Here is the summary of the whole of salvation history: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.” As St. John tells us elsewhere “God is love.”
It is essential to Who God is, to everything He does, that He loves: for God, to live is to love. This is revealed first and foremost in the fact that God exists eternally as Trinity a communion of three persons who are one God, only distinguishable from each other in their relationships to each other, relationships which are defined by the love of a Father and Son, and the Spirit that proceeds from and personifies that love.
It is in this love that God created man in His image a creature created to receive God’s love and to love Him in return. And it was man’s rejection and refusal of love that was the original sin, man’s loss of life with God.
But just as sin cannot change the fact that God is Creator of the creature, it also cannot change the fact that the Creator creates in love: sin does not terminate God’s love for us. So it is completely contrary to His nature for God to allow man to perish from his lack of love without trying to save him through love.
And so He came to us in the world, in love, and revealed Himself as love: as a communion of love, Father and Son, and Holy Spirit. And that love does not seek condemnation, but salvation: to restore us to receiving and returning God’s love, a love that is as eternal and limitless as the life of God Himself, the love that is the essence of “eternal life.”
But does all this mean that salvation, or eternal life, is automatic that God loves us so much we cannot be condemned to live without it? Some would like to think so. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do whatever we want, and still have heaven? Is this what John means when tells us: “Whoever believes in Him will not be condemned”? Some very devout and holy Christians argue that this exactly what it means: all we need to do is believe in Jesus, and we are saved.
However, to believe in Jesus (“the name of the only Son of God”) also includes believing in what He actually told us. And what He told us, as St. John also reports, is: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15; cf. 2 Jn 6: “this is love, that we follow His commandments”).
John does not mean to say that mere belief in Jesus saves us. Rather it is belief that opens us up to love. If we believe in God the Son, we will believe in what He revealed to us: that love is the source and essence of salvation from condemnation and eternal life with God, who is love. And that loving is defined not by us, but by God in His commandments. So that, “whoever does not believe has already been condemned” who ever does not believe in the love that Christ reveals condemns himself by rejecting God’s love.
From Trinity Sunday just past, to Corpus Christi just ahead, is the perfect time for us to meditate on these most profound words of “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Let us enter into the mystery of the love of the Trinity, a love we were created to share from the beginning, and a love we can share in now because “God gave His only Son” Jesus Christ, the Incarnation of the love of the Trinitarian God.
Fr. De Celles is Parochial Vicar of St. Michael Parish in Annandale, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)