For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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. (NIV)
Listening to some people, you get the idea that God is sitting in heaven seething at humanity and just itching to get on with the final judgment. He can’t wait to pounce on us all and give us our just deserts. The salvation he offers is somehow doled out grudgingly and with pursed lips. Some might be saved but must never forget they are miserable sinners.
Of course, this is caricature. Few, if any, articulate such views. And yet we can all be guilty of so emphasizing one aspect of the Christian faith that we give a distorted impression of it. In this passage, we read that there is indeed condemnation for some. No use watering the faith down so as to avoid such unpleasant realities. If people choose to reject the offer of forgiveness and new life, God honours their choice. Salvation can never be reduced to a sentimental indulgence which sees everyone as embraced by God because he is such a jolly nice God. The fact is that not all embrace him and so in effect condemn themselves.
The emphasis in this passage is that God didn’t send Jesus to tell people how terrible they were and somehow smuggle in a quiet word or two about salvation. Jesus had a different focus. He came to save, not condemn. People condemn themselves if they reject Jesus, but let’s never doubt that Jesus doesn’t desire this. God takes no pleasure in anyone rejecting him. His bias is always towards getting people into relationship with him, not telling them how bad they are.
Our challenge is to present this good news in a good way. It is so easy to proclaim grace in a graceless way. So easy to shout about sin and merely whisper about love and forgiveness. It is not up to us to condemn: it is for us to speak and live out the good news. Which is that God is just busting to forgive and will judge only with infinite sadness.