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Saved: From Condemnation (Inscription 50)

John 3:16-20

May 1, 2011



·         John 3-4

·         034, 036

Intro/Communication card:

·         Sunday School teachers and helpers

For the next three weeks we’ll discover what it means to be saved. We have this flat idea of salvation: Going to Heaven – we treat it as the finish line, not the starting point.

·         We will be going through John, which is my favorite Gospel.


Scripture reading: John 3:16-20

Jesus doesn’t condemn

Q   Who do you think is in greater danger of Hell, the town’s most respected pastor or the used up cocktail waitress?

Q   Who is in greater need of God’s grace, the religious guy or the sinner?

Q   Which one of those are you?

Let’s pick up from where we left off last week, with John 3:16:

John 3:16-18  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Q   What does condemned mean?

We think of it as “strongly disapprove,” but the Biblical meaning is to judge and find guilty. It is a judge saying “guilty as charged.”

It says that Jesus did not come to condemn, but that everyone who doesn’t believe in him is condemned already. All of us are naturally condemned; we are all guilty to start with, guilty of rebelling against God, and Jesus comes to stop the condemnation.

·         So Jesus didn’t come to condemn (we’d already got that taken care of), but to remove condemnation – if we believe in him.

Spotlight on sin

But for someone who came to bring forgiveness, not condemnation, he sure made a lot of enemies. He was extremely polarizing. Some people loved him, others hated him.

·         By his very presence, he reminded people of something they wanted to forget, namely that they were in fact condemned.

John 3:19-20  19 This is the verdict: Light [Jesus] has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

·         We (Christians and not) love our sin and hate the light that shows it.

Darkness support groups

Don’t believe me? Let me show you on a small scale:

Think back to a time when you were doing or wanted to do something you knew you shouldn’t do (it might be now). It could be a big thing, like leaving your spouse or it could have been a little thing, like nursing a grudge.

Which friends did you gravitate towards? The ones who “support” you, encourage you to do what you wanted to do.

·         “You are so right! You have a right to be happy! I can’t believe he...” (Of course they want your support too.)

And which ones did you avoid? The ones who call you on your crap, “I can’t believe our boss said that to me!” “You kind of deserved it.” So you move on to the next person!

·         We love darkness, we want people who will huddle in the darkness and tell us that it is perfectly fine.

So we all tell each other nice little lies thinking it because we love each other, but it is closer to hate – it is actually selfishness.

·         And that is just a little light – through humans God shines little glimpses of light.

two choices

But imagine walking with Jesus – more light than the noon day sun, shining through all the excuses, the self-justification, the hidden motives, and showing just how black our hearts are.

·         When we are faced with the light of Jesus, there are two responses: self-deception or despair.

This is what I mean: According to Jesus, we all deserve to be condemned. As an exercise, say with me “I deserve condemnation.”

·         We can divide this room into two groups: Those who deeply believe what they just said and those who don’t.

Some of you know that you deserve condemnation, you have a voice whispering in your ear that you are not worthy, that God does not love you, that you are worthless.

On the other hand, some of you don’t really believe it. You might know it, mentally agree with it, but you don’t really feel you deserve condemnation.

·         Or you think that this idea of innate sin is one of the bigger and most dangerous deceptions of Christianity.

Q   Which one are you?

In John 3 and 4 Jesus talks to two different people, who were as different from each other as possible. One was the respected pastor and the used-up cocktail waitress.

A pretty good guy

John 3:1-3  NIV ¶ Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.  2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”  3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Notice Jesus didn’t answer the question, “Let’s cut the crap, you need to repent, because you are going to Hell.” This came as quite a shock to Ol’ Nic he thought that because he was a good Torah-following Jew, he was safe, he was pretty good.

·         Jesus had this habit of comforting the broken, but breaking the comfortable.

Jesus had to show him, like the other Pharisees just how black their hearts were, how much they needed Jesus.

·         If you lust in your heart, it is as if you committed adultery.

·         If you hate, it’s like murder.

·         If you fast to impress others, it’s useless.

·         You are whitewashed tombs, pretty on the outside, ugly inside. 

It was to Nicodemus Jesus said, “The light shines in the darkness, but you love the darkness.”

A pretty good guy

If you don’t feel that you deserve condemnation, then you are more like Nic than you want to believe. But deep down, you know it’s a lie. You know that you are not that nice of a person.

Every now and again something breaks through the surface and shows how ugly your heart is. Then you shove it back down, downplay it and go back to pretending you’re a good guy.

·         How do I know? Because I just described myself.

I was the good kid who never did anything wrong. Never mind that I was arrogant, self-righteous, and self-centered, I never did anything wrong and that was my identity.

Sure, I knew that “all have sinned and fallen short” and that I was a sinner, but I did not feel it with any conviction. I felt like a good Christian.

·         Story: DTS/Kicking Scott when he tricked me, making excuses as to convince myself I wasn’t bad.

After that I went back to my dorm and went to bed early, miserable. Because I had hurt another person? No, because I had just done a “bad thing” in front of a bunch of Christians.

·         That was not repentance, it was a wounded pride.

So what?

Q   Okay, you say, I don’t feel I deserve condemnation. So wWhat? I’m a Christian so I know intellectually I am a sinner.

Here is the “so what,” Jesus may have forgiven me for my anger and my pride that day, but I didn’t learn anything that day, other than how to better hide my sin.

Every time Jesus shines the light on your sin you can either recognize your darkness and genuinely repents or you can deceive yourself and harden your heart.

·         If it weren’t for serving at churches that encouraged transparency, I might be a pompous, black-hearted Pharisee.

You are reinforcing external actions, not internal holiness.

Bell’s Hell

·         If you are not a Christian, the “so what” of not thinking you deserve condemnation and need Jesus is even bigger.

Thanks to Rob Bell, Hell has been in the headlines a lot lately. He is trying to make Hell easier to understand in light of God’s love, which I can appreciate, even if I disagree with him.

But most of the time we (as pastors) are answering the wrong questions. Most of your objections of Hell are hypothetical:

What about those who have never heard? How can a good God allow eternal suffering? These questions are only important insofar as you are wrestling with God’s goodness and love, and there are good answers (previous sermon on Hell 9/13/09).

·         Far more important is your practical objection: I don’t think I have done anything that deserves being condemned to Hell.

As Jesus said: If you love darkness, you’ll hate light. Heaven will be filled with God’s light; if you’re unwilling to let Jesus in and leave your darkness, Heaven will be Hell to you.

Perhaps it will help to think of Hell as a long journey: From where you sit, you have a choice between turning to God or away from him, His will or your will, loving your sins in darkness or repenting and having him forgive and purge them in light.

·         The journey away from him is Hell; it may not seem like it at first, but the road gets worse and worse as you go.

It’s kind of like going on a month-long candy and soda diet, I mean only eating candy and soda. The first meal might be fun, but by the end of the first week, not so much.

What now?

Let’s move from “so what” to “what now?” I am not telling you that you need to sit in a corner and try to grunt yourself into feeling like a big sinner who deserves condemnation and needs Jesus just as much as the next guy.

·         That is completely true, but you can’t make yourself feel it.

Change begins with a truth accepted. The truth is that you deserve condemnation and desperately need Jesus. If you are a Christian, you already believe that. If you are not, believing it is pretty much what it means to be saved.

Then you respond to truth not with action, but with prayer: Jesus shine light into my heart, help me see the condemnation I deserve, that you have saved me from.

From there you act on what God shows you: Talk your spouse, your roommates, your friends...

·         You will find that your sin is far more about what you fail to do than what you do.

And as you live in this routine: Think, pray, act, how you feel will change – you will gain a better sense that you are not better than the rest, but that you are forgiven and loved.

Ä  So that is how Jesus showed the righteous guy his condemnation, but that is just the first group.

The prodigal daughter

In chapter 4, we have a very different story, a person who responded to the light with despair, not deception:

John 4:3-6   3 ¶ When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.  4 Now he had to go through Samaria.  5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

There is so much sub-plot between the lines here: Samaritans and Jews hated each other. The best way to contextualize it is to place it in the Deep South in the 50’s and picture her as black. There is lynching and riots going on, so to speak.

In Jesus conversation with Nicodemus, the first words out of his mouth confronted him with his condemnation.

Q   When does Jesus confront her?

He doesn’t. Jesus comforts the broken and brakes the comfortable, she was already broken. This is the closest he comes:

John 4:16-18   16 ¶ He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”  17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.  18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

This is why she was getting water at noon, the hot part of the day, alone, tells us that she was an outcast among her people. If you’re kicked out by the Samaritans, you’re completely alone.

·         She was town slut – all the wives hid husband from her.

·         Being married five times meant you’re not wanted, not loved.


Jesus didn’t need to tell her sins condemned her, she already felt condemned. People who hide their sins pretend they’re okay. If they’re out for everyone to see, you are filled with shame.

Shame has to be the most unpleasant feeling, that burning telling you that you are unacceptable, a bad person, a failure.

·         One of the strongest sensations of shame I remember came from wetting my pants, when I was too old to do so.

Fortunately, the shame drove me to do what I should – use the bathroom! The purpose of shame is to spur us to what is right. But it doesn’t always work, we keep doing wrong.

Q   But what about those who can’t fix the cause of shame?

·         Parents who shamed you publically.

·         Poverty that kept you dressed in rags.

·         Difficulty in school.

·         Being sexually abused, feeling guilty.

And after long enough, this shame defines you, it tell you who you are. You go from “I failed” to “I am a failure.” That is when despair sets in. You despair ever being acceptable.

·         Some people respond to despair with brazenness (“Since I can’t measure up, I will just embrace my failures”).

·         Other respond with guilt and hopelessness (“There is no point, I’ll just accept being unacceptable”).

I’m not sure which this woman was (I’d guess “brazen”), but when she saw Jesus, she probably felt her stomach tighten, another person to condemn her, even worse a man, a Jew, a rabbi.

·         He didn’t condemn her, but he shined light on her darkness, not to condemn (she already was) but heal and forgive.

After Jesus told her about her sins, she responded:

John 4:19-21, 25-26   19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

A lot of people think this was a diversionary tactic, but I don’t think so. She is acknowledging her sin, but asking where to make it right, at their temple or his.

 21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.... 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

Jesus didn’t give her some ritual to perform, he gave her himself, the source of life. God accepted her and forgave her and loved her.

·         All that shame, all that guilt, all that condemnation melted away in his love.

What now?

If you feel more like the Samaritan woman then Nic, then I don’t need to tell you “so what.” You already know “so what.”

·         It’s very telling she believed in Jesus almost immediately, but Nicodemus didn’t respond, until the end of John.

The desire to be loved, accepted, to be free of the condemnation you so deeply feel is the “so what.”

But the “what now” is much harder. It is not enough to tell you to feel more accepted and less condemned, any more than the Nicodemus-es can feel more deserving of condemnation.

·         It starts with accepting a truth, the truth that God loves you and that freedom from condemnation comes from believing Jesus.

This is the starting point of being saved, but it is not the end. It’s a lifelong process of filling yourself with the truth:

Romans 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...

Psalm 103:11-12   11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;  12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 34:18  18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Not just once, but continually mediating on these truths to rewrite a lifetime of lies.

And as you begin to change how you think, you change how you pray: Thank God for his acceptance and forgiveness, ask him to help you deeply accept it, pray these Scriptures.

·         Then you act differently, act as a person loved by God, forgiven, showing love.

And as you do these, then you will feel different, not all at once, not a miraculous transformation, but ongoing change.

·         It is actually better that way – your brokenness becomes a tool that helps you stay close to God in a way others don’t


Salvation means that we are saved from the just condemnation of our sins, whether we feel we deserve it or not.

·         But it is a little artificial to say that you are in one group or another, most of us go back and forth.

“For God loved you so much he sent his son to take on himself the punishment you so richly deserve, to save you from the just condemnation that hangs on you, to give you eternal life.”

·         PPT: Please text Janna, her service is almost over: 333-4505

Q & A

Communication Card/Application:


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