THE GIFT OF SALVATION
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 9, 2020
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 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. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
— John 3:16-21, ESV
O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a beautiful story of gift-giving love. It is about a young couple named James and Della who, like so many young married couples, are struggling financially. Christmas is coming and neither has the money to buy the other a gift. James’ most precious possession is a pocket watch he inherited from his father, which he secretly sells in order to buy an expensive set of combs for his wife’s beautiful long hair. Della’s hair is her most outstanding feature, admired and envied by other women. To buy her husband a gift, she has it cut and sold, then purchases a chain for his pocket watch. There they stand on Christmas Day, he with a chain but no watch, she with exquisite combs but no long hair. Yet they had something far greater: the gift of love — thoughtful, generous, and sacrificial love. But here is a greater gift-giving love:
The Gift of Salvation
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son …”
The greatest gift of all is the gift of salvation, given out of the greatest love of all, by the greatest person of all, namely God. It is all God's doing and it is a spectacularly trinitarian experience. It is God the Father who determines to give it, it is God the Son who pays the price for it, and it is God the Holy Spirit who brings it “from above,” as Jesus just explained to Nicodemus (ref. John 3:1-15).
The gift of salvation flows from the perfect love of God, according to John, who always chooses his words wisely. He writes agape rather than lesser Greek words for love. Like The Gift of the Magi, God’s loving gift is thoughtful, generous, and sacrificial. It reflects thoughtful planning (ref. Ephesians 1:4), generous provision (ref. Ephesians 2:8), and total sacrifice (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:21). Unlike The Gift of the Magi, God’s gift is provided to people who, at least at first, do not love God and have no plan to give God anything, but sin and grief (ref. Romans 3:10ff).
“The world” is seldom a flattering description of people in Holy Scripture (ref. 1 John 2:15-17). It generally denotes an entire human race in rebellion against the Creator. It describes all people who in their natural condition are lost, condemned, and “dead in trespasses and sins” (ref. Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God loves them anyway because as John later writes, “God is love” (ref. 1 John 4:8,16). Here Paul’s mystery becomes John’s kerygma, as the evangelist proclaims that God’s love is not just for rebellious Israel who failed Him in the Old Covenant, but for people in every nation who stand condemned already in this New Covenant text.
The love that gives salvation is a profound paradox. It is God who gives salvation, and He is the Whosoever Who wills to give it exclusively to His chosen children, born from above. Yet, in the immediate preaching of the gospel, God freely offers His grace to anyone from any nation who believes in the life, death, burial and resurrection of the one-of-a-kind Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. True belief connects you to the gift that pardons you, changes you, and stays with you forever.
The Gift of Justification
“ … that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 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.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of justification, by faith.
Nowhere in the Gospel of John can we read the word “faith,” yet the active form of the verb “believe” is used 100 times. Faith is the gift we receive from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1) that enables us to actively and willingly believe, and keep on believing, in the Lord Jesus Christ. A better translation of believe might be the title to the famous hymn, “Trust and Obey.” Born again people, born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit, believe the gospel, trust in Christ alone for salvation, and obey the word of the Lord (ref. John 3:36).
By faith, born again believers are justified (ref. Romans 5:1). Only a judge can justify, or declare righteous, not guilty, not condemned. God is the only Judge who ultimately matters. Justification is necessary because the world that God loves is guilty, totally condemned by the condition and manifestation of sin in each one of us. Faith, and faith alone, can justify and forgive us of all of our sins.
Consider the overall context of John’s Gospel and grasp the picture of the greatness of this gift. Christ did not come into a free world and put a fork in the road with a choice to believe or not believe in Him. Christ came into a condemned world, trapped in unbelief (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff), and planted a cross. It sends forth a gospel that engenders faith for salvation (ref. John 1:12). Justification by faith is not merely a choice you make, but mainly a gift God gives. And, the gift of justification is a gift that will keep on giving.
The Gift of Sanctification
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of sanctification, by word and Spirit.
The light that God graciously gives is the revelation of Himself. Light enables newborn believers to see in a spiritually dark world. We see Jesus Christ as Lord and God, while the remaining blind and condemned world does not. We see Jesus lifted up on the cross, providing a substitutionary atonement for sin, while the blind and condemned world does not. Saved people see things in light that the dark and sinful world does not see, and this light comes by the word of God and the Spirit of God.
Light is another of John’s favorite words and images. Revelation of God comes through the Holy Spirit of God and the holy word of God. The gospel and the word of God make sense to a newborn believer, although study and maturity are required to bring faith to fruition. Believers stay in the light of biblical spirituality and morality, embracing and trying to obey the commandments of God. When we err we confess it, when we sin we repent of it, for by the grace of God we love the light of God more than the darkness. This is the ongoing process called sanctification, which is happening in every true believer, and this too is a gift from God.
The opposite of the light of God is the darkness of doing your own thing. The world loves this darkness. They flee from the Bible and the church lest the light of God expose their sin. God equates unbelief with evil, wickedness, and hatred, words we normally don’t use when speaking of the lost and unchurched. But John does, and those of whom he speaks deserve not our condemnation, for they are condemned already, but our prayers and patient witness, so that by grace through faith the light of God will shine on them before Judgment Day.
The Gift of Glorification
“But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The gift of salvation is the gift of glorification, life with God for eternity.
A great and terrible day is coming, when the text we are talking about today will divide all of humanity into two groups. The born again, believing, justified, sanctified, will be glorified before the Judgment Seat of Christ (ref. Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10), where the light will shine on our lives. Do not fear, child of God, for this light will show that your “works have been carried out in God,” in faith and in faithful service to Christ your King. Your reward will be greater than anything you could ever imagine on earth, for you will be in the new earth, and new heaven, forever, with the Lord Jesus Christ and all of your believing family and friends. You will “not perish but have eternal life,” and all of this is owed to the great grace of God.
The lost world will experience the horrific opposite before a great white throne of judgment (ref. 20:11). Remember, they are condemned already. No belief means no justification. No Spirit means no sanctification. No salvation means no glorification. There will be only condemnation, death, and darkness forever.
But while the light of the world is still in the world, let us come to the light. Come now, for God is thinking about you. Come now, for God is gracious towards you. Come now, for God has sacrificed for you. Come and give your life to the One who has given His life for you, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org