Most people see those signs and just shrug their shoulders, but there’s a good reason Christians hold this verse up to the public. Let’s take a look.
“For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”Now let’s break it down:
- God-- This is YHWH we’re talking about, the God of Israel, not anyone or anything else.
- loved-- God reveals his character with an attribute few other “gods” even pretend to share, and to an extent none do.
- the world-- Some people claim God only loves his own, his followers, his chosen, but YHWH loves the whole world. That means you.
- he gave-- Love is God’s motivation to offer to the whole world a Gift. You can’t earn it or add to it or subtract from it, you just accept it or reject it.
- one and only Son-- Jesus, Immanuel, “God With Us”, is the One and Only, the Way and Truth and Life. There is none like him, no rivals, no other such God taking on human nature. He is The Gift!
- everyone-- Again, this means you, the whole world, can accept or reject the Gift, not just some privileged few.
- who believes-- Faith is how you accept the Gift. You don’t work for it, you just choose it, by trusting. To trust in this sense is to “put all your weight on it”, to burn all other bridges behind you.
- in Him-- Faith is worthless if it’s in the wrong thing or person. It must be “in HIM”, the Gift, the Jesus of the Bible. We identify him by his Name (Son of God), his miracles, his fulfillment of OT prophecies, his sacrifice for the world, his resurrection and promise to return and finish the prophecies. The “Jesus” of other religions is lacking in one or more of these essential qualities and is therefore an impostor.
- will not perish-- The Bible here speaks of “the second death”, eternal separation from God in a place of conscious, unrelenting torment. It is the “default” choice, the “wages earned” by sin. Accepting the Gift is how you escape this death.
- but have eternal life-- Almost everyone believes in some kind of eternal existence, but this speaks of the opposite of eternal torment. It means more than continuing to exist, but to spend that existence in heaven in the presence of the God who loves us. When you accept Jesus the Gift, you inherit eternal life with God.
Throughout church history it seems theologians have done their very best to complicate this simple truth, a concept simple enough for a child to grasp. The Pharisees had been at that game for a long time, so it’s no wonder Nicodemus needed to be “re-educated”. Likewise, today we have people steeped in seminary training who are literally unable to define what salvation is! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for continuing education, but we have to remember to “step back from the canvas” now and then to keep it all in perspective.
Anytime you get confused, just read John 3:16 and it’ll put you back into focus.