I was reading John's gospel this morning (in the famous third chapter) and I was struck by how clear the language is about the subject of condemnation. Jesus came to us from heaven, and he was on a mission. He didn't just float through life enjoying himself. He came with warnings about what lies ahead (on one side), AND promises of glory (on the other)!
John 3:16 speaks of God's amazing love for the world (not just Jews, who had been the only covenant people of God in all of human history up to this point!), and tells us that the sign of this love was the sending of God's Son (he came to die for sins). This is God's love, not just a fuzzy emotion, but a glorious, selfless rescue from sin (1 John 4:10). John 3:16 goes on to speak of who benefits from God's amazing love ("whoever believes" in the sent Son), what they receive ("eternal life"), and implies what happens to those who won't believe ("perish").
Then we get to the 'condemnation' part. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the wolrd, but in order that the wolrd might be saved through him" (v17). Praise God! God is just and holy, and could have rightly sent his Son to condemn us - all of us. But he did NOT! The purpose of Jesus' first coming was NOT to condemn the world, but to save and rescue the world from our sin! What an amazing God!
The next verse qualifies this statement: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (v18, ESV). This agrees with the context of verse 16, that the benefits of God's love in sending his Son to save us are given only to those who believe in Jesus. The benefits are for those who believe. This is why Jesus came, and this is why Jesus sent his church to the ends of the earth - so that people may hear the gospel and believe on Jesus and be saved! God, in his awe-inspiring grace, has not sent his Son to condemn us but to save us. But clearly, those who do not believe "are condemned already."
The last verse in this chapter sums all of this up: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (v36, ESV). Once again, true to the other verses in the context, the benefits of God's love in Christ are given only to "whoever believes in the Son." Those who do not believe (which always results in obedience, therefore it says "whoever does not obey the Son") "shall not see life." In other words, those who remain in their sins and do not believe upon the sent Son of God and his rescue work at the cross will not taste the benefits of that work. Verse 16 called this 'perishing'; verses 17 and 18 spoke of it as being 'condemned.' But now we are told what this being condemned is: "the wrath of God remains on him." This is a very solemn and serious sentence. What a loving act of God to warn us about this! Our sin has brought us under God's holy and just and righteous wrath.
But we do not have to remain under God's wrath because of God's love! God made a way to divert his wrath from us and still be a good and just Judge (who doesn't leave sin unpunished). The sent Son of God, Jesus Christ, took our sins on himself when he was crucified. God judged him in our place, and poured out his holy wrath on his sinless Son, who had become sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus propitiated the wrath of God, making atonement for the sins of those who would look to him in faith. The love of God has made a way!
But the warning is clear. The wrath of God was not taken away from everyone; only from those who believe in the Son. Those who reject God's love in Christ are condemned, and this condemnation is the wrath of God remaining on them.
Jesus was not sent, the first time he came, to condemn the world. He came to save us! But he is coming again, and this time he comes to judge. "...the Father...has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:26-29, ESV).
Those who believe on Jesus (3:16) go on to obey Jesus (3:36) and are empowered by God to do good (5:29). Those who reject God's love in Jesus are left in their sins, continue to do evil and receive the condemnation their sins have earned.
Hear the clear warning of Scripture and believe the clear promise of Scripture!
Turn from sins and look to the sent Son of God, who died for our sins and rose from the dead!
Believe on him and have life! Receive him by faith and enjoy his glorious kingdom forever!
Praise God for his love, that rescues sinners from condemnation and wrath through Jesus Christ!
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:9, ESV