Reintroducing John 3:16

February 13, 2019 at 5:02 pm | Posted in John, Salvation | 3 Comments
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For many years the Bible verse that has been generally considered the most popular, or at least most well-known, verse in the Bible is John 3:16. The danger for some of us when studying a very familiar verse is that we become inoculated through over-exposure and make the mistake of thinking we know everything we need to know about it already. Let me encourage you not to make that mistake with John 3:16. Sit down (with your spouse if you are married) and go through it word by word, slowly, considering the import of each word, and looking at the verses before and after it to better illuminate the context.

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.

John 3:16

I didn’t really need to print it here, did I? Most faithful Christians probably have it memorized. But let’s examine it closely. The first word, “for,” refers back to:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:14-15

Lest Verse 15 lead anyone to think that God the Father needed to be changed in His dispositional impassibility by God the Son from not loving us to loving us, the Holy Spirit had John make it clear that the Father’s love was the motivating cause of the plan of salvation.

“For God SO…” If you’ve been attending a Baptist or evangelical church for very long, you’ve probably seen the pantomime of a preacher stretching his arms wide to demonstrate a child’s expression of what it means to love someone SOOOOO much, but John 3:16 does not leave the question of “how much is so much?” open-ended. The word “that” is used to introduce the concept of: “THIS is how much the Father loved us.”

He loved us so much that He “GAVE.” This word, too, is worth closer inspection. God “gave” His Son in at least two respects: (1) In the Incarnation, the Father sent the Son from His Heavenly home to live in a world of sin, the effects of sin, and sinful rebels, and to experience, in His humanity, all the difficulties, pain, rejection, scorn, betrayal, sorrow, and human shortcomings and temptations known to mankind (but in response to which, He, unlike us, never sinned); (2) During His arrest and the events leading up to His death, the Father “gave” the Son into the hands of sinful men to be tortured and crucified, and to experience death as the substitutionary sacrifice for us.

This Son who came to live and die for His people was the Father’s “only begotten Son,” the Monogenes, His special and unique Son. He was the eternal Son of God, not “begotten” in the sense of having been born as touching His divinity, nor in the sense of His having been created (for He was not), but in an echo of the Old Testament type that we see in the episode of Abraham and Isaac.

And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. And the angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

Genesis 22:1-13 (emphasis added)

Isaac was not, strictly speaking, Abraham’s “only” son, yet He was the son of promise – the special and unique son promised to Abraham by God. Yet he was designated as a sacrifice to be offered to God, not because Isaac’s loss was something to be lightly borne by Abraham, but rather because he was so precious to Abraham. In John 3:16 we see the ultimate fulfillment of what had been played out and interrupted in Genesis 22, and we learn that God loved us wicked rebellious sinners SO much that He gave His absolute best, His most cherished, His most valuable, His eternally perfect Son for us.

Would you give up your life to save the life of a loved one? Perhaps you would. But would you give up the life of one of your beloved children to save the life of another loved one? I doubt it. What about to save a stranger? Even less likely. Now, what about sacrificing the life of your only, beloved child to save the life of your worst enemy? Unthinkable. The love of the Father for us is too great for us to fathom. It is in a whole different realm of love from anything we can comprehend.

“God so loved THE WORLD… that WHOSOEVER…”

Does this mean that Jesus’s death on the Cross – the gift of the Father – secures the salvation of every single person? A consistent universalist would answer “yes.” He would say that Hitler and Osama Bin Laden, along with everyone else who has ever lived, will one day be in Heaven holding your hands and singing “Kumbaya.” However, this is incorrect, because the “whosoever” in John 3:16 is inextricably linked to the next word: “believeth,” and likewise to “in Him,” meaning Jesus, the Savior. The “world” that is so loved by God includes both Jews and gentiles, which would have been a radically different concept for the vast majority of those who heard Jesus’s teaching for the first time. The “world” in John 3:16 also means that all people are in fact “loved” by God in a general way, but not that God loves the world’s fallen, sin-controlled “system” that the words “the world” often describe in the Epistles. Not everyone in “the world” experiences the same benefits of God’s love that those who believe on Jesus Christ unto eternal salvation experience. The bronze serpent referenced in John 3:14 was lovingly lifted up by Moses for all to see, but only those to whom God granted faith looked and lived.

As you read this you might be wondering, “Am I a John 3:16 ‘whosoever’ or not? How can I tell?” You can settle this by looking to Jesus in faith right now, believing His Gospel. LOOK and SEE. If you will not look, see, and believe, you cannot be a John 3:16 “whosoever.” And there is only one other default position. If you will not be a John 3:16 “whosoever,” you must be a Revelation 20:15 “whosoever.”

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:15

“Perish” is what it’s called in John 3:16, but do not imagine it as some peaceful extinguishment. It is not a blinking-out into oblivion. It is eternal death and destruction, never-ending, conscious, excruciating pain, darkness, and torment, as opposed to present tense eternal “have everlasting life.” Everlasting life is the opposite of perishing: light instead of darkness, joy instead of pain, peace instead of torment. I beg you to trust Jesus this very moment.

Catechism Question 20

April 1, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Posted in Children's Bible Catechism, II Corinthians | 1 Comment
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Question 14: What has God done for you so you can have eternal life?
Answer: He sent his Son.
Prove it.
John 3:16

Question 15: What did Jesus do while He was here on earth?
Answer: He lived a perfect, sinless life.
Prove it.
John 8:29

Question 16: How was Jesus treated here on earth?
Answer: He was hated, rejected, and falsely accused.
Prove it.
Isaiah 53:3

Question 17: How did Jesus die?
Answer: He was crucified.
Prove it.
John 19:18

Question 18: What happened to Jesus after He died?
Answer: He was buried and then rose again on the third day.
Prove it.
Acts 10:40

Question 19: Where is Jesus now?
Answer: He is in Heaven with God the Father.
Prove it.
Hebrews 10:12

Question 20: Why did Jesus do these things?
Answer: So God can forgive me for my sins.
Prove it.

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

II Corinthians 5:21

The motivation for Christ’s willingness to pay the price of forgiveness for the sins of His people has been touched on previously in John 3:16, which was the proof of the answer to Question 14. A child is more likely to identify with the simple, albeit amazing, truth that God loved us enough to send His Son to die in our place, and that the Son loved us enough to do so.

However, depending upon the age and comprehension of your child, you may also want to discuss the facets of the doctrine of justification which deal with the sinless sacrifice of the second person of the Deity Himself as the only means by which God could satisfy His justice, while still showing off His miraculous love, amazing grace, unending mercy, and glorious holiness.

In another, more limited, sense, God accomplished the salvation of His people in the Cross of Christ in order to fulfill His prophecies and to show His faithfulness and sovereignty and power by keeping His Word.

Other verses to consider:

To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

Acts 10:43

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Isaiah 1:18

Preaching and Praying in Prosperity and Predicaments

April 11, 2012 at 11:32 am | Posted in Selected Psalms | 4 Comments
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John 3:16 and Psalm 23 may be the most well-known passages of Scripture in the Bible. Even non-Christians are usually at least a little familiar with these verses. At most major sporting events, the reference of John 3:16, if not the actual text, can be seen on a sign or banner. Seldom do we see a movie or TV program depict a funeral without someone reading from Psalm 23. However, I wanted to point out just a couple of lessons from this Psalm that you might not have heard mentioned before.

First, notice the change in narrative mode. What I mean is, the first three verses of the Psalm are in “first person.” They are declarative statements about the Lord, and they sound very personal to the psalmist.

[A Psalm of David.] The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

We read, “I,” “me,” “my,” and “He.” These statements are from the point of view of the psalmist, and seem to be spoken to us. But, suddenly, in Verse 4, there is a change. The psalmist begins to address the Lord directly.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Psalm 23:4-5

Why the change? Why go from talking about the Lord to talking to the Lord? Perhaps this is a reflection of the change in scenery. In the first three verses the psalmist does not lack anything good. He has green pastures, still waters, a restored soul. We tend to talk about the Lord when things are going great. Sometimes, though, it takes a valley of shadowy death to make us talk to Him.

In church, we spend most of our time talking about God. We need to always try to remember to take some time in church, though, to talk to Him in prayer. One day born-again Christians will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. In the meantime, we meet at His house in an assembled congregation at periodic times to worship Him, and to not only talk about, but to actually thank Him personally for, His goodness and mercy.

One Year Athe-versary

January 5, 2010 at 11:17 am | Posted in ProfessingAtheists | 1 Comment
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This post is a couple of days late, but, in celebration of the one year anniversary of this blog (which actually started on January 3, 2009), I have decided to re-post the post which has been by far my most-read post. It is one in a series of posts which make up an ongoing dialogue between a Christian and a professing atheist.

Professing Atheists Worship Creation Rather Than the Creator

Professing Atheist: I would challenge any Christian to step out side of the Christian “box” and just for a moment consider the vast scientific evidence regarding the origins of the universe and of life.

Christian: Since you have brought up scientific evidence, this may be helpful: Little children, in elementary school, are commonly taught the “scientific method.” I know it’s more complicated than this, but, basically it boils down to teaching them to take matter and examine its properties, and learn about it, using their natural senses. Touch it. Look at it. Smell it. Taste it. I’m not opposed to children being taught that way, but think of the spiritual implications. In Genesis Chap. 27, Isaac employed a form of the scientific method with Jacob. Jacob and Rebekah plotted to deceive Isaac into thinking that Jacob was Esau. Isaac touched him. He listened to him. He couldn’t see him but, no doubt, he smelled him. And he came to the wrong conclusion! It would have been better for Isaac just to believe God’s promise by faith, that Jacob, although the younger, and not Esau, was to receive the blessing.

Professing Atheist: Have you ever been in an aircraft? If so, the fact that you landed again is because a large number of scientists kept working and improving things until they got their sums right. Evidence matters. Planes fly, diseases are cured, water comes out when you turn the tap on, and you and I can argue in cyberspace like this. You benefit from real, evidence-based science as much as I do. It’s hypocritical of you to dismiss it.

Would you say that (for example) Iranians and pagan Vikings would be “without excuse” if they “failed to acknowledge” God?

Christian: Hypocrisy is being grateful for the benefits of evidence-based science while ignoring God, who created all the scientific laws that the aviators, doctors, and engineers have discovered (John 1:3). Every time your heart beats, it is not thanks to cardiology or cardiologists. It is thanks to God, Who has caused it to beat, by His sovereign power, your whole life. When you expel the next breath of air from your nostrils, you will have hope of another breath, not because a scientist discovered evidence of the air you breath, but because God provides it (Isaiah 2:22).

You can check this out by climbing up on a roof. Shake your fist, and cry out, “I don’t believe you exist, Gravity! You can’t be real! If you were real, you would not have held all those Norsemen and Iranians down! You would have let them float away in true freedom! Therefore, I defy, O Gravity, that you exist!” Then, leap off the roof. (By the way, I do not recommend that you really try this.) But if you did, you would see that, if you break God’s law of gravity, then God’s law of gravity will break you – literally. It’s the same way with God’s Biblical laws. You can break them if you want. But, if you do, they will break you (Galatians 6:7)

Professing Atheist: Well, I have other, more worthwhile calls on my time, but the Devil can quote scripture, as they say, so here I go. You will be as familiar with John 3:16 as I am, or as any of those people who hold up placards at wrestling matches. You would, I feel sure, assert that God’s purpose to all humanity, in sending his Son to die for us, is loving and merciful. Tell me, what do you believe that loving and merciful God, and gentle Jesus, meek and mild, have in store for these billions of people, all ignorant, in my humble opinion, through no fault of their own?

Christian: When considering the decision to accept, or willfully reject, the truth of the existence of God, it is irrelevant what anyone “thinks” would produce results, or what anyone’s humble “opinion” is – apart from Scripture.

I hope that the more worthwhile calls on your time do not include actually going to the wrestling matches where the John 3:16 placards are held. You are coming to that verse in isolation, not taking into account the entirety of Scripture. These Iranians and Vikings you mention – just like me, and just like you, and just like everyone else – are wicked sinners, who deserve God’s judgment (Romans 3:10; 3:23). Because He is loving and merciful, He sent His Son to die. Because He is just, righteous, true, and holy, He must judge those Who reject His Son.

(The other posts in the series – which received some attention, but were not nearly as popular as the one posted above – can be viewed here:)

Atheists Aren’t Real
Professing Atheists Are in Denial
Professing Atheists Are Disturbed by the Truth
Professing Atheists Fear the Bible
Professing Atheists Try To Allay Their Fears
Professing Atheists Understand More of the Bible Than They Want To Admit
Professing Atheists Are Incapable of Being “Good”
Professing Atheists Conveniently Pick and Choose Their Own “Morality”
Professing Atheists Do Have Faith
Professing Atheists Are Affected by Their Past
Professing Atheists Are Angry at God
Professing Atheists Pretend They Would Like God If He Could Be Controlled
Professing Atheists Despise the Idea of Answering To Their Creator
Professing Atheists Are Blind to Their Own Lack of Objectivity
Acting Like We’ve Been There

Professing Atheists Worship Creation Rather than the Creator

April 2, 2009 at 8:14 am | Posted in ProfessingAtheists | 24 Comments
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Professing Atheist: I would challenge any Christian to step out side of the Christian “box” and just for a moment consider the vast scientific evidence regarding the origins of the universe and of life.

Christian: Since you have brought up scientific evidence, this may be helpful: Little children, in elementary school, are commonly taught the “scientific method.” I know it’s more complicated than this, but, basically it boils down to teaching them to take matter and examine its properties, and learn about it, using their natural senses. Touch it. Look at it. Smell it. Taste it. I’m not opposed to children being taught that way, but think of the spiritual implications. In Genesis Chap. 27, Isaac employed a form of the scientific method with Jacob. Jacob and Rebekah plotted to deceive Isaac into thinking that Jacob was Esau. Isaac touched him. He listened to him. He couldn’t see him but, no doubt, he smelled him. And he came to the wrong conclusion! It would have been better for Isaac just to believe God’s promise by faith, that Jacob, although the younger, and not Esau, was to receive the blessing.

Professing Atheist: Have you ever been in an aircraft? If so, the fact that you landed again is because a large number of scientists kept working and improving things until they got their sums right. Evidence matters. Planes fly, diseases are cured, water comes out when you turn the tap on, and you and I can argue in cyberspace like this. You benefit from real, evidence-based science as much as I do. It’s hypocritical of you to dismiss it.

Would you say that (for example) Iranians and pagan Vikings would be “without excuse” if they “failed to acknowledge” God?

Christian: Hypocrisy is being grateful for the benefits of evidence-based science while ignoring God, who created all the scientific laws that the aviators, doctors, and engineers have discovered (John 1:3). Every time your heart beats, it is not thanks to cardiology or cardiologists. It is thanks to God, Who has caused it to beat, by His sovereign power, your whole life. When you expel the next breath of air from your nostrils, you will have hope of another breath, not because a scientist discovered evidence of the air you breath, but because God provides it (Isaiah 2:22).

You can check this out by climbing up on a roof. Shake your fist, and cry out, “I don’t believe you exist, Gravity! You can’t be real! If you were real, you would not have held all those Norsemen and Iranians down! You would have let them float away in true freedom! Therefore, I defy, O Gravity, that you exist!” Then, leap off the roof. (By the way, I do not recommend that you really try this.) But if you did, you would see that, if you break God’s law of gravity, then God’s law of gravity will break you – literally. It’s the same way with God’s Biblical laws. You can break them if you want. But, if you do, they will break you (Galatians 6:7).

Professing Atheist: Well, I have other, more worthwhile calls on my time, but the Devil can quote scripture, as they say, so here I go. You will be as familiar with John 3:16 as I am, or as any of those people who hold up placards at wrestling matches. You would, I feel sure, assert that God’s purpose to all humanity, in sending his Son to die for us, is loving and merciful. Tell me, what do you believe that loving and merciful God, and gentle Jesus, meek and mild, have in store for these billions of people, all ignorant, in my humble opinion, through no fault of their own?

Christian: When considering the decision to accept, or willfully reject, the truth of the existence of God, it is irrelevant what anyone “thinks” would produce results, or what anyone’s humble “opinion” is – apart from Scripture.

I hope that the more worthwhile calls on your time do not include actually going to the wrestling matches where the John 3:16 placards are held. You are coming to that verse in isolation, not taking into account the entirety of Scripture. These Iranians and Vikings you mention – just like me, and just like you, and just like everyone else – are wicked sinners, who deserve God’s judgment (Romans 3:10; 3:23). Because He is loving and merciful, He sent His Son to die. Because He is just, righteous, true, and holy, He must judge those Who reject His Son.


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