Happy Wednesday, and thank you for listening. Last time, on Monday, we took some time to look at several judgment texts in the New Testament to answer a sharp Bible question. And one of the points Pastor John made on Monday caught my attention. Maybe it caught your attention too. It was how Jesus described judgment in John 3:19: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” As Pastor John said Monday, it is the world’s love of the darkness that judges them in the end. I want to press into this point, press deeper into this text, and go back to Pastor John’s sermon on this text, preached back in 2009. With that, here’s Pastor John.
So verse 19 says there is a kind of judgment. How so? How is it that when light, this light, comes into the world, judgment happens? How is that? And the rest of the text explains. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world [and here’s what happens, here’s the split], and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19–20).
Now that’s the negative response. Verse 21 is going to be the positive. Let’s stay with the negative a minute. Let’s know ourselves and who we are, fallen under the wrath of God, under condemnation. If you’re an unbeliever, that’s where you still are. If you’re a believer, you’re still contaminated by it and need to constantly own your true identity in Christ and put to death the old identity. So let’s know ourselves here — believer or unbeliever, let’s know ourselves.
Hiding in Darkness
You can sum up what I just read about this person in five steps.
First, their works, our works — what we think, we feel, we do, all that stuff — are evil. It says so at the end of verse 19 (“their works were evil”) and verse 20 at the beginning (they do “wicked things”).
Second, they don’t want this to be exposed. What we’re thinking, what we’re feeling, what we’re doing, my whole life of evil — I don’t want that to be exposed. So verse 20, at the end, says, “lest his works should be exposed.” They don’t want that to happen. So first there’s evil, and then there’s the fear and the desire that it not be exposed.
“Unbelief is, at root, a love affair.”
Therefore, third, they love darkness. It’s safe. Verse 20, in the middle of the verse, says, “and people loved the darkness rather than the light.” This is a love affair. Unbelief is, at root, a love affair. Love is a big word. He did not have to speak this way. He could have stuck with belief language.
We all tend to think, “Oh, believing in Jesus is a decision.” Well, sort of; underneath decisions are torrents of reality. And this is a description of them. There’s love going on down there for all the wrong things. “I love you, darkness. I love you, darkness. You are so safe. You love me so much. You protect me.”
And therefore, fourth, they hated the light. Verse 20, at the beginning, says, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light.” You’ve got to. “All that stuff, it’s just going to look so horrible and shameful, and I can’t stand that thought. I’ve just got to keep loving the dark and pushing the light away.”
And so, fifth, they don’t come to Jesus. They don’t come to the light. The middle of verse 20 says, “and does not come to the light.”
So there they are, five steps:
- “I’m doing evil stuff inside and outside. I’m evil.”
- “I don’t want that to be exposed.”
- “Therefore, I love darkness.”
- “Therefore, I hate the light.”
- “I’m not coming. I’m not coming. I’m not believing.” (Believing and coming are, in John, the same thing.)
So this is Jesus’s explanation of unbelief. The division into two kinds of people, verses 19–21, is the same division as verses 16–18. Some believe, some don’t believe, and now he’s going into the inner workings of our soul.
So let’s just linger here for a minute. I’m a sinner. You’re a sinner. What I mean by that is that my life is never fully in sync with the infinite worth and beauty of God — never. God is always worthy of more than I give him. He’s always worthy of more intensity than I feel for him, always worthy of more consistency of obedience than I give him, always worthy of more consistent mental work for him than I give him. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Who does that? Raise your hand if you do that — all of it, all in, all the time. Nobody, because you don’t. And I don’t either. We’re sinners, and therefore we’re under wrath because God is so infinitely worthy of more than we give him. And we dishonor him every day of our lives, believer and unbeliever. We do this.
“We’re under wrath because God is so infinitely worthy of more than we give him.”
And the difference is not that one is good and the other is bad, simply. The Holy Spirit is at work on believers. They are changing. But I’ve been a Christian since I was 6. I’m 63. I’m not optimistic about finishing without sin. I hope my sights are not too low. I just love grace more — a lot.
Jesus says that we dishonor the Lord every day, and the reason that people hate the light and love the darkness is this. When, by some amazing work of providence, we begin to know ourselves sinful, it becomes either really angry-making or really fear-making that that might be exposed. Just imagine your whole life, and all you did last week and all the weeks before, just out there. This is why people don’t come to Christ, this text says — “lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:20). Shame that is deserved is a horrible thing.
Have you ever been embarrassed to the point of just wanting to run out of the universe as a little kid wetting your pants at school? That’s nothing. What if everything were laid bare? This is why people don’t come. It’s just terrifying that I might actually have to live in absolute light, nothing hidden anymore. They don’t come. They stay hidden.
When God Shines Light
Now, careful. That does not mean people don’t commit public sins. You might draw the conclusion from what I just said, “Oh, people are afraid that their sin will be exposed, so they never do it in public.” What? Why? If it’s so terrifying to come into the light with your sin, why are sins so publicly flaunted in our day? There’s a real simple reason. As long as the public banishes the light, there are enough people to admire the sinful behavior that you don’t feel shame but approval. As long as the light of Christ is kept out of the sphere in which you’re acting out your evil, public sin is in the dark. Public doesn’t mean light. Public means dark people observing dark behavior, and liking it because it confirms their own.
But if God shows up, we call this revival, moving on a people in a church or in a community. And suddenly, Christ and all of his standards, the holiness of God and all of its perfection, begins to rest with some weight upon the world. You know what happens? People are either driven to Christ because of the horror of their own shame, or they’re driven away further into darkness. And the ways divide, and that’s the judgment that this verse is talking about.