“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” – John 3:16a
Ever feel unloved? Ever love someone only to have them betray your love? God knows a bit about love and what it truly means. God invented love. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Those are words with eternal weight. They are holy; they stand above all other words. These words are the best illustration of love that were ever spoken. If you want to know what love is, look at these words.
As a Bible teacher who teaches through the Bible all of God’s word is holy. But there are some passages, some verses that are particularly holy. Such is John 3:16. I’m tempted to look for a grandiose illustration or explanation of God’s love but the best description of God’s love is His inspired John 3:16. We simply can’t top these words of Jesus about the love of God. Thank You Lord for loving us so much!
God’s love explained. How could belief in Jesus save us? Jesus stated categorically that He must be lifted up. He stated that belief in Him is the determining factor between an eternal destiny of perishing or eternal life. In John 3:16 Jesus substantiates His statements with an explanation of why this is so. And in the process Jesus explains the nature and purpose of God’s love for the lost.
God’s love is explained in that He gave His only Son Jesus. The word “gave” (Greek didomi) means to give up. The grammar of this verb conveys the thought of something the Father did personally and decisively. God gave His only Son Jesus. I doubt we can ever fully comprehend the cost of our salvation to the Triune God. All we can say is that this giving is rooted in the Father’s love. God’s love is enveloped in His loving act of giving His most precious Son Jesus for us. Incredible.
God’s love is expensive. Salvation is offered to us as a free gift of God’s grace (e.g. Eph. 2:1-9). But free doesn’t mean cheap. Our salvation cost Jesus a death on the cross. Jesus paid our penalty for sin (e.g. 1 Peter 1:18-19). He became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). That’s hard to comprehend. And that’s why Paul prayed hopefully that we, “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which pas knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19). Let’s make that our prayer.
God’s love speaks of belief in a precious Person. Who is it that Jesus says a person must decide to believe in? Every person must decide whether or not they will believe in Jesus – “the only begotten Son.” The word “begotten” (Greek monogenes) speaks of a single one of a kind. You can only have one firstborn child. Jesus is uniquely the “begotten” Son of God. The emphasis is on Jesus uniqueness not that He is “begotten” or created as some cults say when they twist the scriptures. Jesus is unique; there is none like Him. The word holy means unique, special. Jesus is holy because He is unique and special.
God’s purpose in redemption is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). But there is a sense in which Jesus is uniquely Jesus and that we will not be able to be like Him. Jesus is God; Second Person of the Trinity. One of the prime thrusts and purposes of the gospel of John is to present to us the Person of Jesus. John’s inspired gospel speaks to us about who Jesus is. He is the “only begotten,” He is uniquely from God. Jesus is precious. He is God! Perishing eternally or experiencing eternal life is dependent on believing in the unique, holy, precious Person of Jesus.
God’s love is expansive. Note here the expansiveness, the broadness of this statement of God’s love by Jesus. Jesus used words like “whoever,” and “the world,” to express the scope of salvation. God has not created some destined for eternity in hell and some destined eternally for heaven. He has made it possible for all to spend eternity with Him. If a person spends eternity in hell perishing it will be because they chose to do so. God’s love is broad. God’s love is as broad as the outstretched arms of Jesus. With those outstretched arms Jesus is saying, “Come one, come all, come and be saved from your sin, come spend eternity with Me.” Have you received God’s loving salvation?
God’s love is effective. Maybe you feel unloved. Maybe you have loved someone only to have them betray your love. Maybe you’ve been scared deeply, hurt, or grieved. God’s love is the effective cure and solution to such need. Jesus is the solution to lovelessness. God knows a bit about love and what it truly means. God invented love. God defines love. He authored love. He is the Creator of love and the Source of love. He sustains and gives love power. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Those are holy words. These words stand above all other words. These words are the best illustration of love that were ever spoken. If you want to know what love is, look at these words.
God’s love in Christ is effective in providing a saving escape from a sentence of eternal perishing. God’s love is effective in Christ in providing a saving escape to eternal life with Him. Only God’s love in Christ provides the solution to the sin problem. Only God’s love in Christ can save us.
God’s love is eternal. These are words with eternal weight; God’s eternal nature is communicated here; our eternal destiny is addressed here. Here we see what Paul was talking about when he was inspired by God to reveal love is the greatest (1 Cor. 13:13). Jesus spoke the words of John 3:16. Remember that. Jesus Himself spoke these precious words. These words are simple, clear, succinct, but eternally profound. These words are from God’s heart and Jesus’ heart and conveyed by the heart of the Holy Spirit. These words reveal the eternal heart of God; a huge part of His nature. John 3:16 contains the heart and love of God. This is an incredible verse. It is the pinnacle of God’s message in so many ways.
God’s love impacts our eternal destiny. The profundity of Jesus’ words is seen in the two eternal destinies He mentions. Jesus speaks of those who will “perish” (Greek – apollymi). “Perish” can be defined with the words to destroy, to die, to lose, mar, perish, or ruin. This is not speaking of annihilation. Jesus is holding two options before us here. Each one is an eternal destiny. Each one expresses a permanent irreversible condition that hinges on a person’s decision. Perish here refers to the idea of eternal misery in hell. The misery is rooted in perpetual regret for all that has been lost and contemplated during a time that is forever.
The other option of eternal destiny mentioned by Jesus here is “eternal life.” “Everlasting life” (Greek zoen aionion) refers to life, vitality, fullness, blessedness without end. The idea is an eternity of God’s best and blessing. It represents all that is found in the life God provides. Eternal life is life with God and experiencing all the loving of God poured out on us. “’Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” (Isaiah 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9, 10). Look to God’s word for what eternal life will be like (e.g. Revelation 21-22).
It cannot be stated enough that these two options are presented to “whoever” (Greek pas). This word is broad and all encompassing. No matter what state you are in, good or bad, very good or very bad, these gospel words are presented to you. Jesus opens the gospel to all people. All people will be given the opportunity to make a decision in regard to the gospel presented in this verse.
These are the two options presented here by Jesus; perishing eternal death or eternal life. There is no in between or alternative. A person will either perish or experience eternal life. It is appointed for each person to die once and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27). At that judgment their eternal destiny based on their decision on John 3:16 will be determined.
God’s love calls for an eternally significant decision. What is the deciding factor that determines whether or not a person goes into an eternity characterized by the word “perished,” or “everlasting life”? The deciding factor that our eternal destiny hinges upon is “whosever believes in Him.” “Believes” (Greek – pisteuo) means to have faith in, trust in, to entrust yourself to, commit to. The grammar of this word (Present tense) denotes an ongoing continual action. It’s not just a onetime belief Jesus is speaking about here. Jesus is speaking about a life commitment.
What is it a person must decide about whether or not they will believe? Every person must decide whether or not they will believe that “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Breaking these words down and dissecting them leads us to see some ramifications and details associated with the belief involved in Jesus words. Believing in Jesus involves the following. A person must decide whether or not they will trust God’s word. They must decide whether or not they will accept God’s love. They must decide whether or not they will accept that God gave His only Son Jesus. Looking deeper this implies we must accept that the giving of Jesus was necessary and essential to our eternal destiny. It involves accepting that our sinful state was bad enough to warrant God giving His only Son Jesus to save us from perishing to eternal life. We must decide whether or not we will accept that belief in Jesus and Jesus alone is sufficient for us to be saved from condemnation and eternal perishing to eternal life. All of this and more is connected to Jesus words in John 3:16. Profound. Have you believed in Jesus? Do you believe in Jesus? Where do you stand on John 3:16?
John 3:16 is a revelation of God’s heart. At the heart of God’s gospel is His love. “Loved” (Greek agapao) means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, and to love dearly. In this context, applied to God, it refers to the selfless, self-sacrificing, Godly love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-8) of the Creator. If you want to know what agapao love is in its essence, look to God and the giving of His only Son Jesus on the cross. God demonstrates His love in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus (Romans 5:8). Agape love is love that gives all for the sake of another. It is the supreme love of God. This is the love that is poured into the heart of the Christian when regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). That’s incredible! It is the love that should compel and motivate the Christian in all they do (2 Cor. 5:14-16). That is right.
God’s love for us is real. It is undeserved by us. God’s love is a product of His grace. His love is unconditional. We only need receive it. We have a hard time perceiving or understanding it, but we don’t have to understand it, we only have to receive it. God’s love is a gift. I encourage you to meditate on John 3:16; just think about it. God’s love is amazing. God’s love is incredible. God’s love is unmatchable. God chooses to share such love with us and even pour it out into our heart by the Holy Spirit. The gospel is God’s gracious love manifest.
There’s an old classic hymn composed by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) entitled When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. Written in 1707, the hymn has stood the test of time. Any work that can maintain its relevance over the years like this hymn must be worth our consideration. It is a hymn that reveals what we should see of God’s love when we look at the cross of Jesus. This hymn has been called the greatest hymn in the English language.
Isaac Watts was an exceptional man. He learned Latin by the age of 5, Greek by age 9, French by age 11, and Hebrew by age 12. More importantly, this gifted intellect learned to love Jesus at an early age. He wrote When I Survey because he was grieved by the heartless worship he saw in English churches. Watts commented, ““The singing of God’s praise is the part of worship most closely related to heaven; but its performance among us is the worst on earth.” Sadly, the same can be said in many a church of our day.
By the end of his life Isaac Watt had written over 600 hymns. He is known historically as the “Father of English Hymnody.” If you want to be blessed, just do some research and take in hymns penned by this man of God. But the one that represents the pinnacle of his work is When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This hymn, written when Watts was 33, captures his heart of devotion for God. It is a tried and true favorite of many. It is the perfect hymn to worship the Lord with in light of John 3:16.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God; all the vain things that charm me most—I sacrifice them to His blood.
See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small: Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. 
Why not pause a moment and let John 3:16 sink deep into your heart. It’s averse so many have committed to memory. It is a verse we may know by memory but perhaps our familiarity with it has led to a neglect of appropriate loving appreciation to God for all it entails. Why not take a moment to worship Him now. Survey the wondrous cross and thank Him for His love.