But what does it really mean ?
Sporting events, concerts, bumper stickers, billboards, signs and posters. Most people have heard or seen this: John 3:16 - But what does it really mean? It is a reference to a verse in the Bible. It may actually be the most famous verse in the Bible. Many can quote it, most people have seen it written somewhere, but what is it all about? Why is it so famous? Is it important?
If I truly understand what it means and I respond to it, then my eternal future and salvation is secure in Heaven. However, if I don’t, then it’s nothing more than letters and numbers on a page. It has no value to me. But if I understand it, then it’s life altering. It’s radical, it can completely change everything. It will determine my eternal state. So let’s break it down. What does this really mean?
Let’s start with the verse. The words behind this reference come from the book of John, chapter 3, verse 16, in the Bible. In the verse, Jesus says these words:
John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Start with Love
Let’s start with the first few words of this verse. Notice, “God so loved the world”. The first thing we must all understand is that God, our creator, LOVES us. Think about that for a minute. The creator of the entire universe, He LOVES you. He loves you and He has a plan for your life. (Jer 29:11) You are valuable to Him, you matter to Him, and he created you for a purpose. (Is 43:7). You are not here by accident, despite what anyone may say. If you are on earth today, it’s because God wanted you here. If you are breathing today, it’s Gods breath is in your lungs. Our hearts are beating because He makes them beat. He made you, He LOVES you.
Notice the end of that phrase, “God so loved the world….”. Who does He love? The world. Who is the world? In this context, the meaning of this word is humanity. It’s all of us. It’s His creation. It’s not just the “good” people, or the ones who have it all together. It’s not one ethnic group, one nation, smart people, nice people etc. It’s everyone, its ALL people in all of this world. God created you, He loves all.
Gave His Son
What does it mean that God gave His Son? This is talking about Jesus, the one who actually spoke these words. Jesus is the Son of God, He is God in the flesh. He came down here to this earth for a specific purpose, to make the only way for us to get back to Heaven. What exactly did He do? The key to understanding this is the word: Gospel. For me to know what Jesus has done, I must understand the “Gospel”.
What is Gospel? Gospel means good news. However, if there is good news, then there must also be bad news. If not, then this would just be “news”. The truth is, I cannot appreciate this good news if I don’t fully understand the bad news. So lets fully understand the bad news first.
The Bad News
The bad news is this. Every single one of us was born with sin in our hearts. We all have a sin nature. This is because the very first humans on the earth were given the ability to choose for themselves. God didn’t create us to be robots. He gives every single one of us the ability to make choices. These first two humans were tempted and deceived and they chose sin. Therefore, every human born after them (that’s us) was born with sin in our hearts.
But what is the problem with sin? Ok, so we all have it, but why does it matter? The problem is our Creator is Holy and we cannot be in his presence until our sin is dealt with. Not only does our sin separate us from God, but it deserves punishment. Since God is Holy, He cannot just overlook it or let it go. It has to be dealt with. There has to be punishment for it. There must be a sacrifice. Now all of that is the bad news. But let’s move on to the GOOD NEWS.
The Good News
The Good News (Gospel) is this. God does not want to be separated from you. He doesn’t want to punish you. He loves you. Because He loves you so much, He created a RESCUE PLAN for our sin. That rescue plan is Jesus Christ. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, down here to this earth to take the sin punishment in our place. The punishment we all deserve, Jesus took that punishment when He died on the cross. We no longer have to take that punishment, Jesus has already paid the price. He traded places with us. It’s like He stepped in front of us and said “Father, I’ve got this. Don’t punish them, punish me instead.” And that’s what He did. When He died on that cross, He carried all of our sin down to the grave with Him. Three days later He rose from the grave, proving He was the Son of God, and confirming that our sin was now erased. He dealt with it. The door is now open for us to receive this free gift of Heaven, if we choose to accept it.
Now we are getting to the second part of this verse which is the critical piece that we need to understand. Jesus made the way for us. He has taken the punishment for our sins, he died in our place. Heaven is now our inheritance. BUT, we must choose to accept it. Please don’t miss that part. You have to do something here. Forgiveness, salvation, Heaven, these are free gifts that came from the cross. BUT, ONLY IF, you make the choice to receive them. That’s where the second part of John 3:16 comes in.
It’s a Choice
The second part of the verse says “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. “ First, notice the word ‘whoever’. Who is that referring to? It means everyone. All of us. No matter who you are or what you’ve done. ANY of us can receive eternal life, but don’t miss that condition in the verse. There is a condition. I can receive eternal life (which is Heaven), ONLY, if I “believe in him”. What does that mean? If I truly believe the Gospel message that we just mentioned.
However, we need to break down what “believe” really means here. It is more than just acknowledging something in my mind. What the word believe really means here is FAITH. Remember the Gospel? If I have FAITH in what Jesus Christ has already done for me (the Gospel) then that is how I get into Heaven. I’m saved by FAITH alone. (Eph 2:8) However, it is critical to understand what FAITH really is. It is more than just a belief. True faith, or saving faith, will always have an associated action. (James 2:14) I can tell you I believe something, but you will know if I really believe it based on my actions. There will always be a resulting action from a true faith. So when it comes to Faith in Christ, what is that action? It’s repentance. Without repentance, there is no true faith in Christ.
What is that?
What is repentance? Repentance is a change in my thinking. If I “repent” of something then I’m saying that I have changed my mind about that thing. So when it comes to repentance of sin, what I’m saying is that I use to be ok with these sins, but now that I have “repented” I am no longer ok with those things. This doesn’t mean that I’m just ‘working harder’ to change my behavior, it means I have been changed on the inside. True repentance comes from within my heart. It’s an internal change that happens inside me when I put my Faith in Jesus.
The key to Heaven (eternal life) is FAITH, true Faith, with the action of repentance. “Whosoever believes”, meaning, whoever has true Faith in Christ, has eternal life. When John originally wrote down these words of Jesus in John 3:16 he wrote them in Greek. They were later translated to English. It’s important to know that the Greek word for faith/believe (pisteuo) is in the present tense. Meaning, it’s continual. My faith must be “ongoing, continual, active”. I cannot just believe on Jesus one time and then move on with life as I always have. Putting my Faith in Jesus is actually the start of a new relationship. After repentance, the product of my Faith is a relationship. As we said earlier, true faith must have a resulting action. The next action from my Faith is an ACTIVE relationship with Jesus.
How do I have a relationship with anyone? First I have to meet someone. After that, I have to grow the relationship. As I grow the relationship, I begin to know that person. If I meet someone but I never get to know them then they are just an acquaintance. In a true relationship I KNOW that person. That person knows me. It’s the same with Jesus. I first MEET Him when I first put my Faith in Him. (Believe the Gospel) That’s only my introduction. Next, I have to be active in the relationship and get to KNOW Him. If I never move from “introduction” to “relationship” then I’m never going to know Jesus. Jesus makes it very clear in the Bible, I must KNOW Him. I must move from just “introduction” to “relationship”. Some of the strongest verses in the Bible are about “knowing” Jesus. (Matt 7:21-23, John 17:3, Matt 25:12, Luke 13:27, John 10:27) Jesus must be part of my day, everyday. It’s the only way I can know Him. Knowing Jesus is the result of an active, continual FAITH.
Think about this. What if I got married and after the wedding ceremony I said, “Ok, I’m so happy we got married, I’m now going to move to my own place by myself, do my own thing, live my own life and occasionally I’ll catch up with you to check in. Maybe we will get together once a week or if I need something”. That wouldn’t be a relationship at all. When I enter into a marriage relationship, I share my life with this person. I communicate with this person daily, I spend quality time with them, I make time for them, I sacrifice for the relationship, I truly KNOW this person. Why do I do this? Because I love this person. I want to do it.
It’s the same with Jesus Christ. When I truly put my Faith in Him, I am starting a brand-new relationship. After that, I must spend time with Him if I want to truly know Him. I cannot know Him if I don’t. He is a real person, He is alive and I must have an active relationship, daily. And the really awesome thing is He wants that. He WANTS the relationship. How much greater is the relationship if the other half is madly in love with you? That’s the kind of relationship we all want.
How do I grow it?
Just like any relationship, I must invest the time. If I don’t invest time in my spouse then the relationship will not grow. It’s the same with Jesus. All of us have time allocations in our day. We have certain times we wake up, eat, go to work, school, etc. We live each day on allocations of time. In my daily allocation of time, have I allocated time for Jesus? Does he get my leftover time (if I have any) or does He get the first allocation and the rest of my day comes after that? The key point is He must be part of my day, everyday. Would it be odd to wake up one day, go about my routine but never talk to my spouse? Sorry honey, I just didn’t have time to acknowledge you or talk to you today. It has to be a priority in my life.
I made the time, but now what?
Ok, so I’ve dedicated time, but what do I do during that time? The way any relationship grows is communication. I talk to another person and they talk back to me. I talk to Jesus through prayer. Sometimes we can make prayer complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.
When you are starting out, the key is just talking. Just talk to Jesus. Tell Him what is on your mind today. Just talk to Him like you would talk to a friend. If nothing else, there are always two things we can talk to Jesus about. First, we can thank Him for something. There are so many things all around us that we can be thankful for. Just tell Him. Second, none of us are perfect. We all have issues. Talk to Him about those things. “Jesus, I’m struggling with this today. I need help turning away from this….” “Forgive me for this, I want to change…”
Next, let Him talk back to you. There are many ways He can do this, but one sure way to hear Him is to open the Bible. Every time we read it, we are hearing his voice. Everything in the Bible is from Him. He inspired all those people to write what they wrote. It’s His words. So when I read it, I’m hearing his voice. Then, as you read it, talk back to Him. Lord, what does this mean? Lord, I like this thing I just read. Talk back. Thankfully, there are also “commentary” Bibles out there. These Bibles have “commentary” or teaching explanations of the verses you are reading. It’s a good way to grow in reading the Bible.
There is another reason that the Bible is so critical. Remember Faith? Faith is the key to starting, and continuing in my relationship. I must be active and continual in my Faith. Rom 10:17 tells me that “Faith comes from hearing”. My Faith is built up and growing as I read the Bible. Unfortunately, we all have an enemy in this world. His goal is to “steal, kill, and destroy”. Steal, kill, and destroy what? My faith. You see, if my enemy can kill my faith then it negatively impacts my active relationship with Jesus. So I need to be continuously “hearing” the Word (The Bible) to keep my Faith strong.
The most important thing is to “begin” that relationship with Jesus. If we never meet Jesus then there will be no relationship. There is no life with Him. How did I get engaged to my spouse? I had to make a decision and then act on it. I had to go to her and tell her I love her. Then ask her to spend her life with me.
It’s the same with Jesus. You have to make a decision and act on it. You have to make the decision that you want to spend your life with Him. You have to make the decision that you believe His Gospel and then come to Him in FAITH, by prayer, and tell Him you want to know Him. Tell Him you want to join the family of God and be forgiven of your sins. It could be something like this. “Jesus, I believe you love me. I believe you have taken the punishment for my sins. Please forgive me for my sins. I want to know you. I want to spend my life with you. I love you.” Put it into your own words. Say it however you feel it in your heart. But you must say it! Speak it. Go to Him!
Friends, Jesus loves you. He wants you to know Him now, and live with Him forever. His invitation is for all people. He’s just waiting for you to accept it and receive his free gift of eternal life !