Originally published May 18, 2011. I’m republishing this since the topic came up due to yesterday’s post on the Top 5 Bible Verses of 2011. Please note Stan’s comments at the end of the post.
This is what I told my congregation on Sunday night. Not that I don’t love the verse. What I do not like is the abuse of the verse, as if the verse comes along in a vacuum without the preceding 15 verses or the following 4 verses. So many know this verse without accepting the context of the verse that it is actually abused and twisted to mean whatever we want it to mean.
- To the liberal, it expresses God’s love, therefore, there is no judgment or consequences to rejecting the Son. Since God so loved the world, He must love everyone equally and without exception. Never mind the fact that 2 verses later, Jesus tells us that to reject Christ stands condemned already.
- To the Armenian, it expresses their view of free will, and places salvation completely on us. In other words, our salvation is all up to us, our wills are free and all we have to do is exercise our wills in order to force God to save us. Never mind that this verse is in the context of being “born again,” which is something that we cannot bring about or make happen in and of ourselves.
- To the theologically dim, it’s the answer to every theological problem. Election? God so loved the world… Justification? God so loved the world… etc.
What this verse does cover is the gospel. It is simply a statement that God does indeed love what He created and provided the means for salvation to those whom He has chosen. This does not mean that all those who hear of God’s rich love do not have the responsibility to believe and be saved. They simply lack the ability. All of us lack the ability. This is why Jesus stresses the fact that we must be born again before He bring up the Father’s love. Being born again implies a work of God’s Spirit on and in us. Actually, it is more than implied: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
We do not control the Holy Spirit. He moves when and where and how He pleases and not at the beck and call of man (John 1:12-13). The point is that John 3:16 is not an open statement removing God’s hand in our salvation. It is confirming God’s hand. His Spirit MUST move in us, for us to be born again, so that we do believe and NOT perish.
Do I love John 3:16? Absolutely. It is a statement of God’s love for His people. But is it the end all and be all of our theology? In no way. Jesus gets onto Nicodemus for his limited capacity in understanding these truths, and He will do the same for us. We cannot just rest on John 3:16. We must understand John 1:1 through John 3:15, as well as John 3:17-John 21:25.
The following is the other problem I have with this. As Gunny once pointed out to me, that before he was a believer, he would see the sign of John 3:16 at a football game and thought they were calling a play. As believers, we are to preach the gospel, not sign it! Remember that the Apostle Paul labored to teach and preach the full counsel of God, not just John 3:16.
If you would like to listen to Sunday night’s sermon, go here.
Also, I wanted to pull Stan’s comment from the comments section and add it here:
I’m with you on the abuse of this verse … from Christians. Interestingly, they’re mistaken on the language. The word “so” in that verse is not a “so” of magnitude — “God loved the world so much” — but of type. It is not a quantity, but a quality. We use the word that way when we say, “You have to do this job just so.” Jesus said, “God loved the world in this manner …” In what manner did God love the world? He provided His Son for those who would believe. That falls far short of “God loves everybody so very much!” Indeed, it only says with certainty “God loves those who believe.”