The Danger: Perishing

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.

Introduction to the Series

For the last four Sundays of 1994—the Sundays up to and including Christmas—I want us to focus on the words of Jesus in John 3:16. I invite you to turn there with me. "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." How many of you have ever in your life at one time or another learned John 3:16 by heart? One of the reasons this verse is so widely memorized and so deeply loved is that it is such a remarkably full summary of the gospel.

The Four "D's" of the Gospel

I am dividing it into four parts that make a natural presentation of the gospel. Four "D's."

  1. The first "D." The verse talks about the danger that we are in without Christ—" . . . that we might not perish." All human beings are in danger of perishing, which is not merely dying, but is the opposite of eternal life. Eternal perishing.
  2. The second "D." The verse talks about the design of God to rescue us from perishing, namely, the design of love. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." It's the love of God giving his Son in incarnation and death that rescues us from perishing.
  3. The third "D." The verse talks about the duty that we must fulfill if we are going to be a part of the love of God in rescuing sinners from perishing. The duty is faith, or trust, or believing in the Son that God sends. " . . . that whoever believes on him might not perish."
  4. Finally, the fourth "D." The verse talks about the destiny of those who believe, eternal life. " . . . that whoever believes on him might not perish, but have eternal life."

Not everything important is mentioned in this verse (the glory of God; election, calling, regeneration, justification, sanctification, the atoning death of Christ, etc.), but what is here is so basic and so precious and so powerful in its straightforwardness that not many verses are more important as summaries of the gospel.

  1. The danger: perishing.
  2. The design: love.
  3. The duty: faith.
  4. The destiny: eternal life.

Taste and See the Sweetness of the Gospel

We will spend a week with each one, and we will barely scratch the surface. Each of these four things is inexhaustible in greatness and importance for your life. They are ten thousand thousand thousand times more important than the Vikings beating the Bears. And I plead with you to pray with me that God would awaken us, and many who do not have eternal life—that he awaken us to the immensity and the glory and the importance and the seriousness and the fearful and wonderful supremacy of what is revealed in John 3:16. That it would be real to us—more real than what we see and hear and touch and taste and smell all over the cities this holiday season.

O that God would give us a spiritual taste for the things of John 3:16! They are like spiritual honey. How do you describe honey to someone who has no taste buds? How do you even describe taste? The way to be persuaded that the sweetness of honey is real is simply to taste and see. That is what we mean by spiritual awakening, or revival. When God moves in power by his Spirit to give spiritual taste buds to lots of people at the same time. That is what we call revival. It is a work of God. Because I can preach and you can tell the gospel, but only God can create spiritual taste buds, so that what we say is recognized as precious beyond all the baubles of Christmas. Pray. O please, pray with me that these messages not be preached in vain.

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.

The Danger: Perishing

The truth from this verse for us today is simple; and is probably the third or fourth most important thing anybody could tell you in all your life. Namely: you and I and everyone will perish if we don't trust Christ. We are all perishing—apart from Christ.

I have three questions:

  1. What is perishing?
  2. Why are we all perishing if we do not believe in Christ?
  3. Is it helpful to hear this threatening news?

What Is Perishing?

Of all the things that the Bible teaches about what happens when unbelievers die, let me mention four.

1. Perishing Means Being Under the Wrath of God

Verse 18, "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already." The issue is not merely dying, but being judged by God. Verse 36 is the most sobering of all in this gospel: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

What this shows us is that if we are rescued from perishing, it is because the love of God has rescued us from the wrath of God. To perish means that we remain under the wrath of God because we will not trust Christ. And that is a terrifying place to be.

2. Perishing Means Fiery Torment

In one of John's other books, the Revelation (14:10), he describes the one who is perishing like this:

He will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

Perishing is not, as some say, going out of existence. It is staying in existence and suffering in the fiery torments of hell.

One celebrity joked last week that he did not want to go to heaven because he couldn't improve anything there. It's too perfect. He preferred hell because he could make a contribution. Let's pray that God wake him up before that kind of levity will become unredeemable hardness. It's hard to make improvements when you are in agony.

3. Perishing Means Separation from the Glory of God

Paul describes the perishing in 2 Thessalonians 1:9,

These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.

Here in this world God reveals himself in a thousand ways every day, if we would see. In hell the perishing will be cut off from all his work—except the work of wrath.

4. Perishing Is Everlasting and Irreversible

Here in John 3:16 it's the opposite of eternal life. Jesus calls it "eternal punishment" in Matthew 25:46. In Luke 16:26 he says there is a great chasm fixed between heaven and hell, so that no one goes from one to the other. Perishing is eternal and irreversible.

Perishing means wrath; it means fiery torment; it means separation from God; and it lasts forever. Now I tell you this plainly as a warning to flee from the wrath of God to the love of God through the door of Jesus Christ. This is an awesome moment for us in this service. Because what this moment means is that any of us who stands before the throne of judgment unbelieving will not be able to say to the Lord, "Nobody ever told me what was at stake." The Lord will say, "On December 4, 1994, at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, I appointed you to be there and I appointed my servant John Piper to warn you. You were there and he did warn you."

Now is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). The great news of John 3:16 is that the love of God rescues us from the wrath of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Why Are We All Perishing If We Don't Trust in Christ?

The simplest way to answer this is to quote the apostle Paul in Romans 3:23, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death," that is, perishing. We have all sinned. And sin deserves perishing.

But there is a less simple, but utterly crucial and biblical way to go a step deeper. Why is sin so serious as to deserve perishing? The answer is that God is the most worthy person in the universe. His greatness and his value are infinite. All things are measured by him. He is the beginning and the ending of all things. Every person depends on him for everything. We owe him perfect trust and allegiance and love and worship and honor and respect and obedience, because he made us and owns us and sustains us.

Therefore rejecting him, and distrusting him, and disobeying him, and neglecting him, and enjoying other things more than him—all these are infinite insults because he is an infinite treasure. And an infinite insult—or a life of infinite insults—deserves infinite punishment.

The more you dwell on that the more precious John 3:16 becomes: God loved us enough to give his own Son to rescue us from this perishing.

Finally,

Is It Helpful to Hear This Threatening News?

Many of us could testify of how the wrath of God drove us to the gospel where the love of God relieved our fear.

John Newton, who was born in 1725 and became a sea captain and slave trader and generally perverse rebel against God, was brought to faith in Christ through a series of fearful dangers that shocked him into spiritual seriousness, and made him take heaven and hell seriously. He almost shipwrecked. And while God was dealing with him after that, he was in Londonderry, Ireland, hunting:

As I climbed up a steep bank, pulling my shotgun after me, in a perpendicular direction, it went off so near my face as to burn away the corner of my hat. (Out of the Depths: Autobiography, p. 70)

Newton came to see these experiences as God's way of getting his attention and teaching him to fear so that he would look for relief in the only place it can be found: Christ.

So he finally wrote the great hymn:

T'was grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved,
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed.

May God do that for some this morning.

Like he did for a young woman in my office nine years ago.

Here's what she wrote to me in 1992:

1985—I wonder whether you remember a very much younger me, sitting in your office and telling you I was afraid God would have to use a car accident or some other awful event to get my attention. You pointed out that the consequences of my deliberate choice to continue sinning would be nothing short of hell itself. No one had ever before told me I was headed for hell, Missionary's kid that I was, "saved" at the age of 6 . . . It was a turning point in my life, and I have wanted to thank you and tell you that, ever since.

I assured Mom that a warning such as that 1985 conversation, made me feel all the more loved, after I heard what you really think of hell. That you cared enough to tell me, a stranger at that time, means more than ever with the echo in my ears.

So I answer our last question, yes, it is helpful to warn people about what is at stake in life. I pray that your experience may be the same as this young woman's and the same as John Newton's. There is no reason to delay.

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.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org