By W. Frank Walton
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, NKJV).
The beauty and heart of the gospel is expressed by few words in this “golden text of the Bible.” It captures the reality of God’s concern for the plight of the human condition, man’s greatest need, the divine solution to his dilemma, and his ultimate destiny.
1. “For God” – The Greatest Being. The eternal, infinite nature of God transcends time and the human ind. As far back as our minds can travel, He had already existed forever – “In the beginning, God. . . ” Who is He? “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). The self-existent One inhabits eternity; His mere existence is self-fulfilling and purposeful by contemplation of His own infinite, perfect being. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, holy, righteous, majestic and His ways past finding out.
The vast expanse of a marvelously designed universe declares the signature of the Almighty (Psa. 19:1). “Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; how faint a word we hear of Him! But His mighty thunder, who can understand?” (Job 26:14, NASB) There’s no analogy to completely reveal God, for He is unique and incomparable (Isa. 40:12-28). The secret things belong to Him, but He has revealed Himself in Scripture for us to know Him. Thoughts of Him are so vast that we’re lost in their immensity and drown in their infinity.
2. “So Loved” – The Greatest Measure. Of all the absolute attributes of God, His holiness, majesty, justice, and might, they are but rays of glory shining from His eternal essence – “for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). He perfectly defines love. Love must have an object, and the three eternal Persons in the Godhead shared this love from all eternity. It is a rational act of will springing from the inherent nature of Deity, not from the worthiness of the object so loved. Love, then, is as boundless as the sea. It governs and explains the ultimate aim of God’s actions.
God’s motivation toward people is love. Man was created as an object of God’s infinite love, to share in it and to freely choose to love Him in return.
3. “The World” – The Greatest Need. Man was the crowning act of creation. Made in God’s spiritual likeness, his forever living spirit could have fellowship with the Creator. Man was made by God’s will for His glory, manifesting His greatness (Rev. 4:11; Isa. 43:7). God set eternity in man’s heart (Eccl. 3:11). That’s why even the irreligious in great trauma cry out, “O my God!” Only God can satisfy man’s deeper yearnings. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). For man to work right, God must be the beginning point of life’s calculations.
Yet the world is teeming with a race of lost rebels who have turned their backs on God. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23; cf. 3:10-18). The wonder of the gospel is that God loved unlovely, ungodly sinners. The ugly world is rotting with sin, which is spiritual insanity and the cancer of the soul. Being lost means man has lost his well-being and purpose of existing; he’s in the wrong place. Being separated from God, righteous condemnation and spiritual death results. Satan enslaves man with gnawing lusts, fleeting pleasure and a futile, sorrowful existence. Man’s desperate plight is a source of great concern and grief to God. “I was crushed by their adulterous hearts which have departed from Me. . . ” (Ezek. 6:9; cf. Rom. 10:21). Yet God still loves all without distinction or exception.
4. “That He Gave” – The Greatest Act. “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” He won’t passively watch His offspring rush toward destruction. Before the foundation of the world, God had a plan of action to win back erring humanity if it should go awry (Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:20). God didn’t see man as the enemy but more like the victim of the enemy. His soul was worth salvaging from the ravages of sin.
Significantly, it’s not just that He so loved, but that He so loved that He gave or acted to reverse the tragic ruin of mankind. His plan and purpose can never be frustrated or stopped (Isa. 55:11).
5. “His Only Begotten Son” – The Greatest Gift. “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him” (1 Jn. 4:9). No sacrifice was too great to appeal to mankind of His unfathomable love. To solve man’s greatest problem, God gave the priceless gift of His Son, the dearest and best He had, to win back erring man.
Such costly love meant Jesus left the privileged glory of heaven’s exaltation. In self-abasing humility, He entered this world as a tiny infant, wrapped in strips of rags and laid upon a feed trough (Lk. 2:7). The world didn’t have room for a pregnant woman, so she had to give birth to the Savior of the world in a barn!
He grew up out of obscurity to become the focal point of human redemption. As “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (Jn. 14:6), He alone answers life’s greatest questions and shows us the way to the greatest quality of life known to man. By His agonizing death we see His personal love for each individual, both great and small (Rom. 5:8). When my life was endangered by damnation, He took my place, died at the right time, and paid the awful debt of sin I owed. We can look to the awesome cross as the irrevocable demonstration of God’s unfailing love. Only Jesus’ sacrifice could reconcile us to God.
6. “That Whoever Believes on Him” – The Greatest Commitment. All must decide, “What then shall I do with Jesus?” (Mt. 27:22) Hear His ultimatum: “For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). We’re either for Him or against Him; there’s no middle ground, neutrality, compromise or suspended judgments (Mt. 12:30). We must accept the resurrected and reigning Christ for all that He is and trust Him as absolute Lord of our lives. He purchased me with His blood when I was the Devil’s slave. Since I’m His property, I can’t do as I please but as He directs in every facet of life by His authoritative rule (Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Rom. 6:8-23).
Sadly, John 3:16 has been used to teach salvation by “faith only.” But notice this verse doesn’t specifically mention repentance, without which Jesus said I would perish (Lk. 13:3). Salvation never comes at the point of faith alone (Jas. 2:24). At the point of faith in Jesus, I’m not a child of God but only have the right to become one (Jn. 1:12). Significantly, “believes” (Gr. pisteuon) is a verb in the present tense. This shows continuous or linear action or a process presently taking place. Here are other examples of the present tense: he lives, breathes, sees, sleeps, thinks, walks, etc. So, we could substitute “walks by faith” or “lives by faith” for “believes” in John 3:16 and we’ll have the concept conveyed by the present tense.
Biblically, we can’t separate true faith and obedience (Rom. 1:5; Jn. 3:36, ASV). “Believes” stands for the total response of man to the conditions of grace. Baptism is a constituent element of saving faith (Col. 2:12), which is an act of faith to be washed in Christ’s blood (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5). Are you responding to Christ by “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26)?
7. “Should Not Perish” – The Greatest Deliverance. “Perish” doesn’t mean annihilation, but it’s losing all that makes life worthwhile. It’s the final destiny of many of eternal ruin and utter failure, forever separated from God who is life and joy (Mt. 25:46). For us to appreciate the deliverance of God, we must know the full extent of the wrath of God.
This unfortunate fate is called the second death, which is likened to being thrown into a lake burning with fire and brimstone (Rev. 20:10,14). Its fire is unquenchable and the worm undying, which illustratively refers to the worms outside of Jerusalem in the valley of Hinnom’s garbage dump that continuously fed upon decaying refuse and carcasses (Mk. 9:48). Hell’s torment is prepared for the Devil and his angels. It’s not a place prepared for man, because heaven is prepared for him. But hell is the just sentence of God’s judicial wrath. It’s eternal punishment because there’s nothing man can do in all eternity to atone for his sins. In hell, there’s unending wailing and gnashing of teeth, with no rest, no comfort and no end. How tragic because it doesn’t have to be! God wants all to know the truth and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4).
8. “But have Everlasting Life” – The Greatest Hope. Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. It’s the bargain of eternity. We possess eternal life now as a guarantee of a future promise, because we seek and hope for it (Rom. 2:7; Tit. 1:2). More than endless existence, we’ll share in the very life of the Eternal One forever by a new quality and dimension of spiritual life.
This life can be a fully rich one (Jn. 10:10), but the one to come will be infinitely better. Let’s think more of heaven and less of earth, for heaven is our home. No amount of suffering, pain or disappointment can tarnish its surpassing glory (Rom. 8:18). Have you really claimed the rich truth of the golden text of John 3:16?
Guardian of Truth XXX: 15, pp. 459-460
August 7, 1986