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).