The Face of Grace
Pencil sketch by JC Chambers
Part eighteen in a study of God's grace from the book of John.
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 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.” John 3:19-21
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night . . . so that he might not be noticed.
Pharisees like Nicodemus were popular because their version of religious reform resonated with the people. For this reason, they had to tread carefully when it came to Jesus. Since He was even more popular than they were, they could not oppose Him too openly. However, because Jesus criticized them publicly, neither could the Pharisees and teachers of the Law align themselves with Him.
John uses the story of Nicodemus to illustrate a truth that is as surprising today as when it was written. When John refers to men who “loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil,” he is thinking about men like Nicodemus; sacred people, not secular.
The “evil deeds” John alludes to are being ascribed to the religious, not to the irreligious.
God is commonly depicted as being provoked by unrighteous people. This is neither what John declared nor what Jesus modeled. Jesus didn’t have problems with the unrighteous; He had problems with the self-righteous.
A survey of Jesus’ life reveals that prostitutes, tax collectors and other varieties of “sinners” weren’t afraid to “come into the light,” but Pharisees were. They were the ones who feared that their “deeds” would be “exposed.”
Jesus harshest rhetoric was directed toward those who, claiming to speak on God’s behalf, proclaimed a message of condemnation. Unfortunately, biblical judgment is often directed against those God is not condemning.
“I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” 1 Corinthians 3:10-13
This passage is frequently used to warn Christians to live holy lives. However, Paul is not directing this warning against Christians in general. He is directing it against missionaries in particular. Paul identifies himself as the one who “laid a foundation as an expert builder.” When he moved on from Corinth, other teachers moved in and built on the foundation he laid.
Paul warns anyone moving into a role of spiritual leadership to “be careful how he builds” and to build on the foundation he himself “already laid.” Conforming to the pattern of instruction is likened to “using gold, silver, costly stones.” Departing from it is likened to using “wood, hay or straw.”
Those who put their faith in Christ need not fear that a “highlight reel” of their sins will be shown when they meet God face to face. The Bible teaches that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
Jesus did not come to condemn the world. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” John 3:17
Jesus condemned the condemning.