For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
This is perhaps the most well-known New Testament verse, not just by Christians, but by the entire secular world. Signs posted at sporting events display it in large print and it’s a starting point for evangelists to entice new believers.
However, its original use by John was as a logical conclusion for the faithful. It comes after he recounts a dialog between Jesus and the Pharisee Nicodemus. Nicodemus is interested in what Jesus has to say and Jesus responds in a half-teasing, half-taunting manner. The lesson: eternal life doesn’t come from being more religious or doing more good deeds. Eternal life is based on what Jesus did for us, not what we have done for him. In verses 3:14-15, Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Jesus is referring to an incident in Numbers where God sends poisonous snakes through grumbling, resentful Hebrews during their trek in the wilderness. Many Israelites die before God instructs Moses to lift a snake totem that all who look upon it will be healed and live. That’s hardly the sign of a God who loves us “so much.”
No, the “so” in 3:16 is more like a “likewise” or “in similar fashion.” Our only way out is through the sacrifice of Jesus. This is a problem God needed to figure out. He wanted us saved, so he created a solution—belief in Jesus. It’s as if love has nothing to do with it! But God does love us and through his grace, we are saved. As believers we can’t just accept the facts of what to believe, we must commit desperately to our only path of salvation. God will not force us to trust him. We may choose to accept or reject Jesus. Yet, he encourages us to accept his free offer of eternal life.
Lord, create in me a stronger belief. Let Jesus’s sacrifice and my salvation remain in my heart and let me accept the burden of genuine discipleship. Amen.