— By LOU TISCIONE
John 3:16 is now the second most-frequently quoted verse of the Bible. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The love of God is a pure love. Jesus said that it is for the whole world. God is holy therefore He never excuses evil. God does not affirm evil behavior. Yet, the Bible is clear. Love is an attribute of God. (1 John 4:8) The Apostle John defined God’s love. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
The Apostle John also recorded the night time conversation of Jesus and a man whose name was Nicodemus. It was in the context of this conversation that these famous words of Jesus were uttered. Jesus told Nicodemus that God was the initiator of divine love. He expressed His love by giving His only Son!
God’s actions are always purposed. His purpose is His glory. (Romans 11:36) So then God initiated His demonstration of love for His glory. That demonstration was His giving His only Son, Jesus, and it was ordained in eternity. He and His Son made an agreement, called a covenant. The Son agreed to give His life as a ransom for many. God’s love was ordained by Him in the Covenant of Redemption.
At just the “right” time, ordained by God, the Son took upon Himself human nature. The Son is fully God and fully man. As Adam, the first man, is the federal head of the human race. Jesus is the federal head of the church, the elect of God. What Adam failed to accomplish Jesus Christ did perfectly. He completed God’s plan of redemption. Jesus said, “It is finished.” (John 19:30)
Jesus told Nicodemus exactly what God’s love would accomplish. God’s demonstrated His love in sending Jesus Christ so that those who would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.
Here’s the problem. Men have been defining the extent of God’s love such that the meaning is distorted. Some suggest that God loves everyone unconditionally. The verse expressly opposes that idea. There are some who believe and others who will perish. God loves the entire world and everyone in it. But, He doesn’t love everyone the same. After all, Jesus said that some would perish. God’s condition for receiving eternal life is faith in Christ.
The first Chapter of John’s Gospel reveals the basis for God’s condition. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Whereas, John 3:16 does not identify those who would believe, John 1:12-13 does. Those who will believe are those who are “born of God.”
Nevertheless, Jesus said that God loved the world. The word translated “world” is the word from which we get cosmos, referring to the entire universe. Jesus declared that God’s love extended to the entirety of His creation. If not for the love of God, the world would not exist. This is called common grace. All of creation exists by God and for God. Therefore, Jesus told Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, that all that he saw exited because of God’s love.
John 3:16 also details the extent of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus died for His people, those who were chosen from the foundation of the earth. (Ephesians 1:4ff) So then, the truth revealed in Scripture concerning the atonement of Jesus Christ is that it is sufficient for all mankind but effective for the elect. That is there is no other sacrifice for sin. He is the once for all sacrifice. (Hebrews 10:12) Only Jesus’ sacrifice appeased the wrath of God. (1 John 2:2)
When I see signs and bumper stickers with John 3:16 written in bold type, I rejoice. I rejoice that God’s word is going forth. I rejoice that those whom God has chosen will believe and have eternal life. I celebrate the love of God and desire to obey Him for His glory.
Do you know the saving love of God?
Lou Tiscione is pastor of Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA).