“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.”
Do you recognize this verse? It’s John 3:16, the most-quoted verse in the Bible. People hold up signs with John 3:16 written on it at football games, baseball games, hockey games, all kinds of sporting events. Christian athletes write John 3:16 in black under their eyes so cameras will capture the image when their picture is taken. The verse has been translated into hundreds and hundreds of languages. It has been called “The Gospel in a Nutshell.” But what kind of Gospel is it?
The gospel most people know is – God Loves, God Gives, I Get. That’s what most people understand John 3:16 (and much of the New Testament) to mean. God is a loving God Who gives His Only Begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but “get” everlasting life. People love to get things and many believe they are entitled to get things from God. I call the “God Loves – God Gives – I Get” gospel the entitlement gospel. People believe God owes them, so they are entitled to get things from Him – health, wealth, better job, love, good favor, things, stuff, etc.
I have news for people who believe in an “entitlement gospel.” God does love them and does give to them, but His Love is not cheap. It’s free, but it’s not cheap. The Gift we receive from God came at a great cost – the Death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. People love to talk about God’s Love and Grace because it doesn’t cost them anything. They’ll quote the verses all day long – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Salvation is a gift – not of works, they say. True enough, but read the next verse – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Salvation is free so only God receives the glory (e.g. “lest anyone should boast”), but free salvation does not mean a free ride from here to Heaven. We are God’s “workmanship.” Do you know what that word means? We are God’s “product” (poinma – that which is made, produced). We are the work of His Hands – created in Christ Jesus “for good works” (ergois agathois – works and tasks that are good in character, beneficial in their effect), which He “prepared beforehand” (proetoimasen – to ordain before, make ready before) that we should “walk” (peripatesomen – order behavior, conduct ourselves) in them. God did not save us just so we would have eternal life. He saved us for His Eternal Purpose! His Purpose is that we love Him, worship Him, glorify Him, exalt Him, obey Him, and serve Him. That’s not a Gospel people hear much about today, but it is the Gospel according to the Apostle Paul.
John 3:16 should be a clue that there’s a John 3:15 and a John 3:14 and a John 3:13 and a John 3:1. In fact, there’s a John 1 and a John 2. Developing an “easy-believism” salvation theology from John 3:16 alone is a dangerous thing to do, but people do it all the time. They build a personal theology based on taking Bible verses out of context. People who love John 3:16 because they think they are entitled to get things from God need to find out what John wrote leading up to John 3:16. It’s not the entitlement gospel of “God Loves, God Gives, I Get.” It’s something quite different.
The context for John 3:16 begins with John 1:1, which happens to be the second most-quoted verse in the Bible – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Every correct theology begins with a correct view of the subject. The subject of the Gospel of John is Jesus Christ – Who is “The Word of God.” John writes plainly that Jesus is God. Let me say that again – “Jesus is God!” Look what else John wrote about Jesus: “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:2-3) Do you see what John is saying about Jesus? Jesus is the God of the Old Testament! The first verse in the Bible – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – is about Jesus. Jesus Created the heavens and the earth. Isn’t that what John wrote? “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” Yes! Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. And it gets even better.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
The God of the Old Testament “became flesh and dwelt among us.” That is amazing! The God Who Created the universe became flesh and dwelt among us. The God Who created the flesh of animals, and birds, and fish, became Flesh and lived among us. The God Who took the dust of the ground and formed it into the flesh of the first human being became Flesh and lived among us. The God Who saved Noah, his family and a representative number of animals, birds and creeping things from the world-wide Flood became Flesh and dwelt among us. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob became Flesh and dwelt among us. The God Who preserved His people in Egypt became Flesh and dwelt among us. The God Who brought His people out of bondage in Egypt became Flesh and dwelt among us. The God Who led the people of Israel through the wilderness in a Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of Cloud by night became Flesh and dwelt among us. The God Who led His people into the promised land and defeated all of the kings of Caanan became Flesh and dwelt among us. The God Who united His people under the great King David became Flesh and dwelt among us. The God of the great prophets of Israel became Flesh and dwelt among us. “… and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
What happened when God became Flesh. What did He say? What did He do? What does He want? Do you think that maybe, just maybe, if the God of the Old Testament became Flesh and dwelt among us that maybe, just maybe, we should pay attention to what He says? We’ll see in the next part of our study.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”