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Gospel of John 3: 16-21 (NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.
In this passage, the evangelist has returned to the opening theme of this Gospel: in Jesus, the Word of God, “was life and that life was the light of (humankind)” (John 1: 3). Despite the “verdict” (in 3: 19) that “Light has come into the world”, the evangelist has claimed that humankind has continued to prefer darkness rather than light.
The evangelist previously explained (1: 5) that “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” In this context, darkness represents evil. In the main, those who commit evil deeds seek to conceal what they are doing. Denial and cover-up are standard practices for the wrong-doer. That which exposes their evil and accuses them of committing evil deeds can be likened to a beam of intense light, revealing what otherwise would have remained hidden.
People who do not commit evil deeds have no reason to fear that beam of light. Whatever might be exposed by it will not bring shame or reveal false dealing. There is a deeper meaning too regarding those who love God and who seek to live according to God’s will and in accordance with God’s ways. Because of their faith in the forgiveness won for them by Jesus, they fear no judgement and are willing to have exposed what foolishness or weakness may have been a part of their human existence. As the evangelist wrote (3: 18a), “whoever believes in him is not condemned”.
The Apostle Paul urged those in the church in Thessalonica to live open lives that honour God. He wrote (1 Thess 5: 5-9):
You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Believing in the Son is critical. That is the discriminating factor between perishing and eternal life (3: 16). It is the discriminating factor between condemnation and freedom from condemnation (3: 18) and between loving darkness and a life devoted to living in the light (3: 20-21).
Heed Paul’s teaching: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5: 11).