Friday, May 13, 2011

That Most Needful Thing (John 3) Part 4 of 5

3:16-17 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

For God so loved the world. There is the unfortunate penchant in Scripture to sometimes read into God’s word what we want it to say. Everyone who ever approached Scripture to understand it more clearly is guilty of this; some are far guiltier than others. I think that is in part why Paul wrote that the mature should strive to be of the same mind; both among themselves and with Christ. Anyone who lacked this maturity and thought otherwise would receive clarity from the Lord, Philippians 3:15.

I say this in regard to these verses especially. The context of these verses has Jesus speaking in a private conversation with Nicodemus in an effort to impress spiritual truth on the man. The love God demonstrated in giving His Son, this love of the will (not of affection), was toward the whole world. The word “world” is used four times in two verses. It is unlikely Nicodemus understood the word to mean anything other than its broadest use: the whole world and all men on it. This was astonishing truth to a Jew, one of the people of God whose nation was steeped in a history with Jehovah that no other nation on earth could presently boast of. Jesus punctuates His call of salvation with “whosoever” to clarify in the case that we misunderstood what He meant when He offered salvation to the world.

The salvation Jesus offers is presented in both the negative and positive. First, the one who believes in Him will not perish. What does this mean? We know what it means when someone perishes. They die. To die is to suffer an ending of any further usefulness; any good you may have done, any help, and charity, is finished. Death is not the annihilation of consciousness, but the ruin of what that consciousness was intended for. We have broken down at last, as it were. A car that is in poor shape will run for a time, but eventually, if not cared for and kept in excellent repair, it will suffer breakdown. The car has died; it no longer has the opportunity to fulfill the purpose it was created for. So too with you and I. But if we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ He has given a guarantee that we will not die, we will not perish. We have now realized the purpose of our being: adoption and sonship to God. We were made to house God, to be vessels of His Spirit, temples in which He manifests Himself. Like the body needs food to remain healthy as we derive nutrition from it, the soul needs God’s presence in us to maintain our life. Rebirth or justification begins this life. Sanctification or walking by faith matures us. Glorification by death or Rapture perfects the life. In the end we shall possess a Christ-likeness that mirrors and reflects His glory forever.

Our identity does remain intact; in fact, our identity is clearer after we are saved. It is like a block of uncut stone. God is the sculptor, chiseling us into the unique personality that will best glorify His Son that He created us to be. You might say the rough stone is sin, and until the sculptor’s hand is laid to work sin entirely covers us; we are yet in our sins. God liberates a believer to a freedom of individuality an unbeliever will never know.

Second, we shall have eternal life. The physical life of man is fleeting as any graveyard can tell you. Even the ancient patriarchs that lived 900+ years eventually died as a result of sin’s curse in this universe. If we are only born once our fate is to suffer death forever. This is God’s judgment in its most appalling candor. When we believe on Jesus Christ we are regenerated. This means that new life enters us. Since it is the life of Christ that we receive, and Christ (since He is God) is eternal, our new state from the point of birth onward shall also last forever. When we are born we possess the image of the man of dust, Adam. This is what Scripture declares, 1st Corinthians 15:48. Adam was cursed with death, and has since passed on his sin nature to his offspring. We are sinners by birth and choice. When we are born again we take on the image of the heavenly Man, Christ Jesus. We become sons of God by this divine birth and inherit eternal life as a consequence. I would take a moment to note that when Jesus offers eternal life He offers it as a present possession. It is not a future state to look forward to; it is ours the instant we believe. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God,” 1st John 5:13.

When the New Testament speaks of our immortality it is in the future tense; we shall someday be clothed with immortality. This is in reference to the spiritual body that God will give us at the resurrection; a body like the type Jesus possesses, and has possessed since His resurrection. Eternal life, however, is referred to in the present tense, such as in this pair of verses. We may know that we have eternal life immediately, because that quality of life is the only kind God imparts on anyone begotten in His image, 1st John 5:1. Our God has made plans for our spirits to be housed within immortal bodies as we share eternity with Him.

Jesus was informing Nicodemus that the Messiah in God’s plan was to affect greater things than the mere liberation of Israel from the Roman yoke. Jesus’ first ministry was one of reconciliation and grace; and it still is since we are His ambassadors pleading with a lost world to be reconciled to God. His first advent was not to judge, conquer or destroy; it was to seek and to save that which was lost. The Jews (Nicodemus too, quite likely) longed for Messiah to come and set up His kingdom, one which would supersede all other kingdoms and bring dominion back to the Jews. This was the high expectation of the people when Jesus approached Jerusalem, Luke 19:11. It was still the hope of the apostles on the day of Jesus’ ascension to Heaven, Acts 1:6. But God’s plan for Messiah was a world-wide deliverance. Whosever placed their faith in God’s Son—Jew or Gentile—would receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

Christ’s death on the cross opened the real and distinct capability for every man and woman on the face of the earth to be saved through Him. His sacrifice atoned for sin, for Jesus by His death took away the sin of the world, John 1:29. The word “might” in this respect could be paraphrased as “has the chance made available to them.” God has done all He wished to do. He sent His Son to die and His Spirit to draw men and convict us of our sins. He will not believe for us. It would be a shame if I wrote someone a check for ten million dollars and gave it to them to cash, no strings attached, and they squandered their life living as a suffering derelict when they could have lived like a king; or at least modestly. It is infinitely a greater tragedy that Christ Jesus paid for the sins that millions of people are going to Hell for daily because they won’t by faith appropriate eternal life in His name. Their threadbare spirituality suffices, and they reject the idea that outside help is necessary. Had it been so—that man did not need a Savior—Christ would never have come to die on our behalf. The concept was revolutionary in Nicodemus’ time; it apparently no less so today. God gave all for you and I; why will you die when you don’t have to?

There is a time coming when the unsaved will no longer have the capacity to receive Jesus as Savior. Instead they shall be receiving Him as Judge. During His second future advent He will not be offering an invitation (come unto Me) but will be issuing a severe warning (I’m coming). Men can refuse an invitation; they cannot refuse God’s right to judge. It is in light of this coming day that Christians ought to preach the gospel to the lost, 2nd Corinthians 5:11. Human frailty will not suffice as an excuse or garner pity, for Jesus assumed the likeness of sinful flesh and was in all ways tempted as we are, Hebrews 4:15. The unsaved will not have a Judge who has not experienced the power and temptation of sin.


  1. Isn't it amazing how shallow most people view God's promises? The Jews thought only of world domination. Many people view salvation just as an escape from hell or a temporary relief from guilt with no understanding of the much deeper meanings.

    Aren't you glad God doesn't limit himself to such an attitude?

  2. I wholeheartedly agree. If God was a man (that is, behaved like a man) we would all be in serious trouble, if we were even alive still to worry about it!


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