The Christian Faith In 25 Words Or Less
Here, in 25 words or less, is the essence of the Christian Faith: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Twenty-five words, count them—twenty-five words which capture the essence of the Christian Faith. And those twenty-five words constitute what I believe to be the greatest sentence ever delivered.
I must tell you that I have long been influenced by the comment made by John McNeile of Scotland. He was asked once why he never preached a sermon on John 3:16. He replied, “Ah, because I have that in every sermon.” Well, I try to have John 3:16 in every sermon that I preach. In fact before I ever step into the pulpit I always work my way through the sermon in my mind looking for some reflection of John 3:16 somewhere in that sermon, and I do not preach that sermon until I find it. And yet for all of these 40 years now, I have never actually preached a sermon focused only on John 3:16. However, today I want to do just that. I want to focus our minds and our hearts upon those twenty-five words mainly because recently I saw something in this marvelous verse which I believe to be worth sharing. The verse falls neatly into three parts showing us the width of God’s love, the depth of God’s love, and the height of God’s love. Take a closer look, please.
The first phrase in John 3:16 shows us the width of God’s love.
Look at that opening phrase “God so loved the world …” Not just one nation, not just one culture, not just one denomination, not just one particular group of people, not just one little corner of creation, no—the whole world. In a word, the reach of God’s love is as wide as the universe. His love leaps over every boundary to embrace every person.
I’ve grown to love the writings of a Roman Catholic named Brennan Manning particularly his book carrying the intriguing title, Lion and Lamb: the Relentless Tenderness of Jesus. In that book, Manning tells the story of a man who was one of 13 children. One day when this man was a boy, he was playing in his house, and he happened to overhear a conversation between his father and a neighbor. They did not know the boy was listening. The neighbor said, “Tell me, Joe, out of your 13 children is there one that is your favorite, one that you love just a bit more than the others?” The little boy could hardly wait to hear how his father would reply. The father then said, “Well, that’s easy. Sure there’s one that I love more than the others. That’s Mary, the 12 year old. She just got braces and feels so embarrassed about them that she won’t go out of the house. Oh, but you asked about my favorite, well, that’s my 23-year-old Peter. His fiancee just broke off their engagement, and he is desolate. But the one I really like the most is little Michael. He’s very uncoordinated, and the other kids laugh at him. But, of course, if I stop to think about it, the apple of my eye is Susan. She’s 24, living in her own apartment, but she’s beginning to have a problem with alcohol. I cry for Susan. But I guess of all the kids . ..” The father went on mentioning all of his 13 children by name. The man ended his story by saying, “What I learned that day listening to my father talk is that the child my father loved the most was the one who needed him the most at that time.”
That’s the way God is. God loves the whole world. He loves all people, but He loves most those who need Him most, those who rely upon Him, those who depend upon Him, those who trust Him in everything. Do you see what that means? It means that you are the beloved child of God, I am the beloved child of God, and every person we meet in the world is the beloved child of God. He loves us all, but He loves most those who need Him most at any given time. Here then is the width of God’s love, “For God so loved the world…”
The second phrase in John 3:16 shows us the depth of God’s love.
Look at what the verse says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” Talk about the depth of love, He gave His Son, His only Son, Jesus Christ.
I have to tell you that sometimes I get weary of the kind of religion that is always telling people how worthless they are. I know we have a dark side to our personality. I don’t have to tell you that, you know it. I don’t have to stand here and number off your sins. I don’t have to tell you how bad you are, you already know. And what you know about yourself, I know about myself. I know that I am a sinner. But what I do have to tell you is that because of our sin, God has a choice. God can bash us, or God can bless us. God can choose retribution or God can choose redemption. Amazingly enough, God chooses to bless us. Just listen to what He says, “I am not going to invade your life and knock you down and coerce your love. I am not going to turn you into little puppets and robots and force you to do what I wish. Instead, I am going to woo you and win you. I am going to pour out, through my Son, a love so extravagant, so outrageous that you independent, self-sufficient, sin-hardened people will have your hearts melted, and then you will come home to me and to my love.”
A California pastor tells about a young woman named Marie who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Europe. She was in terrible emotional distress. She had been reared by violent and abusive parents. At age 12, she saw her parents get into a drunken argument one night. They began to fight physically, struggling for a gun. The gun went off, and before young Marie’s eyes, her father fell dead. Little Marie’s mind snapped at that point. She retreated into a fantasy world of violence. She would scream, scratch, hit, and curse anyone who came near her. Doctors tried every approach to no avail. But then a nurse at the hospital where she was confined, a woman named Hulda, said, “Let me try.” Every day after that, Hulda would enter Marie’s padded cell. For a full hour, the girl kicked, clawed, and pummeled Hulda until all her strength was spent, and then exhausted, Marie would crouch like a frightened animal in the corner of the room. After each assault, Hulda would bend down to the girl while trickles of her own blood ran down her face and arms. She would say over and over, “Marie, I love you. Marie, I love you.” Hulda subjected herself to this ordeal day after day until at long last a subtle change came over the girl. The violence and the hatred began to leave replaced by tears and affection. In time Marie became a whole person again. She was healed by sacrificial love.
On a deeper level, that’s the kind of love that God gives to us in Jesus Christ. How does the Bible put it? “By His stripes, we are healed.” Here we see the depth of God’s love for us. He gave us His only Son.
The third phrase in John 3:16 shows us the height of God’s love.
Listen again, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Gods love can lift us to eternal life.
Walter Wangerin is a winsome preacher and story teller. He takes us back to a time when his son, Matthew, was in second grade and got into trouble for stealing comic books from the grocery store. Walter decided that he needed to get Matthew’s attention so he took him into his study, and he said, “Son, I never spanked you before. I don’t want to now, but I’ve got to help you learn that it’s wrong to steal.” So Walter spanked Matthew five times with his bare, open hand. Matthew’s eyes moistened. His father then said, “You sit here for a few minutes, and I’ll be back.” Walter, the father, then stepped out of his study. He just couldn’t help himself. He broke down and cried like a baby. Then he washed his face and went back to the study to talk to his young son. Years later, after Matthew had become a marvelous young man, he and his mother were reminiscing about his childhood. They recalled that incident of the stolen comic books, and Matthew said, “Mom, you know that incident changed my whole life.” His mother asked, “Well, what was it? Was it because your father spanked you that day?” Matthew replied, “Oh no, it was because I heard him crying.” You see it wasn’t the spanking that turned Matthew’s life around. It was instead the power of his father’s love.
God’s love is so powerful that it can sustain us all through this life, and then in the end, it can lift us all the way to Heaven. The verse says, “Whoever believes in Him shall not perish.” That means that we have to accept God’s love in faith; we have to believe in God and His love so much that we will stake our lives on Him and we will commit ourselves to Him—heart, mind, body, and soul. And that means that we must also call all of our sisters and brothers in this world to accept God’s love in faith, as well. Why? Well because God so loved the whole world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in God’s only Son shall not perish but have eternal life.
Think of it—just 25 words—but those 25 words capture the essence of the Christian faith, and those 25 words can change your life and change our world.