John 3:16 is a common reference in Internet Memes and Sporting events (though the latter will see a decline in today’s antichrist climate). It’s a wonderful verse; however, I find myself unwilling to limit the citation to the singular verse. I prefer to cite John 3:16-18 or more. Let us look at the verse and discuss the impact of the fuller context.
John 3:16-21 (ESV) | For God So Loved the World
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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
My favorite weekly segment at Wretched Radio with Todd Friel is Witness Wednesday. Todd does a great job of engaging young men and women on college campuses with Law and Gospel. A common response to the question of “do you think God will let you into heaven” goes along the lines of “I don’t think I’ve done anything too bad”. Many in the western culture who acknowledge there might be a God and that there might come a judgement once they’ve died have a picture of that judgement that they’ll somehow have an opportunity to make their case for admittance into heaven based on weighing the good they’ve done against the bad and most think they will come out positive in the end, if not at some sort of break-even. Sadly, many of these individuals consider themselves “Christian”. These are quick to cite John 3:16, some might even echo a colloquial version of 17 (Jesus didn’t come to judge but to save), but few have ever read verse 18. Verse 18 makes it clear, those who do not believe are condemned already. What does that mean? It means they are already guilty. Many who object to this truth of the Law (that we are already guilty) will make defenses that equate to “that’s not fair to judge me based on what I haven’t done”. They do not understand the nature of sin and the Law of God, nor of His Grace.
Genesis 2:15-17 (ESV)
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Satan tempted Eve and she ate, and Adam followed suit. When God sought them out, the investigation began (not for God’s sake, for He is all-knowing, but for the sake of His creation):
Genesis 3:8-13 (ESV)
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Each tried to assign fault with another, but confessed their action. They admitted the sin, but tried to assign blame elsewhere. We continue to do this to this day. God, in His Holy Justice and Grace, pronounces judgment.
Genesis 3:14-19 (ESV)
14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”
17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
Did Adam die in that day? Yes. However, by God’s Grace, man was given time. Adam would live to see his children, knowing they would die, knowing they would have to work the ground that is cursed by his sin. God also gave us a Promise, sometimes referred to as the protoevangelium, that He will crush the head of the serpent by the seed of woman. This points forward to Jesus, born of a virgin, son of the Living God, He who came to save the world by His substitutionary death on the cross.
In the case of mankind’s sin, the verdict is already in. Death is inescapable, the wages of sin is death. It has been appointed to every man to die once and then face judgement. You see, our temporal life is by the Grace of God, so that we might come to penitent faith in Jesus Christ who has already borne the full wrath of God against sin. We are born on death row…the delayed eternal punishment is by God’s Grace so that we might hear the Word of Christ and come to faith.
Romans 5:12-21 (ESV) | Death in Adam, Life in Christ
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV) | By Grace Through Faith
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
It is good to share John 3:16, for it is a central truth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but without the Law, the Gospel seeks to resolve a need that is not acknowledged by the unbelieving. I, for one, am leaning more and more toward John 3:18 as the lead-in, but I digress. Mankind needs to hear both Law and Gospel, for only by hearing the Word can anyone be granted faith by grace.
Romans 10:14-17 (ESV)
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
The world stands condemned already by their unbelief. Rather than seeking to sell them on “making a decision for Jesus” or even “asking Jesus into their hearts”… preach the Word of Christ. I like how the Apostle Paul addressed this in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 1:17-21 (ESV) | Christ the Wisdom & Power of God
17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
In Christ Jesus,