Revisiting John 3:16

I decided to re-visit that classic verse John 3:16 as I believe this season is a fitting time for re-kindling the flame of devotion to God,

The verse says:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)
For most this sums up the heart of the Gospel. I agree. Although it is not as comprehensive, I believe that this is a good starting point if we are to speak about God and why it is of vital importance for everybody to take heed of the passage's message.

“For God...” Here we find a very profound truth – there is a God. I believe there is a very good reason why the passage begins with God, it echoes the profound truth that life (be it Christian or not) begins with God. Genesis says: ”in the beginning, God...”1 everything begins and ends with the reality of God who initiated everything, but at the same time in choose to reveal Himself to us. loved...” After speaking about the reality of God and His self-revelation we speak of the motivation of God's self-revelation of Himself –love. John the selfsame author of the Gospel also wrote that: “God is love”2 tells us that the Christian God not only revealed Himself but revealed the essence of His disclosure of His existence and will – that is love.

...the world...” Note here that as far as the passage goes there is a God and this God loves but that this God who loves directs His love at something or better yet someone. To speak of the God who is love is to speak of a God who has an object of affection –that is the world. The world which He created and sustains. Here the author of the Gospel used the word cosmos (κόσĩος) which can be looked at as the entire created order. The world which in the beginning He saw and praised as something that is: “good.”3 Thus the God who is, and the God who is love directs His love on His creation, the world, of which we are all a part of.

...that he gave....” Here we find that the God who loves the world which includes us manifests His love in an act of giving. God loved the us so much that He without being coaxed gave. Being God makes Him accountable to no one, being God gives Him the right to exercise freedom to choose not to give. But instead in love God chose to materialize His love in giving to His object of affection.

...his one and only Son...” The actualizing of God's love in giving shows us the extent of this love that He has for the world He created. He gave His one and only Son. Notice here the phrase one and only, does it not speak of the value of His Son. To give His Son is already in itself a profound expression of love but this love goes as far as to give His one and only Son-- as the King James Version beautifully puts it:” His only begotten Son4”.

God sent his Son in order to reveal Himself to us, showing us what He is like. The first chapter of John's Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God5. That this Son is: "the image of the invisible God"6. Thus to speak of God's one and only Son is to speak of God again self-revealing Himself in its ultimate expression Jesus Christ as the image this God who loves us. As John rightly puts it: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."7

Another interesting note is that to speak of God giving His one and Only Son is to speak of the truth that God gave his Son by giving Him up on the cross. Jesus Christ, God's Son bore our sins in His body on the cross8. God presented His Son as the the ultimate expression of His love: to die so that we may live. Jesus Christ's death is the price paid to free us from sin, Satan and death.

Thus to speak of the God who loves by giving His one and only Son is to speak of God as the Father did not spare his Son but gave Him up for us all9.

...that whoever believes in him...” As we speak of the God who loves by giving His most precious –His only Son. We find Him giving again for the second time. “That whoever believes” the phrase connotes that God again gives in His self-revelation. He gives us ---freedom! Freedom to choose to believe or not to believe. Thus to speak of the God of love is to speak also of the God who loves by giving freedom to His creation. It is no wonder that in the Gospel narrative it is there that Jesus summoned His first followers without coercion, He simply uttered the word “come.10

The profundity of this statement lies in the fact that when someone summons us that someone gives us the freedom of choice to choose to not to come or in this case to choose not to believe. Another interesting thing about this freedom is the fact that on our part to not choose God is not a lost at all to God. If we believe that this God who exist is capable of creating everything, sustaining everything and has the freedom and power over everything, what is it then for God if we choose not to believe in Him?

Therefore whoever who chooses to believe in Him are those who in their God-given freedom exercised this freedom to choose to receive that which God gives in love ---His one and only Son!

... shall not perish...” Here then is the consequence of exercising freedom to reject that which God gives us in love. The passage now points us to the two possible outcomes of responding to God's gift of love. That is ---to perish or not perish. To perish is the inevitable consequence of rejecting that which is being given. It is to not receive anything from the God who reaches out to us. To perish is to be separated from that which God gives to us His Son. To perish is to exist without God, to persist without His love. To live life without His Son. Therefore to perish is to be in an everlasting state of godforsakeness.

But the startling reality is that as far as this passage goes it tells us of the other consequence of our response to God: we shall not perish. Here we find that in so reaching out to us, God reveals to us a striking reality –on our own if in our life we have not yet responded in our freedom to believe in the God who loves us enough to give His Son, we are in our present state already godforsaken. To be in our present state of exercising our freedom to choose not to heed God's gift of love –we are already deemed to perish as we are now!

Thankfully, the passage tells us that God in His love summons us to an escape in this present state of God's absence in our individual realities.

...but have eternal life.” Here then lies the ultimate truth that tells us of the result of responding in freedom that God in His love freely gives us through His Son –eternal life.

To speak of eternal life means to speak of eternity, which is a place that exists beyond time. A reality that goes beyond what we can comprehend for being human means to be subject to the constraints of time, and beyond time exists eternity which is a perpetual reality where God exists from everlasting to everlasting.11

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Eternal life not only lasts forever; it is God's own life which he shares with us. To not perish is to spend eternity with God –that is to live a life upon which we share God's own life with us.

Eternal life here only makes sense if it is equated with us responding to God's love by believing His Son seriously enough that we would trust our lives to Him in order to fashion us and be with us in this life and the life everlasting to come.

Here now is where the challenge lies that is whether or not we are to take God's self-revelation in the Scriptures seriously enough that we would choose to appropriate God's self-giving act of love through His Son by believing –that is trusting His Son enough to respond by asking Him to have His life shared with us to reign over us and fashion our lives in the love of the God who self-revealed Himself in love.

  1. Genesis 1:1
  2. 1 John 4:10
  3. "And God saw that it was good” was God's repeating exclaim at the moment of creation as read in the creation narrative of Genesis chapter 1
  4. 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. (KJV)
  5. John 1:48-49
  6. Colossians 1:15
  7. John 1:18
  8. 1 Peter 1:24
  9. Romans 8:32
  10. Mark 1:7 is a very good example of this Jesus summoned the disciples to “Come, follow me...”
  11. Psalm 90:2

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