There are times when the various Scripture passages can sound hollow and without meaning—even trite. This is often because we are so familiar with them that we’ve forgotten why we memorized them in the first place or perhaps because we believe the world; and the world sucks the life out of the truths contained in Scripture.
One such verse is John 3:16. It says, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but might have everlasting life.” We see the reference everywhere and we’ve known the verse since we were little children.
But forget all that for a moment. Let’s look at the verse phrase by phrase.
First, God loves us. That means he loves you. He sees that we are in big trouble because we are constantly thinking that everything in our lives revolves around us. So we get lonely when people don’t treat us right. We get angry when people don’t treat us the way we think we should be treated. We don’t trust him for our situation, thinking that we are God and he is not, when in reality it is the other way around. We keep expecting him to serve us instead of our serving him. This attitude puts us in grave peril; our rebellion against him has earned eternal damnation for us, and a pretty horrific life here and now.
But the text says God loves us. You need to know that God loves you. How can you tell?
Second, God loves you so much that he sent his only son to die to take the punishment for your sinful rebellion, so that you don’t have to die. Jesus died in your place. Would you send your son to die for someone? In God’s case, not only did he send Jesus to die for us, but he sent him to die for people who don’t like him or his son. We know they didn’t like his son because they are the ones who killed him. Had Jesus come in our day, we would have killed him too, or at least we would have been in the crowd cheering the executioners on. In a real sense, though we weren’t literally present, we killed the Lord of Glory, the son of God. But God loves you so much that despite your hatred for him, he sent his son to die for you anyway.
Besides taking our punishment, what did Jesus death accomplish?
This is slightly off track, but 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. This means that he has taken the wrath of God away from us and the next verse says the outcome of this is that we know God. In another place it adds that God knows us. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we now have a relationship with God. Then 1 John 3:1 makes it all even more incredible when it says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” We are children of God. You are a daughter of God. You don’t need to think about your terrible upbringing. You don’t need to concern yourself with the terrible treatment you endured with your human father. You’ve been adopted by the God of creation. He is now your friend and your father.
So, you know that God loves you, Jesus took the punishment that was owed you, and you have been adopted by God to be his special girl.
How should you respond?
You should be grateful (1 Thess 5:18). You should constantly thank him for what he did for you in Christ. But part of the adoption process is that he gave you his Holy Spirit to live inside you to give you joy. So, give thanks for that as well. Also, rejoice. God lives in you. He is a God of joy, so let it fly. Rejoice all the time (1 Thess. 5:16; Phil. 4:4).
I know you don’t know if you have all or any of this. You certainly have reasons to doubt. But what does John 3:16 say it takes to receive this glorious gift? It says that whoever believes on him (puts their faith in him, trusts him for their life) will receive eternal life. Believing on him, in the context of the Bible, means that you recognize that he is God, that he sent Jesus to die in your place, and that you have given your life to him to lead you, to rule you, to give you peace, joy, and life. To everyone who lays down their own concerns, or rather gives him their concerns (Matt. 11:28-30), he will fill. And those he has filled, he gives eternal and everlasting life.
Notice that you don’t have to do anything. You can’t earn God’s favor, he has done it all independently of you. You could never earn your own relationship with God. You can’t reach high enough, you can’t do enough, or be good enough. There is nothing you can do to have God in your life, except to acknowledge and receive his gift; and then joyfully give him your life with gratitude and thanksgiving.
When I first read your letter, this verse popped into my head: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12). You said that you were in constant and overwhelming darkness. Hmmm. That may be, but it doesn’t have to remain the case. You can accept God’s gift in Jesus. Open your eyes. Let Jesus shine on you. He died for you, but on the third day God raised him from the dead and now he lives, ever the light of the world, to lead you, commune with you, and love you.
I hope this helps.