What Is Salvation and What’s Up with the Trinity? (John 3: 1-17)

God is the Relationship of Love that empowers us to love fearlessly.


“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but so the world might be saved through him.” 

These verses fall on Trinity Sunday, and the combination of the most famous Bible verses with one of the most bewildering doctrines may trigger salvation anxiety for many. So often, John 3:16 is used as a litmus test for faith. The key to not perishing is believing in Jesus. And what must we believe? That Jesus is God and the Son of God and that he died to satisfy God’s wrath and there’s a Spirit too and one plus one plus one equals one and if we can only force our minds and hearts to accept all this contradictory and impossible information, we can go to heaven, but if not…

Breathe. That is not what this means. If we unlearn exclusive, violent interpretations attached to these verses, Love really does shine through and cast out all fear.

God loves the whole world, utterly and completely. So much that God comes and shares our human nature, to show us perfect love in the language we can best understand — embodiment. Beyond words to presence and action and heart-to-heart connection. Relationship.

God “gave” his Son doesn’t mean God “killed” his Son. Usually these verses take us straight to the cross. But before we get there, Jesus embodies love for everyone, especially the marginalized, throughout his life. He embraces women and children and lepers and the poor. He heals the sick. He feeds the hungry. He casts out demons… rather than cast out people haunted by demons. He shows that no one is beyond redemption.

“Eternal life” is not “afterlife.” It’s full, rich, meaningful, courageous life. Life not circumscribed by fear of death. What would we do for each other if we weren’t afraid of losing or dying? 

That’s the kind of life we can live now if we trust in Jesus. To trust in Jesus is to trust in the one who destroys all the limits to love. 

We set limits to love, love those in our “in groups,” and know who we are by who we keep out. But by going to the margins and loving enemies, Jesus shows that true love is boundless. Even when he is so thoroughly dehumanized, shunned, abused, and publicly executed, he rises from the dead to say, “I love you.”

Nicodemus learns this love. Utterly clueless when Jesus first speaks to him of “flesh” and “Spirit,” he comes to see the true love of God in Jesus. He comes to Jesus first by night, unwilling to be seen. But after Jesus has died, he helps to bury the body in broad daylight. Moved by love to courage beyond shame and fear. And that’s what it means to be born “of the Spirit.” 

That’s the kind of Love that Jesus shares with God the Father, a perfect relationship of trusting, mutual, non-rivalrous love. And it’s the Love the Holy Spirit opens to us. God is the Relationship of Love that empowers us to love fearlessly.

The Olive

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