John 3:16 is a familiar verse about salvation which most Christians often quote without considering what it really teaches about salvation. Of the doctrines that are important for us to master, salvation is one of the most important.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
So let us take a look at what the text actually teaches.
The Nature of God’s Love
In our text, God’s love is the ultimate cause of salvation. The love that motivated God to create us is also what motivated Him to save and restore us to a positive relationship with Him.
When man rebelled against God by choosing to willfully disobey Him, God was in no way morally obligated to save him, yet He did because of love. We must understand that God is not full of love, He is love. It is because of love that the Father gave His Son for the world.
“Realizing how much the Father loves the Son helps us understand His love for the world.”
Have you ever stopped to wonder why God would send His beloved Son, whom He loved infinitely and eternally, to die on the cross for us? Why would God even bother to save a world that rebelled against Him?
God’s love is the only explanation! God is love but He is also just. There was no way God would just let sin slide. No one and nothing else will be able to satisfy God’s justice but because God is love, He will not also let man suffer eternally in hell. God made a way for man to be reconciled back to Him because He is love.
But we will never truly understand the depths of God’s love for us and the world until we realize how much the Father loves the son. The mutual love between the Father and the Son is repeatedly emphasized in the gospel of John (John 3:35; John 10:17; John 14:31 & John 17: 24).
“The cross makes love believable.”
The love that John describes reveals an intimate relationship, an affection expressed in self-giving sacrifice. To save the world He loved, God was willing to endure the pain of losing His Son.
Parents and children who love each other can relate to John’s description of divine love, even though our love can never be a shadow of the mutual love between the Father and the Son. In the face of what God sacrificed, to doubt the love of God for us is unbelief that wounds His heart.
The Meaning of the World
The world is the object of salvation. God not only loved His obedient Son, but also the world that did not know Him and opposed Him. God’s love for the world is a constant reminder for us that He wants everyone to believe in Jesus and receive salvation (2 Peter 3:9).
However, there are different interpretations from Bible teachers, scholars and denominations as to who are embodied in the “world.” Some say that God’s special love only is for Israel and for the righteous.
But God loved everyone. There is no group of people or any individual beyond the pale of God’s love. Jesus shed His blood for all!
“Salvation is for whoever believes.”
However, just because God gave His Son for the world does not mean everyone is automatically saved; it means salvation was made available for anyone. The Bible emphasizes that God’s purpose in sending His Son was not to condemn the world because it was already condemned (John 3:17).
God sent His Son to save the world. Jesus became the sacrifice that appeased God’s anger for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2). Salvation is given freely for “whoever believes,” not just for the elect or the nation of Israel (Galatians 3:28).
“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9
How God Gave His Son
Man’s salvation is motivated by the love of God, but it was giving His Son that made it available. God did not simply say abstractly, “I love you.” He provided the ultimate demonstration of love by giving His own Son to die on the cross. This is how “God loved the world.”
It’s February, commonly called “love month.” It’s when everybody likes to speak of love. But love means different things to different people and often times; true love in the romantic sense turns out to be not so true after all.
“The best definition of love anytime, anywhere is still found in the Bible.”
If you’re looking for the best definition and illustration of love anytime, anywhere, it is found in the Bible. The greatest love story ever told is how God gave His only begotten Son to suffer and die on the cross in order to make salvation available to whoever believes.
Who is God’s only Begotten Son?
The term “one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV) was especially appropriate for a particularly beloved child, normally one’s only child. It’s important to note that this phrase is used to highlight Abraham’s obedience to God in his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac (Genesis 22:15-16).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1
John thinks of God’s Son in John 3:16 in terms of the eternal relationship that Jesus has with the Father. In his opening prologue (John 1:1), John emphasized that Jesus is God and yet distinct from the Father.
In other words, Jesus is God the Son, not the Father. Likewise, toward the end of John’s gospel, Thomas confesses Jesus as his Lord and his God (John 20:28).
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” – John 20:28
It is important to reiterate the point of “one and only Son” or “only begotten Son” in John 3:16. The one whom God gave was His “one and only Son.” John highlights the immeasurable love God had for the world in giving His beloved Son Jesus.
What Saving Faith Involves
Some are offering an appealing message that everyone will be saved. However, John 3:18 says that people stand under judgment until they put their trust in God’s only begotten Son.
Yes, God has provided the gift of salvation for all and it’s free, yet it does not mean that individual’s salvation is automatic. John 3:16 declares that people must still receive God’s gift; they must “believe” which means they must depend on the gift.
“A true, saving faith must persevere to the end.”
Another appealing idea is that if anyone believes at any moment, he will be saved whether or not he continues to believe in Jesus. But the present tense used for “believes” in the text (John 3:16) implies continuing faith. Faith must persevere to the end if it is true, saving faith.
In Whom Saving Faith Must Rest
Saving faith as described in John 3:16 is “believing in Him”– in Jesus as God’s Son and as God. Saving faith affirms more than Jesus as a mere prophet, miracle worker or God’s messenger.
Throughout the gospel, Jesus reveals His identity often in explicit “I am” statements (John 8:24, 58; John 10:11; John 15:1) and climaxes with Thomas’ recognition that Jesus is Lord and God (John 20:28).
“Saving faith has a specific content.”
Different New Testament passages talk about salvation in different ways but all of them share a common thread: we come to God only through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Jesus has already paid the price in full; now people must respond. No church or religion can save you, only Jesus Christ can.
What Eternal Life Means
Eternal life is given to “whoever believes.” But what is eternal life? Jesus talked with Nicodemus shortly before John 3:16 about new birth which is the beginning of a new life – eternal life. Romans 6:23 also promises eternal life in Christ Jesus as God’s gift.
Although eternal life is commonly perceived as the life of the coming world expected after the resurrection of the dead in the future, eternal life is a present tense possession (John 3:36). It’s not something that begins only when we get to heaven.
“Eternal life is knowing God.”
John 17:3 defines eternal life as “knowing God.” But the word “know” here is speaking of much more than intellectual knowledge. When Jesus said eternal life is “knowing God,” He was speaking of having an intimate, close, personal relationship with God.
“True eternal life begins with a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you have received forgiveness of your sins and received Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life but you’re just waiting to get to heaven to start living eternal life, then you’re missing the point of salvation.
If you have been saved by grace through your faith in the Lord Jesus (Ephesians 2:8), you have actually already begun eternal life. Live it to the full and experience the life of the coming age as you live in relationship with God and with fellow believers under the true and rightful Lord of humanity, our Creator and Savior Jesus Christ.
If you died today, would you go to heaven or hell? This is the most important question to which a person needs to know the answer. In the beginning, man was good. Man was created by God in His own image as the crowning work of His creation (Genesis 1:27).
But by his free choice, man sinned against God. And every person afterward inherited a nature and an environment inclined toward sin (Romans 3:23). How does God deal with sin?
Salvation is God’s way of forgiving sin and providing a means for man to receive eternal life now and in heaven. On the cross, Jesus Christ made the “once for all” sacrifice for man’s sin and its penalty. This salvation was and is offered to everyone on God’s own initiative, as an expression of His love for sinners.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” – John 1:12
Why not receive salvation today by believing in Jesus and putting your faith in what He has done for you on the cross of Calvary? You no longer have to rely on your good deeds to save you, but on the gift of eternal life that God is offering through Jesus Christ because of His great love.