JOHN 3:16 Unpacked

Have you ever attended a sporting event or perhaps watched one on television and seen “JOHN 3:16” displayed on a stadium wall or a fan’s poster?   For millions of Christians this simple phrase identifies one of the most familiar Bible Scriptures.  So familiar, in fact, that we can easily take for granted the profound message contained in this passage.

In welcoming this New Year I’d like to offer a different perspective…an unpacking of John 3:16.  Because closer reading reveals the full Gospel of Jesus Christ contained in this one short verse, I will even be so bold as to challenge you to memorize it.

God… the greatest Lover

so loved…the greatest degree

the world…the greatest population

that He gave…the greatest act

His Only Begotten Son…the greatest Gift

that whosoever…the greatest invitation

believes…the greatest simplicity

in Him…the greatest attraction

shall not perish…the greatest promise

but…the greatest difference

have…the greatest assurance

everlasting Life…the greatest inheritance.

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23 responses to “JOHN 3:16 Unpacked

  1. Happy New Year, Di…With Love from your greatest fan.

  2. Hey Di! Because I know your heart pretty well, I certainly don’t question your devotion to Christ. BUT… I certainly want to caution against any message that puts forth that leads folks to believe a confession or profession of belief in Christ is all it takes to be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven by the Lord… lest we toss aside His commands of Matthew 25 or His woes/warnings of Matthew 23 or the simple yet humanly “impossible” narrow gate He commands us to enter in His sermon on the mount.. Matthew 5-7. And these are just the beginning and end of His expectations… there is MUCH in between… most notably all His commands that we MUST understand His full Gospel if we are truly born again… with an understanding that leads to the lifestyle He lived… not just with words, but in actions, and that certainly involves a TOTAL rejection of all worldly masters, other teachers, or other responsibilities that take precedent over His call to “sell everything” to follow Him. He only offers one narrow gate, and though the invitation is free (i.e. the salvation and forgiveness is free)… to be considered among the “born again”… the “elect”…. the “chosen”…. it will cost us our very lives. That is why He gave His life on the Cross… to show us the way to life eternal is to reject desires of the flesh (comfort, wealth, worldly security, personal or family goals, etc.)… “he who loses his life for My (Jesus’) sake will find it.” Aside from the verses I cited and the total message of the full Gospel (which despite the heaviness of some of these verses is indeed GOOD NEWS) I recommend all read today’s Utmost devotional by Oswald Chambers. (be sure to find January 10 in the book). Oswald is right, as all he does is agree with Jesus. All that said… you’re post is correct… but it’s only a fraction of the Gospel message, and the most abused fraction at that. There is no such thing as “once saved, always saved.” I love the brethren too much to let even one go on believing satan’s lies… and that is the most dangerous lie of them all.

  3. Wayne,
    I have learned much from your depth of Biblical knowledge over the past few years. I know you are a serious student of the Word as well as one of God’s chosen. I am always intrigued by your Holy Spirit guided insights. So I appreciate your comment as well as your expression of confidence in the heart that I demonstrate for our Lord.

    But I am curious about your bold statement “once saved, always saved” is a lie from satan. If salvation comes from Christ alone, indeed Christ alone has divine power to save, then who has the power to “unsave” that which Christ calls his own? Is this not what Jesus was referring to in John 10:27-30 when He stated “27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[a]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

    Eternal life does not begin in heaven when we die. It begins the moment of our conversion in Christ when we are crucified with Him and He takes up residence in us through the Person of the Holy Spirit. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” {Galatians 2:20}

    Luther wrote, “My life seems to be a mere animal life ‘in the flesh,’ but this is not my true life; it is but the mask of life under which lives another, namely, Christ, who is my true life.”

    When we are saved, True Life comes to live in us. Can True Life, eternal life end? How could sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd ever be lost? Scripture seems to clearly indicate no one…least of all a mere mortal…has the power to remove His sheep from his hand. Nor to take them out of the Father’s hand.

    Would that not seem to indicate “once saved, always saved”? What am I missing here?

  4. Hey Di… much love for you indeed! Yeah, I know, I basically touched the real third rail of modern Christendom, and though many like to leave this one in the category of “agree to disagree” the Lord has prompted me to never again stay silent on this issue, and even to put it forward as a word from Him for the sake of children and the lost. I wish this was just a matter of semantics or interpretation… or even of mere opinion. It would bode better for the masses if that were so. But Jesus was very clear on this matter, and every argument that has ever been presented to re-interpret Jesus’ clear assertions on this matter have simply been the product of poor semantics, mis-interpretation, and satan-provoked opinion. That said, the Lord has instructed me to leave the sifting to Him, so I struggle more to still my pen than to find ways to support my assertion above. But I will offer this… the verses and statements you cite above and could add are all correct, but only for those He has chosen from among the many that He has and will call. So through mistranslation and poor semantics Jesus’ clear message that no one can take His elect from His hand has been blurred over to somehow cover anyone who calls Him Lord. Yet all one has to do is read Matthew 7 and Matthew 24-25 to see that no amount of confessions or professions or super-spiritual acts “in His name” lead to “salvation.” It is no coincidence that His first full teaching discourse ended (as recoreded) in Matthew 7 and His last teaching discourse ended Matthew 25, and each details the variety of “believers”… those who know Him as “Lord”… and which among these who call Him Lord are actually “chosen” for life eternal with Him, and which have shirked their right to be among the chosen by refusing to do as He instructed, and therefore were cast into outer darkness… eternal fire with satan and the demons. What more can the Lord say than these? Yet He said much much more. Consider the parable of the four seeds. Each received Him to some degree, yet only the last group entered the Kingdom. Jesus repeatedly pointed out that the masses of those who follow Him and receive Him as Lord will fail to persevere, and in the end will be cast out for having practiced lawlessness… some for being false prophets, but most for simply refusing to obey His FULL GOSPEL. One would have to ignore the bulk of His Gospel to ever believe that a confession of faith or any other acts of Christian living could possibly do anything more than start them down the path toward the narrow gate. From there only He chooses who is the good and faithful servant deserving of life eternal with Him, and He repeatedly reminds us that this will be the smallest minority. See John 6 for the most profound foreshadowing of the weeding out He intends among those who follow Him… and this was an actual historic event. Meanwhile, His teachings and parables were even more profound in their discrimination against those who call Him “Lord, Lord” but do not do what He says. Those who hear His words and see His mighty works, but do not understand what He is truly saying, and instead opt for a feel-good gospel, where they are fed and tickled but never crucified. Through the apostle John He pointed out that “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12 emphasis added). So this doctrine of the “saved” (which by the way was not a milestone that Jesus ever set up, but rather a misuse of Paul’s use of the word to identify those who Have been crucified with Christ… those He prayed were in fact among the chosen, the “elect”) does far more harm than good, as it leads the “little ones” into a life where more sin is acceptable, and lukewarm devotion is equally okay. Whoever believe in Him SHOULD NOT perish, yet even a cursory reading of the Gospels (see Matthew 7 and 25) shows that this “should not perish” is certainly a conditional statement, and the conditions are His full Gospel, though Mt 7 & 25 are explicit cornerstones that anyone who truly wants to be chosen will stand firmly as the rock on which to build their “house.” Once saved always saved? Tell that to Jesus, Who He Himself said in Matthew 7: 21 that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Could there be a clearer statement that “once saved, always saved” is a lie? Di, thus sayeth the Lord. Why would any true disciple teach any doctrine that chips away at Jesus’ “all or nothing” approach? Consider His clear warning that only “the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22 and Matthew 24:13). Clearly, those who do not stand firm (persevere) till the end will not be saved, or else Jesus is a liar. And look closer at that verse as He spoke it in His end-times discourse of Matthew 24 & 25… isn’t it clear that this state of being “saved” comes at the point of final judgment, and not at the beginning of our belief in Him as Lord? So, if you have that understanding, then and only then can you argue that “once saved always saved” is a true doctrine… but only for those who have already passed from this life to the other side. Not even those who “prophesy in Jesus’ name and in Jesus’ name drive out demons and in Jesus’ name perform many miracles” are guaranteed to be among the “saved” as He defines the term (see Matthew 7:22-23). Then how does He define “saved”? Read His FULL GOSPEL and the answer will cry out from the very rocks beneath your feet. Jesus would define the “once saved always saved” doctrine as lawlessness… the lies of evildoers… the bait of satan. You know I could go on and on and on, but I must remember to let the Lord be the teacher, so I point only to Him. I would ask anyone who wants to continue teaching the “once saved always saved” doctrine to find words of Jesus to rebut these words (above) of Jesus. I cannot be done. At best, they will offer up mis-interpreted verses from the epistles or outdated verses from the OT. Jesus never contradicts Himself. Where there is confusion, there is satan, and I pray all who read this realize that I gave no opinion or interpretation… just the word of the Lord. I will add this though… anyone who claims to Love my God the way He has instructed me to Love Him would never diminish His Gospel or use words of other men, biblical or not, to diminish His Gospel. Jesus is God. His Word is final. Not Moses nor Solomon (an evil man, by the way) nor Malachi nor the clearly “saved’ Paul can offer a rebuttal that trumps the very words of the living God. Thus sayeth the Lord. Much love Di… much love. Please forgive the typos and lack of live links… I’m running to a meeting so I didn’t have time to read what I wrote, but I wanted to say this to you asap as I rose to find your response… be blessed Di… the truth will set us free!

  5. We must be careful not to play word games with the Gospel. If one goes to the Greek for an interpretation, the word “SHOULD” not is more in line with an emphatic. It translates WILL not. We WILL NOT perish if we believe. Howeve, I am quick to agree with Wayne that there is much to the word believe. Again in the Greek this translates as much more than a cognitive assertion. It is an act of the will–in essence living a life that is consistant with conviction of the Truth of the Gospel of Christ, ie following every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. It’s worth noting that many will be surprised on the day of judgement. As Scripture indicates, “Many are called. Few are chosen.”

  6. See why I’m not a christian. You guys cant agree on anything. You dont know Jack. Atheism is much easier.

  7. Di,
    I did a Google search on “assurance of salvation” and, as you can probably imagine, there is a wealth of articles from respected sources with varying ideas. I inserted a few interesting ones below. The first, an article by Randy Alcorn, does a nice job of listing scriptures used by Arminians and by Calvinists to support their positions, but then concludes with a strong argument.

    http://www.new-testament-christian.com/lose-his-salvation.html Randy Alcorn
    http://www.eternallifeministries.org/assurance.htm
    http://bible.org/seriespage/assurance-salvation
    http://www.catholic.com/library/Assurance_of_Salvation.asp

  8. Hi Di,
    I can always count on your site to educate me. You have some of the most interesting friends commenting here. Thanks especially to Wayne for your passion that inspires me and to Mike for giving us tools for deeper study and learning. I’m seeking. This is really great.

  9. “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.” ~ Jesus

    It really doesn’t take a theologian to understand that one. Does it?

  10. I have a third view, having been a preacher’s kid.
    Anyone care to know what that might be?
    Or is this a “yes” or “no” thing as with so many Christian issues?
    If it is then I’ll just keep out of it and let you all argue eternally …

  11. A third view of the “third rail”

    (humor) I sin all I want to. How about you?

    I occasionally heard my father, a minister, mention this topic. We called it, “eternal security”. I have forgotten what his stance was on the topic which tells you how little it has weighed on my mind.

    I think our “Father who art in heaven” looks upon this discussion as a massive distraction. It is my opinion that God wants us to use our minds and the whole Bible in proper context, together with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to derive true intent: the mind of God. However, I also think that there is an entirely different dimension to this and that is one of emphasis.
    I believe the essential truths of Bible are to be understood by the common man, not just the seminarian or those who can afford to spend countless hours researching. What I am suggesting is simplification.
    2 Cor. 11:3 “ But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”

    I believe that God is less interested in our perfection and more interested in our direction.
    Are we headed in God’s direction? Then we are eternally secure. As a matter of fact Di mentioned several of the supporting scriptures to back this up.
    But if we are consistently, and defiantly stomping off in the opposite direction, then God says our relationship with Him is in jeopardy. Otherwise there would be no use for Rom. 6: 15, 16 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”
    Notice the first few words, “Shall we sin …?” . This implies that our free will certainly remains in tact. Nowhere does the Bible supplant our free will. This is an often overlooked boundary between God and His creation. He made us this way.
    Also notice the progressive form of the word, “leading to death” and “leading to righteousness” This indicates a undetermined time period.

    Now, having said all this, I could go on and on about it, but compared to the most important issues confronting the modern Christian, I believe we need to prioritize. I’ve heard it said that all the evil one needs to succeed is enough distractions to preoccupy us.
    When I read the simple message in this particular blog, I saw a beautiful yet simple messages using the words, one at a time, of John 3:16, no extraneous meaning.

    “Are we ‘in like flint’ once we come to Christ? The mere question reminds me of the little boy who is offered a cookie by a neighborhood mother and, instead of taking one, he grabs them all off the plate. John 3:16 offers us the most delicious eternal cookie. Is it our Christ-like nature or our carnal nature that prompts us to push the envelope asking, “How much can I get away with?”

  12. Paul, you essentially wrote that God doesn’t want us to be massively distracted by this arguement and then you wrote “Are we headed in God’s direction? Then we are eternally secure.” You’re participating in this distraction by telling us we can know if our eternal destiny is secure by looking at what direction we are going. Simon Peter was so back & forth as a follower of Jesus, a complete failure when it comes to being Spirit controlled he must be spinning in his grave or pacing back and forth still waiting to hear if he gets into heaven or not. Give me a break and pass the plate of cookies!

  13. Rhonda, what I’m essentially saying is that we are the ones posing the question, not God. The answer depends more on our action (direction) than God’s last word on the subject. I’m saying sometimes we ask questions that are for us not Him to answer. The Bible can be used selectively to “prove” nearly anything but it is not contradictory. Therefore, when it seems contradictory, I say go back and examine the question itself.

    I think the fact that Simon Peter was see-sawing was not Jesus’s problem it was Simon Peter’s problem.

    The very reason I delved into the question was to show that I think the Bible supports both interpretations. Believe me, I know what you’re saying and I didn’t even want to go that far except to illustrate the two sides.
    I say the question itself is flawed as written.

  14. Wayne, nice argument that we can only use the words of Jesus to find truth. I might have agreed with you except for one minor (?) detail: 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” II Peter 1:20 “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.”

    If it is true that ALL Scripture is given by God then the words of Peter, James, John, etc carry as much weight as words spoken directly from the mouth of Jesus for Christ’s words came from the Father and so, too, do the words of the prophets and disciples as recorded in Scripture. Books beyond the 1st 4 of the New Testament are not merely words that others say about Jesus, they are words spoken by GOD through others.

    I believe “ALL of Scripture is useful” means ALL. The WORD of God cannot diminish the Gospel of Christ. To assert such a thing is to advocate for some Truth to be lesser than other Truth. God’s words, whether spoken from the mouth of Christ or the pen of Paul, are ALL God’s Words.

    Aside from that, even if I did concede your conclusion that we can only rely on the words of Jesus for truth, it was the words of Jesus that proclaimed “My sheep know me and no one can pluck them out of my hand.”

    On a final note, I agree with you Wayne that “Jesus’ clear message that no one can take His elect from His hand has been blurred over to somehow cover anyone who calls Him Lord” and that is a gross falsehood. While I agree that there’s more to salvation than naming the name of Jesus, like some magic bullet, I would conclude–from the words of Jesus–that once you are truly saved, you cannot be plucked from his hand.

  15. Seems to me that one simple word—believe—triggered this onslaught of comments. What I’m surmising from this discussion is that there’s more to believing than merely believing. What I want to know is, is there a way to know if you are saved or not? Who wants to go through life wondering if my next slip up is the eternal kiss of death?

    • @ No cash value…I believe YOU CAN KNOW.

      Read all of 1 John.
      “This letter have I written to you so that you may KNOW you have eternal life. It is addressed to those who give their allegiance to the Son of God.” I John 5:13

      This epistle/letter is a microcosm of the book of John. The book of John says “believe”, the first epistle of John says “Know”…over 30 times in one little letter by Christ’s best friend.

      Chapters 1-3 of I John teach us how to know if we are LIVING like Christians. Chapters 4-5 teach us how to know if we are BELIEVING like Christians.

  16. Yo Jack, I suppose atheism is easier, at least until you die. Probably going to suck pretty bad then.

  17. To “no cash value”
    If you believe, then you know.
    Yes, it’s a circular explanation and no, I have no problem with that.

    Faith and trust are part of the deal. I can not explain all supernatural concepts with my own limited natural mind. Communing with God always requires faith.

  18. If anyone would like to read an exhaustive sermon on this subject of “The Agreement Of Salvation By Grace With Walking In Good Works” Delivered by
    the REV C H SPURGEON
    at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.
    Intended for Reading on Lord’s Day, June 28th, 1891.
    here is the link:

    http://www.apibs.org/chs/2210.htm

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