Most everyone is familiar with John 3.16. It has become a favorite verse of many. God loves the world! But this fine summary needs to be supplemented with the full gospel. A good place to start for this is another word from Jesus, also in the gospel of John.
Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him, John 14.23.
What we desire
God is not present in humanity. In our unregenerate state, he is not with us. The frequent statement is simply not true that “God is the Father of us all.” Sin separates us from God, Isaiah 59.1-2. All have sinned and lack his glorious presence in their lives, Romans 3.23.
His absence causes a great vacuum within us. We search in vain for something to fill it. We jump from one thing to another, but nothing ultimately satisfies. We may even deceive ourselves and cling to deadwood as if it were our salvation.
God wants to be present in our lives. He created us for this. We rejected him. But while we were yet helpless, sinners, and rebellious (see Romans 5), he sent Christ to die in our place and receive our sentence, so that we might be freed from sin and restored to him. God wants to come and take up residence in our lives.
The entire Bible is the story of God making this happen. He wants us to know that he has been putting right what we ruined. He took the initiative to bring us to rights. He has revealed himself and his eternal purpose. He shows us all that he has done to bring us back to himself. He did no less than send his own Son to earth as a human being, in order to take away our sin and bring us forgiveness.
Why does Jesus say that the Father will love the one who loves and obeys? Does God not love everyone, John 3.16? Yes, but only when we follow the path he lays out is God able to demonstrate his love fully by offering us all spiritual blessings that are in Christ, Ephesians 1.3.
If we wake up to our real lack, to our true need, and desire God’s presence in our lives, there is a clear path to make it happen. Or better, to allow God to return to us. Jesus gives the general direction in our verse above: to love and obey. God is love, so anyone who desires to live with him must also love. But man has made love into many things — many of them far from God’s love. So Jesus defines what a big part of that love is and what it means. The condition to receiving God’s presence in our lives is to love and obey.
This verse provides a summary. In other places, we find the details. These details we ought to sweat. That is, we ought to take the greatest care to understand and submit to the commandments Jesus has given us, Matthew 28.18-20.
The wrong way
Some people, however, have obscured the true path to restoring God in life. Behind this change lies the Evil One. He desires to keep God out of our lives. Here’s but one example, using the verse above, of how the true path is obscured. A devotional writer said this:
For the non-Christian, the key to getting it into proper order is to accept Jesus Christ. If you do that, then John quotes Jesus as saying, “My Father will love them. My Father and I will come to them and live with them” (John 14:23).
This well-intentioned writer offers a different way. What he means by accepting Jesus Christ is not the obedience that Jesus requires. This is evident because the whole verse is not cited. The mention of obedience was inconvenient to the writer. He replaced “obey” with “accept.” Because his idea of acceptance is a faith-only approach that deliberately excludes obedience.
God can fill our emptiness by his presence. Let him love you by loving and obeying him. Do not believe what men tell you about the gospel. Read beyond John 3.16 and get the whole picture. John 14.23 is a good place to start. Read all of God’s word and follow it. Let Jesus be Lord and Savior. Then we will be satisfied eternally.