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Gnosticsm & the Proclamation of Christianity with special reference to John's Gospel (Cont)

The Good News in the Gospels
John 10: 10 (AV)

The Gospels proclaim the good news of Salvation in Jesus Christ. John repeatedly gets back to the great gift of salvation and in John 3: 16 and 17 he summarises the basics: "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. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him" (NIV). Jesus Christ is not the only name of the personal Saviour who made the way for every man to abundant life through a personal relationship with Him. He is also the name for God and man one.

A Gnostic says, I will work from the divine standpoint and pay no attention to the human. But you cannot do this ; God Himself could not do it. He had to take upon Himself "the likeness of human flesh" (Romans 8: 3). There must be the right alloy. Pure gold is too soft to use as a coin, and the pure gold of the Divine is no good in human affairs; there must be the alloy mixed with it, and the alloy is not sin. Sin according to the Bible, is something that has no right in human nature at all; it is abnormal and wrong. Human nature is earthly, it is squalid, but it is not bad. The thing in human nature that is bad is the result of a wrong relationship set up between the man God created, and the being God created who became the devil. The Devil struck a deal with man who sold himself to the devil, and in return became absolute boss over himself. This wrong relationship is called sin. (Adapted from OC in [42] p.60.)

Marsh [30] gives a wonderful exposition of John 3:16. I shall try to summarise this.

  1. God so loved the world. This precludes the Christian from the Gnostic thinking of God's love as some metaphysical attribute of a distant divine being, only to be contemplated by the enlightened few. God's love embraces the world so it cannot be confined to the spiritual elite, or a chosen people, or sect or race or nation.
  2. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. God loved all there was and gave all He had. So the splendid objective of the love of God can be stated only in universal terms that:
  3. Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Eternal life and perish are absolute alternatives but, of these two options, the second seems surely a certainty. The world, into which the Son was sent, was and remains, 'in bondage to decay' [31]. "Even if everything in this world is uncertain, death at least is certain." [32] But Christ came to change this certainty - 'perish' - into 'the glorious liberty of the children of God.' (See [29].) "Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is the Devil - and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Hebrews 2: 14,15)

The question in c. is whether in response to God's love, man will embrace the life that is offered, or reject it. We learn, at the foot of the Cross and from the Resurrection, about the victorious purpose of God's love - the gift of life in the midst of a dying world. This was the outcome of God's gift of His Son to the world. Man has now the possibility of two destinies: life or death. Only God has life in Himself. His gift of life to men is thus their own hope of attaining it, and to attain it is to share the fullness of life itself, in never-failing abundance. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10: 10). This means abundant life, as it should be lived in this world, as well as life in the inconceivable sheer exuberance of the next. If we reject God's gift, we exclude ourselves, in this life and the next, from this abundant life and remain outside His life where everything ends in death. The alternatives are indeed absolute.

Marsh continues and asks: How can death result from a choice set before men by the God whose love gave His only begotten Son in order that all who turn to Him and believe in Him might live?

John's answer to this is found in the next verse 17: "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world." Condemnation did not follow from God's action. It was God who in His love to the world gave His Son to save the world, not to condemn it. The man who believes is not condemned to perish. The man who does not believe is not condemned by God to death subsequent to his unbelief; for God has indeed offered him life. The perishing of the unbeliever is not a punishment for unbelief inflicted by a ruthless God; it is the self-determined end of the man who has decided to be his own God, and so has turned his back on God in unbelief. In turning against God, the true source of abundant life, he chooses the only alternative - Death.

The Jewish doctrine of Judgement thought of all such final rewards as being distributed at a 'last day'; and thus it was bound to appear that death was the penalty inflicted by God for unbelief. But John told his readers, as Jesus told Nicodemus that the real situation is that since God has offered all men the gift of life freely, judgement takes place within history now. Not that God condemns any man to perish, but that some men so condemn themselves. "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world." This is a radical re-writing of the Jewish doctrine of Judgement. Christian views tended to distance themselves from traditional Jewish apocalyptic, with judgement for the Christian being seen almost exclusively in individual rather than national terms. It is 'Realized Eschatology' [33] with Jesus bringing the dawning of the Kingdom of God. [34]

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  1. This section on John 3: 16,17 has been adapted from "The Gospel of St. John" by John Marsh, pp.181-184.
  2. "Liberated from the bondage of decay into the glorious liberty of the children of God." Romans 8: 21
  3. "Death - The Riddle and the Mystery" by E. Jungel. The Saint Andrew Press.
  4. The branch of theology concerned with the end of the world. The doctrine of last things: (such as the 2nd coming of Christ, Resurrection, and Judgement).
  5. See 'Oxford Companion to the Bible' on 'Eschatology' p.193 and 'Day of Judgement' pp.157+.

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