Monday, June 18, 2012

John 3:16 - Assurance of Salvation to God's People

An excerpt from Street Theology 101

John 3:16 is undoubtedly one of the most well-known scriptures in the bible. As I drive to work in the morning, I see it posted on numerous church billboards and signs. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood and often misused passages in the scriptures. Most Christians use this verse to support the notion that the gospel is a "well-meant offer" of salvation to all of humanity, citing "whosoever" as ironclad proof of such.

Others state that this verse means "God loved all of humanity so much." But a closer look reveals that the Greek word houtō (G3779 - οὕτω) translated "so" in the bible, literally means "in this way." (Ironically this is precisely what "so" means in English, though this meaning is not commonly used much anymore. This leads many to the false conclusion that "so" means "so much.") What we learn from this is that the opening phrase "God so loved the world" means "God loved the world in this way." This does not tell us anything about the way that God loved, but merely sets up the rest of the verse as the explanation.

Reading on, we find this passage teaches that God's love involved:

   1.  A Gift
   2.  For a People
   3.  For a Purpose

Once we understand the gift, people and purpose taught in John 3:16, we begin to understand what this familiar passage is actually teaching.

THE GIFT - "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son" - The gift is not hard to determine, it is the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ, motivated by the love of God for the world. More on that "world" in a moment...

THE PEOPLE - "that whosoever believeth in him" - The phrase translated "whosoever believeth" in this passage is pas ho pisteuon in Greek which literally means "the one believing." Popular evangelicals like John MacArthur have referred to this phrase as "universal language" but a the only way that "the one believing" is universal is if all men believe. Clearly all men do not believe, and thus "the one believing" is talking about a particular group of people, not a potential for all of humanity. With that established, we see that the people for whom Christ was given is those who believe, not all of humanity. This of course has bearing on what is meant by "the world" earlier in the verse. If the gift was given to "the one believing" and not all men believe, it follows that the gift was not given for all of humanity.

THE PURPOSE - "should not perish but have everlasting life" - Finally we see the purpose of the gift - the eternal salvation of God's people. Once we allow this passage to define the gift, people and purpose of God's love, we come to understand that John 3:16 is a text that comforts God's people by assuring them that those who believe have everlasting life. It does not promise everlasting life to all of humanity on the condition of faith; it affirms everlasting life to those who have faith.  Stated more plainly:

John 3:16 is an eternal security text, not a well-meant offer of salvation to all of humanity.

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