).
Truth is the representation of things as they are. Light enables us to see what is real – what is factual. Thus the connection between light and truth. Since the light has come into the world and men now know the truth – the things that are right and the one who is altogether right – one cannot claim to be innocent of sin when he is judged by God in by that truth.
In our world of the 21st century it is popularly held that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Yet people who hold this contradict themselves by stating this conclusion as an absolute truth! Their contention is that truth is relative. It all depends on the individual and how he looks at things. My truth may not be your truth and vice versa. Everyone is entitled to his or her own truth. Therefore I have no right to attempt to persuade you of what I perceive as being truth. You believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want and we will all do our own thing.
There is just one thing wrong with this – it just isn’t so! How do I know this? I know because there is such a thing as law – the natural laws God put in place when he created the world for example. Because of the way God created things I know it is a certainty that the sun will come up tomorrow. Because of the way God created things to reproduce after its own kind, I know that if I plant a corn crop I will harvest corn. If these and many other things of nature are not absolutely certain then we could not count on nature an any respect.
There is also moral law that is every bit as certain as natural law. Take for instance the law of sowing and reaping as we cited above as an example of natural law. The apostle Paul applies this principle to moral and spiritual matters in Galatians 6:7-8.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
This law is absolute. If we think we are exempted from it we are merely deceiving ourselves and mocking God. Of course there are many who think they can mock God, ignore his law and escape the consequences of their actions. They may do this and get away with it for a while, but eventually they will pay the price for their disregard for God’s absolute standard of righteousness.
The greatest truth we can know is the truth that the Bible reveals – the truth that God is. We can discern the fact of his being by the creation itself – that is, by the things that are made.
“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20).
We can know the truth when we come to know Jesus, the Son of God. He himself said,
“Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:20).
When we know the truth – the perfect representation of God and his goodness as seen in the face of Jesus and the perfect representation of man as he was made to be before God, we are drawn to the light – the truth. We begin to walk in the light. We begin to do the truth. You see, our perception of truth determines how we walk or conduct ourselves in this world. When we know and believe the absolute truth that God is and that Jesus his Son died for our sins, that forms the basis for our lives from then on out.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1John 1:5-7).
In this text the phrase “practice (do) the truth” again appears. Both here and in John 3:21 there is a correlation between the works one does and whether one is in darkness or light. One who chooses to walk in darkness does so because his deeds are evil. He does not want to be discovered. He does not want the glare of daylight to expose his evil deeds. He has deceived himself into believing that he can do what he wants and not have to pay the price for his choices.
The sad thing about today, however, is that people who do works of darkness don’t attempt to hide in the darkness. They “come out” (of the closet), boldly flaunting their ungodliness with an “in-your-face” kind of attitude toward their shameful deeds. They blatantly demand their “rights” to practice their unrighteousness with legal sanction – and are receiving it because people of our day can’t tell the difference between light and darkness!
On the other hand, one whose deeds – his actions, practices – are done in the light comes to the light. He comes to Jesus who is the light. He walks knowing the difference between good and evil. He walks in understanding of what is profitable and what is hurtful, both to himself and to others. He knows that there are consequences attached to his actions and seeks to avoid the negative consequences while at the same time accentuating the positive by doing truth.
The apostle Paul had something to say to the Ephesian Christians about this subject. They had been deceived, deluded idolaters, living in all manner of ungodliness before they came to believe in Jesus. He reminds them of their former manner of life and urges them in this way…
“…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:8-14).
Let us as Christians be all the more bold to shine the light of truth on the “unfruitful works of darkness.” Let us never be ashamed and hide in the dark as though we had something to be ashamed of. Let us “do the truth,” holding the light up that the world may see the one who is the embodiment of all truth. Let us, in all we do, exalt him without apology to the wicked world in which we live.