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God So Loved The World

One of the first verses children learn in Sunday School is John 3:16:

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

The verse says that God, because of His great love for the world, gave His son so that all that believe in Him would live forever. The emphasis is usually placed on the consequence, the promise of eternal life for believers, rather than the fact of God’s love for the world. The next verse, though, tells us more about God’s purpose:

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Christ came, not to condemn but to save the world. Here we see that it is not just some number of believers but rather the entire world that is to be saved. But just what is it that constitutes the world? It is, of course, the nations of the world. God had chosen the nation of Israel to be His elect nation but with the coming of Christ this was greatly broadened. It is no longer just Israel but now it is all the nations of the world that God expresses His love for and has chosen to be the objects of His salvation.

The salvation that God purposes and effects is not a temporary thing. It is intended to be permanent, to extend to the end of the age and beyond (Eph. 3:21). For this to be the case, each generation must educate its successor in the faith and, at some point, the faith must permeate and dominate the culture. We see that this is not yet the case; the nations of the world have not yet come to the place that we could call salvation. Evidently it is not an immediate fact but is a process of development requiring time and effort. Central to its progress is law.

God didn’t make man to be alone but to live with others of his kind. For this to be possible there was a need for rules of behavior, guidelines that would govern the interactions between man and man, man and woman, man and animals, etc. After the fall, the need for such rules became much more urgent; they became a life or death necessity. The first child born on earth killed his brother and so it has gone throughout history. There is an urgent need for law; without it we cannot live as gregarious creatures. For members of a family to live together, there must be a set of rules that govern their interactions with each other. For families to live in larger groups, another set of rules—that each family agrees to—is needed to govern inter-familial contact. As societies grow into cities and nations, the rules of behavior become formalized and written law, civil government, courts of adjudication and police agencies come into being. These are necessary because man is born in sin and tends to love himself far more than he loves his neighbor. Law in some form is indispensable to society; without it all cooperation is lost and each individual is on his own. Civilization fails and barbarism ensues.

The mere presence of law though, is not enough. What is needed is the right law, a law that enhances the life of society. Laws devised by men without God’s direction are never truly just but are always biased so as to favor a few to the detriment of the many. They typically fall far short of what is needed and the nation as a whole suffers. God knows us far better than we know ourselves and knows the kind of law we need in our present condition. When He freed the Israelites, the people He loved, from bondage in Egypt, one of His first actions was to give them a law to live by. He wrote with His own finger the Ten Commandments, the summary of the law He gave them through Moses, His chosen mediator. His assessment of this law was:

5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.
6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?
8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4: 5-8)

Jesus, two millennia later, told us that this law was not only still in effect but would remain in effect until heaven and earth pass away.

18 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
19 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
20 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5: 17-19)

The God that created man does not change (Mal. 3:6). Neither does His law change; He, once and for all time, gave us a law to live by. This law is an expression of His great love for His creatures. To the extent the nations of the world adopt this law and put it into effect, to that extent they are blessed by it. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). The nation is blessed, not just because of faith, but because the people live by God’s Law (Deut. 28).

Saving the Nations
How are the nations to be saved? The model we have is Israel, the nation God chose in antiquity to save and to represent Him. God took Israel out of bondage in Egypt and gave them the land of Canaan for their own. They were given what we would call today gospel and law. Their gospel was in the promise of a future Messiah and a temple in which they could sacrifice in anticipation of His final sacrifice. They were Christians, in a different setting from ours today but Christians nonetheless. Their Messiah was our Christ and their God was our God. We can learn something of what national salvation means by looking at them and God’s dealings with them.

One of the main sources of problems was the failure of the Israelites to heed God’s warnings against social contact with the neighboring nations. He knew that their faith would be corrupted by exposure to these idolatrous people. This was so serious a matter that He placed the death penalty on any that attempted to introduce false religions in Israel (Deut. 13:7-11). God gave Israel both law and gospel because both were needed if the nation was to remain faithful.

The lesson to be learned in this is that Christianity cannot prosper and grow in a godless culture. The youth and new believers have not progressed far enough in their understanding of the faith to be able to defend it against the wiles of the Devil. They are like the seed that is susceptible to wither and die for various reasons and needs the good ground to thrive and grow and develop into a mature faith (Matt. 13:3-9).

For it to have the effect God intends, Christians must work to prepare the ground for the gospel. The efforts of all Christians, not just pastors and missionaries, are needed here. As they live in accordance with God’s Law and work to bring the surrounding culture to that standard, the nation changes. The salvation of the nation as a whole, the entire environment, is a necessity.

The gospel message is the good news of God’s grace to individuals. His Law, operating in the lives of His people, is the cement that builds them into a godly nation. Without God’s Law, the gospel is weak and relatively ineffective; with it, it is a powerful force that conquers both individuals and nations. What was true in Ancient Israel is still true today. Law must accompany gospel. It is only when the law complements the gospel that the faith spreads and grows to cover the earth.

The fact of original sin is faced with every new generation and must be countered successfully if progress in the salvation of the nations is to continue. Each child born is born in sin, in bondage to Satan, and can become a force for good or for evil. The training the child is exposed to in his early years is a vital factor in the determination of which side he joins (Prov. 22:6). A Christian environment is vital to the propagation of the faith, which cannot even be maintained, let alone increased, when its children are brought up in anti-Christian surroundings, such as we see in the Western World today.

Contrary to the opinion of many, the laws a people live under are not a neutral matter. An individual’s salvation is through faith, which in turn is reflected in and demonstrated by his obedience to God’s Law (James 2:18). Likewise, a nation’s faith is visible in the laws its people live by, whether written or unwritten. As an individual’s faith can only be discerned in his obedience, so a nation’s faith is demonstrated in its laws.

While the faith of a people influences the nation’s laws, the nation’s laws also influence the people’s faith. A godly people produce godly laws and godly laws tend to shape a godly people. Faith and law cannot remain in opposition. Either the nation’s laws must conform to the faith of the people or the faith of the people must yield and come into conformity with the law of the nation. The nation’s progress in godliness can be seen in its laws. To what extent do they conform to God’s Law?

If the nations Jesus came to save are to see His salvation, a Christian culture must be established, which means that their laws must come into conformity with God’s Law. Law must accompany gospel if the nations are to be saved. The responsibility for this falls, not just to the clergy, but to all Christians, the Body of Christ on earth.