The Peril of Perishing (Part Six of our Exploration of John 3:16)
John comes straight to the point without hesitation or compromise. If one does not believe in the Son, he/she will “perish.” To perish is the opposite of experiencing eternal life. If you gain eternal life by believing in Jesus, you are assured by God that you will never perish.
But what does it mean to “perish”? It does not mean that you cease to exist. It means that you remain under the condemnation of God’s wrath and judgment. Twice in v. 18, John describes what happens if you persist in unbelief: you are condemned. Indeed, you are “condemned already” (v. 18). You stand condemned. God’s sentence of judgment is on the unbeliever and remains there so long as he/she refuses to repent and believe.
Later, in John 3:36, we see this stated once again: “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.” Unbelievers are already under condemnation and remain that way forever, unless they should believe. To remain under God’s condemnation and judgment is to perish.
People often wonder why the sin of rejecting God and his gift of love in his Son, Jesus Christ, is so serious, indeed so serious that it merits condemnation and eternal perishing. I have learned much of the answer to this question from both Jonathan Edwards and John Piper.
Both of these men repeatedly point out that it is because God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is the infinitely precious and infinitely worthy and most excellent person in the universe. There is no limit to his beauty and value. Everything else in the universe is utterly dependent on him for its existence.
Because he is all this and so very, very much more that we owe him perfect obedience, perfect love, perfect worship, honor, respect, and adoration. Thus to ignore him, neglect him, disobey him, and refuse to believe in the offer of life that comes from him is a sin deserving of infinite and eternal punishment.
Not to believe what God has revealed about himself and his Son is far more than saying, “I don’t find the evidence for you sufficiently persuasive.” The evidence is in fact overwhelming and undeniable. But not to believe is to treat God with utter disregard and contempt. It is to cast aside the greatest treasure as if it were no more than worthless gravel. It is to declare that the most beautiful of all beings is offensive to the sight. It is to make known with hostile and critical intent that the most harmonious of all musical scores is a screeching cacophony of off-key clamor.
Not to believe, therefore, is far, far more than mere intellectual indifference or benign disagreement. It is self-centered, arrogant defiance of the one true God and his loving, merciful, gracious offer of eternal life in his presence. That is why it is deserving of eternal damnation.