John 3:18-21

Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

Belief is an essential category in John. And belief, as we’ll see, isn’t merely a “head thing,” but rather the willingness of the disciple to testify to faith in Jesus and to trust and follow him. In short, belief is constituted by “abiding” in Jesus, remaining in him through the ebbs and flows of life in this world.

Interestingly, however, belief isn’t merely offered as a choice, as if abiding in Jesus were simply a matter of the will. Rather, belief, particularly in the fourth Gospel, is more like love, something that seizes you from the outside and changes you whether you will it to or not. (If you’re not sure that love is beyond your will, try to immediately stop loving someone you currently love or, conversely, summon genuine love for someone you don’t!)

For this reason, judgment is less an active work of condemnation than it is a more passive revelation of the current state of things. Jesus comes as the light of the world revealing the state of things, including the character of our faith. Those who believe/abide are drawn to the light. Those who do not believe and so do not dwell in God’s abundant life but rather live apart from God’s will flee the light that their character and actions may not be seen.

This gets pretty complex pretty quickly, I realize. So it may be helpful to anchor all of this discussion of revelation and judgment and light and darkness in the affirmation that behind everything stands God’s promises that God loves the world and so sent Jesus not to condemn but to save it. That’s God’s intention, purpose, and promise. The rest is only graceful consequence.

Prayer: Dear God, let us grow in our embrace of the light and desire for abundant life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.