The Whole Gospel, Please – A Reflection on a Popular Gospel Verse

john316The Gospel proclaimed on Wednesday of this week included the familiar John 3:16. So familiar is this verse, that many hold up signs or have bumper stickers that simply say, “John 3:16.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life
(John 3:16).

It is indeed a beautiful verse, but I would argue that many use it inauthentically by pulling it out from its place within a longer passage. The fuller segment is John 3:16-21, which is as much a passage of warning as it is of consolation and assurance.

Here it is again, along with the remainder of that longer passage:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not be condemned,
but whoever does not believe has already been condemned,
because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.
And this is the verdict,
that the light came into the world,
but people preferred darkness to light,
because their works were evil.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God
(John 3:16-21).

This fuller context has somewhat of a different tone. It sets forth a great drama in which our lives are cast. It amounts to sober assessment of the obtuseness of many human hearts and of the urgent need for us to decide well in life.

Those who merely quote the first verse run the risk of presenting this text as a kind of a freewheeling assurance that all is well and that salvation is largely in the bag, that judgment and condemnation are not a significant factor since “God so loved the world.” And while the concept of faith is included in this first verse, without the larger context the tendency is to soft-pedal the need for repentance and for the obedience of faith. In so doing, the true drama and sober teaching of the fuller text are lost.

The longer passage fleshes the message out and has a balance that the shortened text does not. Here is what Jesus is in effect saying, expressed in more modern language:

As I live, I and my Father do not desire that any should die in their sins or be lost. I have not currently come as your judge but as your savior. I will come one day as the judge of all, but now is a time of grace and mercy extended to you.

But you need to know that you have a decision to make, a decision that will determine where you will spend eternity.

So please listen to me! Open the door to me and let me draw you to the obedience of faith and the beauty of holiness. If you do this, light will dawn for you, for I am the Light and your life will grow ever brighter.

But if you will not repent and come to a lifesaving obedience of faith, your heart will begin to despise me and the light of my glory. You will become accustomed to the darkness and begin to consider the Light (which I am) to be obnoxious, harsh, judgmental, and even cruel. Yes, you will begin to hate me, for I am the Light. You will prefer the darkness because you love your sins more.

Come to your senses and don’t let this happen. You have a decision to make: for the light or for the darkness, for me or for the prince of this world, Satan. Be sober and understand the dramatic choice before you. Your salvation depends on your choice to come to obedient faith in me or to reject me.

And know this: on the day of your judgment, the verdict will not be rendered by me so much as by you. For by then, you will either love the Light or hate it. And I will not force you to live in a light you detest. You will be free to go your own way. It will not be I who reject you. It will be you who reject me.

Be sober. Don’t let this happen. Don’t marginalize or ignore me. Don’t prefer the world and its twisted values and passing pleasures. Your sins will make you hate the light and prefer the darkness. You have a decision to make.

This message is much more complex than that contained in the popular, abbreviated text known as John 3:16. God’s mercy is offered, but the final verdict will center on whether or not we accept it. This message may be less consoling but it is true nonetheless, and only the truth can set us free.

There is a tendency by many to pull out certain verses and isolate them from their context and from the fuller message of the Gospel. The full and authentic Gospel echoes the opening call of the Lord Jesus: “Repent and believe the Good News.”

So yes, John 3:16! But please continue reading. The whole Gospel, please!


3 Replies to “The Whole Gospel, Please – A Reflection on a Popular Gospel Verse”

  1. Oh Yes Mgr Charles!! Thanks for this. It’s what I have always called, quoting the ‘comfortable’ bits of the Gospels whilst drawing a convenient veil over the ‘hard’ bits!!
    Most of those scriptures tell us of the wonderful and merciful love of the Father in the many blessings that He is ready to offer us freely – but – if we take the trouble to read on, we discover that blessings do not come without some kind of sacrifice on our parts; the need to sacrifice our own selfishness and pride in order to receive God’s gift of grace and life.
    This misreading of God’s word is something we are all responsible for from time to time – including myself!
    “Help us Lord to see you as you really are – not as we would ‘like’ to see you.”
    God bless all.

    1. Great point indeed! Everything you said after ‘but’ is the part that many would like to glaze over, including myself. I hope I can be more courageous at times and instead of just sharing verse numbers, share the whole gospel, please!

  2. Thank you Msgr! I have shared this with my five children, who are young adults. I encouraged them to choose wisely every day.

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