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. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Martin Luther called this sixteenth verse the “Miniature Gospel,” because there is a sense in which the whole story of the Bible is told out in it. “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.” The verse negates the idea that a great many persons seem to have: that God is represented in Scriptures as a stern, angry Judge waiting to destroy men because of their sins, but that Jesus Christ, in some way or other, has made it possible for God to come out in love to sinners. In other words, that Christ loved us enough to die for us and, having atoned for our sins, God can now love us and be merciful to us. But that is an utter perversion of the gospel. Jesus Christ did not die to enable God to love sinners, but “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.”
This same precious truth is set forth in similar words in the fourth chapter of 1 John, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). So the coming to this world of our Lord Jesus Christ and His going to the cross, there to settle the sin question and thus meet every claim of the divine righteousness against the sinner, is the proof of the infinite love of God toward a world of guilty men. How we ought to thank and praise Him that He gave His Son for our redemption! “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
It could not be otherwise, because He is love. We are taught in 1 John 4:8, 16: “God is love.” That is His very nature. We can say that God is gracious, but we cannot say that God is grace. We can say that God is compassionate, but we cannot say that God is compassion. God is kind, but God is not kindness. But we can say, God is love. That is His nature, and love had to manifest itself. Although men had forfeited every claim that they might have upon God, still He loved us and sent His only Son to become the propitiation for our sins— “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ is spoken of five times as the “only begotten” in the New Testament: twice in the first chapter of this gospel. In verse 14 we read, “The Word was made 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.” Also in verse 18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Then here is this sixteenth verse of the third chapter, “God so loved … that he gave his only begotten…” Again in verse 18, “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The only other place where this term is used is in 1 John 4:9, “God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” It is a singular fact, and shows how wonderfully Scripture is constructed, that that term is not only used five times in the New Testament, but He is also called the “first begotten” or “the first born” exactly five times in the same book.
Now “only begotten” refers to His eternal Sonship. The term, “the first begotten,” tells what He became in grace as Man for our redemption. When He came into the world God owned that blessed Man as His first begotten, saying, “Thou art my [beloved] Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Ps. 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5). The term “only begotten” does not carry in it any thought of generation, but that of uniqueness—Son by special relationship. The word is used in connection with Isaac. We read that Abraham “offered up his only begotten” (Heb. 11:17). Now Isaac was not his only son. Ishmael was born some years before Isaac, so in the sense of generation you would not speak of Isaac as the only begotten son. He is called the “only begotten” because he was born in a miraculous manner, when it seemed impossible that Abraham and Sarah could ever be the parents of a child. In the Spanish translation we read that “God so loved the world that He gave His unique Son,” that is, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God in a sense that no one else can ever be the Son of God—His eternal Son—His unique Son. Oh, how dear to the heart of the Father! And when God gave Him, He not only became incarnate to bear hardship, weariness, thirst, and hunger, but God gave Him up to the death of the cross that there He might be the propitiation for our sins. Could there be any greater manifestation of divine love than this?
You remember the story of the little girl in Martin Luther’s day when the first edition of the Bible came out. She had a terrible fear of God. God had been presented in such a way that it filled her heart with dread when she thought of Him. She brooded over the awfulness of the character of God and of some day having to meet this angry Judge. But one day she came running to her mother, holding a scrap of paper in her hand. She cried out, “Mother! Mother! I am not afraid of God any more.” Her mother said, “Why are you not?” “Why, look, Mother,” she said, “this bit of paper I found in the print shop, and it is torn out of the Bible.” It was so torn as to be almost illegible except about two lines. On the one line it said, “God so loved,” and on the other line it said, “that He gave.” “See, Mother,” she said, “that makes it all right.” Her mother read it and said, “God so loved that He gave.” “But,” she said, “it does not say what He gave.” “Oh, Mother,” exclaimed the child, “if He loved us enough to give anything, it is all right.” Then the mother said, “But, let me tell you what He gave.” She read, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Then she told how we can have peace and eternal life through trusting Him.
Am I speaking to anyone today who dreads the thought of meeting God? Do you think of your sins and say with David of old, “I remembered God, and was troubled” (Ps. 77:3)? Let me call your attention to this word: The love of God has been manifest in Christ. If you will but come as a needy sinner, He will wash your sins away. “But,” you say, “how can I be sure that it is for me? I can understand that God could love some people. I can understand how He can invite certain ones to trust Him. Their lives have been so much better than mine, but I cannot believe that this salvation is for me.” Well, what else can you make from that word whosoever? “God so loved…that he gave… that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He could not find another more all-embracing word than that. It takes you in. It takes me in. You have many another “whosoever” in the Bible. There is a “whosoever” of judgment: “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” “Whosoever” there includes all who did not come to God while He waited, in grace, to save. If they had recognized that they were included in the “whosoever” of John 3:16, they would not be found in that of Revelation 20:15.
Somebody wrote me the other day and said, “A man has come to our community who is preaching a limited atonement. He says it is a wonderful truth that has been only recently revealed to him.” Well, I could only write back that the term “limited atonement” has an uncanny sound to me. I do not read anything like that in my Bible. I read that He “taste [d] death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). I read that “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our sins only, but for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). I read that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6). And here I read that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” I say to you, as I said to the writer of that letter, that there is enough value in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ to save every member of the human race, if they would but repent and turn to God. Then if they were all saved, there still remains value enough to save the members of a million worlds like this, if they are lost in sin and needing a Savior. Yes, the sacrifice of Christ is an infinite sacrifice. Do not let the enemy of your soul tell you there is no hope for you. Do not let him tell you you have sinned away your day of grace, that you have gone so far that God is no longer merciful. There is life abundant for you if you will but look up into the face of the One who died on Calvary’s cross and trust Him for yourself. Let me repeat it again, “Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
“Whosoever believeth.” What is it to believe? It is to trust in Him, to confide in Him, to commit yourself and your affairs to Him. He is saying to you, poor needy sinner, “You cannot save yourself. All your efforts to redeem yourself can only end in failure, but I have given My Son to die for you. Trust in Him. Confide in Him!” “Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.”
A lady was reading her Greek Testament one day. She was studying the Greek language and liked to read in the Greek Testament. She had no assurance of salvation. While pondering over these words, whosoever believeth, she said to herself as she looked at the Greek word for believeth, “I saw this a few verses back.” She went back in the chapter, and then back into the last verses of chapter 2, and she read, “Many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men” (vv. 22-23). “Oh,” she said, “there it is!” “Jesus did not commit himself unto them,” and she stopped and thought a moment, and light from heaven flashed into her soul. She saw that to believe in Jesus was to commit herself unto Jesus. Have you done that? Have you said,
Jesus, I will trust Thee, trust Thee with my soul,
Weary, worn and helpless, Thou canst make me whole.
There is none in heaven, or on earth like Thee;
Thou hast died for sinners; therefore, Lord, for me.
Now, “whosoever believeth in him should not perish.” As you turn the pages of Holy Scripture you get a marked picture of those who refused this grace. To perish means to go out into the darkness, to be forever under judgment, to exist in awful torment. He wants to save you from that. “Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
“Have,” that suggests present possession. He does not say, “hope to have everlasting life.” You will have everlasting life right here and now when you believe in Jesus, when you trust Him. Somebody pondered about this one day, and then he looked up and said, “God loved—God gave—I believe—and I have— everlasting life.” Everlasting life, remember, is far more than life throughout eternity. It is far more than endless existence. It is the very life of God communicated to the soul in order that we may enjoy fellowship with Him. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
In verse 17, as though to encourage the guiltiest to come to Him, He says, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.”
I remember, years ago, a dear old man behind the counter in a big department store in Los Angeles where I worked as a lad. The old man was very kind to me. He saw that I was very green and knew not what was expected of me. He took me under his wing and cared for me. I soon got interested in finding out whether he was saved or not. My dear mother was never with anybody very long before she asked them the question, “Are you saved? Are you born again?” I became so used to hearing her ask that question that I thought I ought to ask it of people, too. I went to him one day and said, “Mr. Walsh, are you saved?” He looked at me and said, “My dear boy, no one will ever know that until the day of judgment.” “Oh,” I replied, “there must be some mistake. My mother knows she is saved.” “Well, she has made a mistake,” he said, “for no one can know that.” “But the Bible says, ‘He that believeth on him… hath everlasting life.’” “Oh, well,” he said, “we can’t be sure down here unless we become great saints. But we must just do the best we can and pray to the Lord and the blessed Virgin and the saints to help, and hope that in the day of judgment it may turn out well and we will be saved.” “But,” I said, “why do you pray to the blessed Virgin? Why not go direct to Jesus?” “My dear boy, the Lord is so great and mighty and holy that it is not befitting that a poor sinner such as I should go to Him, and there is no other who has such influence as His mother.”
I did not know how to answer him then. But as I studied my Bible through the years, I could see what the answer was. Jesus unapproachable! Jesus hard to be contacted! Why, it was said of Him, “This man receiveth sinners” (Luke 15:2). Though high in heavenly glory, He still says to sinners, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28). Yes, you can go directly to Him, and when you trust Him He gives you eternal life. He did not come to condemn the world. He came with a heart of love to win poor sinners to Himself.
And then the eighteenth verse is so plain and simple. Oh, if you are an anxious soul and seeking light, remember that these are the very words of the living God, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Now, do you see this? There are just two classes of people in that verse. All men in the world who have heard the message are divided into these two classes. What are they? First, “He that believeth.” There are those who believe in Jesus. They stand by themselves. Now the other class, “He that believeth not.” Every person who has ever heard of Jesus is in one of those two classes. You are either among those who believe in Jesus or among those who do not believe. It is not a question of believing about ¥Lim; it is a question of believing in Him. It is not holding mental conceptions about Him, mere facts of history; but it is trusting Him, committing yourself to Him. Those who trust Him and those who do not trust Him—in which of the two groups do you find yourself? “He that believeth in him”—are you there? “He that believeth not”—are you there? Oh, if you are, you should be in a hurry to get out of that group into the other, and you pass out of the one and into the other by trusting in Jesus.
Are you in the first group? “He that believeth in him is not condemned.” Do you believe that? Jesus said that. “He that believeth in him is not condemned.”
I was in Kilmarnock three years ago and gave an address one night in the Grant Hall. A number of people had come into the inquiry room, and I went in afterward to see how they were getting along. A minister called me over and said, “Will you have a word with this lad?” I sat down beside him and said, “What is the trouble?” He looked up and said, “I canna see it. I canna see it. I am so burdened and canna find deliverance.” I said, “Have you been brought up in a Christian home?” He told me he had. “Do you know the way of salvation?” He answered, “Well, in a way, I do; but I canna see it.” I said, “Let me show you something.” First I prayed with him and asked God, by the Holy Spirit, to open his heart. Then I pointed him to this verse and said, “Do you see those two classes of people? What is the first class? What is the second class?” He answered clearly. “Now,” I said, “which class are you in?” Then he looked at me and said, “Why, I am in the first class. I do believe in Him, but it is all dark. I canna see.” “Now look again,” said I. “What does it say about the first class?” He did look again, and I could see the cloud lift. He turned to me and exclaimed, “Man, I see it! I am not condemned.” I asked, “How do you know?” He replied, “God said so.” The minister said, “Well, lad, are you now willing to go home and tell your parents? Tomorrow when you go to work, will you be willing to tell your mates?” “Oh,” he said, “I can hardly wait to get there.”
Now, suppose you are in the other group. Listen, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” You do not need to wait until the day of judgment to find that out. Condemned! Why? Because you have been dishonest? Because you have lied? Because you have been unclean and unholy? Is it that? That is not what it says here. What does it say? “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” That is the condemnation. All those sins you have been guilty of, Christ took into account when He died. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). So, if you are condemned, it is not simply because of the many sins you have committed through your lifetime. It is because of spurning the revelation of the Savior that God has provided. If you turn away from God and continue rejecting Jesus, you are committing the worst sin there is. He came, a light, into the world to lighten the darkness. If you turn away from Him, you are responsible for the darkness in which you will live and die.
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). Is it not strange that men would rather continue in darkness than turn to Him, who is the light of life, and find deliverance. “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth [i.e., he that is absolutely honest with God] cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (vv. 20-21). Are you going to turn away from the light today or are you coming into the light? Will you trust the blessed One who is the light of the world, and thus rejoice in the salvation which He so freely offers you?