John 3:16 is one of the most beloved and well known Bible verses, but there’s more to it than you think.
He Loved the World
When Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16), He was not talking about the physical world, or the earth, moon, and stars. He was referring to those in the world who would believe in the only begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ. God did not love the world in the sense of the way the world presently is. Today, the world is hostile to God. They generally don’t care about the things of God. The Scriptures say, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Psalm 36:1; Rom 3:18), so Jesus was referring to the love that God has for the world…particularly, those who would trust in Christ. He loved this world so much that He gave Jesus Christ to redeem the world (Mark 10:45), but of course, not all the world will choose to be redeemed.
He Gave His Son
God gave His son as a propitiation, or satisfaction for the wrath of God that was due us. He was completely satisfied in Christ’s redemptive work; His sinless life; His perfect obedience to the Law; His taking upon Himself our sins; His death and resurrection; and Him being seated at the right hand of the Father. God demanded a perfect sacrifice for our sins, but God supplied what He demanded in Christ Jesus. What more could God give to redeem those who used to be ungodly, wicked enemies of His (Rom 5:6-10)?
There is no doubt that we are elected by God, or chosen from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1), but this does not exclude whomever may believe in Jesus Christ may be saved. The Apostle Paul never knew ahead of time who was and who wasn’t elected unto salvation (and neither do we!), so he said to the church at Rome (and to all who read), that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). Whoever chooses to believe in Him may do so! It is “with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom 10:10). All one has to do is to choose, because “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13).
The final portion of John 3:16 are where Jesus tells us “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What does that mean? Jesus clearly says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:25-26)? Ask yourself that question: Do you believe? I hope you do. If you do, then you will not perish, but receive eternal life in Christ. Jesus said we must repent and believe; that’s the gospel (Mark 1:16), so if there is no sign of repentance, then there may be a false conversion. John the Baptist understood enough about repentance to say that genuine repentance should “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:8). The Bible teaches that God Himself grants repentance (Acts 5:31, 11:18; 2 Tim 2:25), so there should be at least some visible signs of repentance. If there isn’t, that faith may dead, just as James wrote (James 2). Paul says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17)…and the “new” that has come should be obvious to all, especially to the believer. If not, it’s time to examine oneself to ensure one is soundly saved (2 Cor 13:5; 2 Pet 1:10-11). You certainly don’t want to “fail to meet the test” (2 Cor 13:5c). The best way to do that is to “be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet 1:10).
Let Him In
Something about this church tells us that Jesus is not really within her midst. The Lord says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). There may not even be a door handle that allows Him into the church, being they’re so lukewarm, so there He is; standing, waiting, knocking, in the hopes that they will let Him in. If He was outside knocking on the door, then He obviously wasn’t inside this church, but there again we still have hope as they can still “be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19b), but He expressly says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21). Who it is that conquers or overcomes? The Apostle John writes, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5), so “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
In summary, we know that God loved the world long before it was created. He loved it so much that He foreordained Jesus to be slain, even before the foundation or creation of the earth (Rev 5:9, 12, 13:8). That is powerful evidence of God’s love for the world; not the ways of the world, but the people of the world who would trust in Christ. God didn’t save us to put us on a shelf or to bunker down in a monastery until Jesus returns. He commands us to make disciples and go wherever we can go. We’re commanded to teach them the same things that Jesus taught His own disciples (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8)! God gave…and now we should give; of our time, talents, and treasures. Since “Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), we are now “ambassadors for Christ…God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). The one and only way to be reconciled back to God is through Jesus Christ (John 6:44, 14:6; Acts 4:12), and once reconciled to God, we are to strive to have others be reconciled to God through Christ. Ambassadors represent their country, either in a good way or a bad way, but they represent the kingdom from which they are from.
If God had not sent His Son into the world, we would all be without hope, but we can thank God that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). That should be our mission too. Not to condemn but to be used by God to share Christ. If God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn the world, then neither should we condemn the world. If God sent His Son into the world to save the world through Him, then we should tell others about that! We should agree with John 3:17, but with the understanding that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). And just to clarify Jesus’ previous statement, He lays it out so clearly that anyone can understand, saying, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). Whoever believes can be saved, but whoever rejects Him, will have God’s wrath abiding on them…for all time (Rev 20:12-15). You must either trust in Jesus and He will pay for your sins; or reject Him, and pay for them yourself, but that payment will never be paid in full (Rev 21:8), because only Jesus satisfies the Father.