Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
April 16, 2017
"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, ESV
It has been written that the Gospel of John is a pool shallow enough for children to play and deep enough for elephants to swim. This is especially true of its most familiar verse. The reference alone is enough to conjure up the words from memory, whether you see “John 3:16” listed in a church bulletin, posted on a wall, or held up in a football stadium by some man with multi-colored hair.
You know John 3:16 by heart. But, does your heart truly know John 3:16? Has it properly passed through your mind and lodged permanently in your heart and evidenced itself in your will? Let me take a few moments to share with you exactly what this most familiar verse means, whether you are a young child or an old elephant. Then, let me suggest the only proper response, love.
BECAUSE HE LOVES US
Because He loves us, God gave His Son.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
— John 15:13, ESV
A soldier jumps on a live grenade because he loves. A mother dives to push her child out of the path of a runaway truck because she loves. God came down from Heaven, in the person of His Son Jesus Christ, and went to the cross, because He loves us.
We live in an ever-increasingly unloving world. Look at the way our political leaders (yes, leaders) treat one another. Look at the percentage of spouses who walk out on their mate, often their children, too. Look at crime statistics. It seems sometimes as if we live in a world where no one loves anyone anymore.
Actually, this may not be a sign of an unloving world, but a world in which most people love themselves, too much. When self love is all the love you have, people become dispensable and God remains invisible.
God could have abandoned such a people. Imagine a perfect planet without us, without sin, for God to enjoy. God does not need us, but God does love us. And because He loves us, He came to us, He lived among us, He died for us, because He loves us.
Because He loves us, God gave us faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
— Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV
One of the great misunderstandings about John 3:16 is the insertion of the words, “whosoever will.” A correct translation into English is admittedly be more cumbersome, “the one who has faith” or “the believing one” would be much more accurate. It is not a verb, an action, but it is a participle, a verbal noun, describing a certain kind of person, the kind God loves and gives faith.
From whence does saving faith come? It is like buying a treasure with money given to you by your father. I distinctly remember my first pair of baseball spikes. I wanted them, I went to the sporting goods store, I put the money on the counter and bought them. I brought them home, I wore them, they were mine. But it was my father who gave me the money in the first place.
To be loved by God unto salvation you must have faith in John 3:16, you must have faith in the gospel, you must have faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The faith is yours, you profess it for Christ, and Christ is yours. But where did the faith come from? It was a gift to you from God. Why did God give it to you? Because He loves you.
Because He loves us, God gave us a pardon.
Jesus … delivers us from the wrath to come.
— 1 Thessalonians 1:10, ESV
I remember a popular witnessing program that encouraged the participants to approach people with a prelude before giving the gospel, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” I appreciate this approach, it is wholesome and true. But it would be equally true to preface the gospel with this statement, “God is angry with you and has a terrible plan for your life.”
The gospel does not just give us the grace of life, it pardons us from a deserved death sentence, at the end of which we would experience the awful wrath of an angry God. Not since Jonathan Edwards has many sermons been preached on this subject, but the subject is part and parcel of, the dark side if you will, of John 3:16.
“Perish” means punitive destruction, a deserved death sentence. You may think you’ve done some bad things, but never murder. Who then is responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? Every sinner is guilty, including me, you, the whole congregation, and the whole world. Yet God visits this present world with the gospel, with faith, with a precious pardon. Why would God save us? Because He loves us.
Because He loves us, God gave us eternal life.
Love never ends …
— 1 Corinthians 13:8
The end of the matter of God’s love is that God’s love never ends. Accepting John 3:16, salvation by grace through faith, is not an end as some people testify saying, “I’ve done that, I’m okay, I’ve asked Jesus into my heart,” etc. Discovering and accepting the love of God is just the beginning, a beginning that never will end, even unto eternal life in Heaven with God, face to face.
The best gift a person can give is time (no, not a gold watch). God has made a plan for believers by which we will spend eternity with one another, celebrating and enjoying our salvation; and, seeing Him and spending time with Him, face to face, forever.
Why would God do such a thing? Because He loves. What are we to do? We are to love Him back. Now let us look at this verse again in the broader context of all of Scripture.
BECAUSE WE LOVE HIM
Because we love Him, we believe.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
— Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV
It is debatable what the first response to the gospel must be. Some say faith must unlock the door. Others suggest self-loathing or fear, perhaps conviction, the realization of one’s sinfulness. I believe it to be love.
The effectual hearing of the gospel is most like falling in love. The message, even a simple one like John 3:16, brings you into the presence of God and you are smitten. You do wonder how a glorious and gracious God could love such a sinner and doer of bad deeds. But the gospel convinces you of God’s love for you anyway, and you cannot help but love Him, and because we love Him, we believe.
The biblical word “believe” is badly interpreted in this modern age, which too simplistically equates belief with mental assent to certain facts. Here again the accurate translation is wordy, but worth the trouble. The word literally means “to trust completely and obey thoroughly.” This is how we feel about God, about the Lord Jesus Christ, about the Holy Spirit when we fall in love with Him. Because we love Him, we trust Him completely and seek to obey Him thoroughly.
Because we love Him, we repent.
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
— Luke 13:5, ESV
John 3:16 contains a word for “believe,” but there is no mention of repentance. But remember, the meaning of a text in Holy Scripture is dependent upon the context of the verse, chapter, book, testament, and the whole Bible. Can a person be saved by believing without repenting? Jesus said, “No …” (see Luke 13:3-5).
Faith and repentance are not really two things, but two sides of the same thing. They are both gifts from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8-9, Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25, 2 Peter 1:1, etc.), they are both required for salvation, they are both evidence of salvation, and they are both motivated by love.
Faith is our belief and repentance is our behavior. We turn away from sin and selfishness and run to God, godly living, and the good of others. We do not do this out of fear, for if we believe and repent, there is no punishment (albeit there are always consequences). We repent, we live godly lives, because we love the God who saved us and set us apart for His service.
Because we love Him, we are baptized.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
— Romans 6:3-4, ESV
We love Jesus because He died on the cross and walked out of the tomb. Because we love Him, we do the same thing. In Scripture and church history, this is known as baptism. You do not have to be baptized to be saved, but if you are saved you have to be baptized.
Baptism is a humiliating public experience, much less but much like crucifixion. It is an affirmation and picture of John 3:16, of the gospel, of the death that leads to life, Christ’s and your own. It is an unashamed witness for Jesus. It is a statement of love.
Few people get married in secret. Lovers get married in public because they want everyone to know they are in love, that they are committed, for life. The gospel, beautifully symbolized by baptism, is love that leads to life.
Because we love Him, we join the church.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her …
— Ephesians 5:25, ESV
Acceptance of the gospel leads to baptism. Baptism leads to membership and participation in the church. Herein lies the hardest part of loving the Lord.
Since churches consist of people, problems abound. Leaders have to be chosen, rituals have to be agreed upon, finances have to be collected and expended, and every decade or so we have to decide upon the color of the carpet in the Sanctuary. Hell breaks loose.
We could say many things here, but we must remember that love is our theme. I do not take my place in the church because I love the institution, although there are many things to be loved. I do not take my place in the church because I love the members, although I do, even though some require much prayer and effort. I am in the church and will serve as a member of the church until I die because I love the Lord Jesus Christ, it is His church, warts and all, and if He gave Himself for her, so will I.
Because we love Him, we witness.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
— Romans 1:16, ESV
Have you ever spoken to someone else about your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, children or grandchildren? Have you ever shown pictures, told stories, bragged on their achievements? You are not ashamed of the, are you? Of course not. You cannot imagine why everyone does not share your opinion that this is the cutest, smartest, most talented person in the world! Why? Because you love them.
When we receive the gospel, God becomes our greatest love. It is not enough for us to love Him, we truly want others to love Him, too. We want this for the glory of God. We want this for the good, the salvation, of others. So we witness, even beg, with prayers and conversations, so others will come to Christ. We may even use John 3:16.
Because we love Him, we live with Him, now and forever.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
— 1 John 3:1-3, ESV
Who you love determines how you live. I live in a house, even a room, with my wife, because I love her. I prefer to live in close proximity to our children, even though vocations and various callings keep us apart. We love dogs, at least two, in a pet owner kind of way, so they have some room in our house, too.
Because we love God, we live with God. We do not tell Him we love Him as a youth and then live without Him for the rest of our lives. We do not come to His house once or twice a year and say we love Him. Besides, the house of God is not the church building, it is Christ and His church. The house of God is not our house, even though it is a parsonage, but God is the primary resident of our house. You are the house of God, if you are a child of God, if you love Him, believe in Him, repent to Him, are baptized for Him, belong to Him, tell others about Him, and live with Him, now and forever.
Everybody says they love God, but does that make it so? Everybody accepts John 3:16, but do they understand John 3:16? Everyone says, “Christ is risen,” but is He risen in you, indeed? The answer is yes, if you truly love Him. And remember if you do, it is because He first loved you.
“Oh, how I love Jesus … because He first loved me!”
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