Whoever believes: living the truth

in my fathers house19 And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. 21 But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. These three verses portray this intricate balance between judgment and decision in the metaphorical language of light and darkness. This language recalls the language and imagery of the Prologue (1:5, 9-10). To love darkness more than light is the same as not believing, and it results in judgment (v. 19).

The translation of krisis as “verdict” is an odd choice as the word normally means the process of judging rather than the sentence of condemnation itself [EDNT 2:318]. Faced with the light that has come into the world people may prefer the darkness. John is not saying that God has decreed that people who do such and such things are condemned. It is not God’s sentence with which he is concerned here. He is telling us rather how the process works. People choose the darkness and their condemnation lies in that very fact. They shut themselves up to darkness; they choose to live in darkness; they cut themselves off from the light. Why? “Because their deeds were evil.” Immersed in wrongdoing, they have no wish to be disturbed. They refuse to be shaken out of their comfortable sinfulness. So they reject the light that comes to them and set their life in darkness. Thereby they condemn themselves.

The way a person acts in the presence of the light is the defining mark of a person’s identity. Whether someone is good or evil is revealed solely by the decision he or she makes in the encounter with Jesus (vv. 20-21); it is not predetermined in advance. In the decision of faith or unbelief it becomes apparent what [a person) really is and … always was. But it is revealed in such a way that the decision is made only now. Christology and anthropology are thus inseparably linked in the Fourth Gospel. Who people are is determined by their response to Jesus. These verses provide a telling conclusion to the Nicodemus narrative. Nicodemus did not believe (3:12); therefore, he remains in the darkness. He came to Jesus at night and will stay in the night.

But whoever lives the truth…” (v.21) is more literally “But whoever does the truth…” We generally speak of “telling the truth.” It may be that John’s choice of verb is partly due to the need for a contrast with “does evil” (v. 20). But there are actions that are true as well as words. Anyone who habitually performs the actions that can be described as true comes to the light. The deeds of such a person are not those that must be reproved. They are “done in God.”

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