This verse is one of the most popular and frequently quoted verses of the entire Bible, and rightly so. It gives us an intimate look into God and His love. God’s love is a powerful subject, and a most important one, however it is not in the scope of my writing today.
I am sure many of you have heard someone talk about, teach about, or even write about some doctrine called Election (John 10:26, John 6:37, John 15:16, Mat 22:14, Eph 1:4, etc). This doctrine is simply the idea that God elects some people to salvation, solely because of His good pleasure and love, from eternity past. This is a very biblical word, appearing in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. However, this word, or concept is not without controversy. How many of us, when we hear (usually for the first time) the doctrine of election, we immediately feel our stomach react and our minds whirl? John 3:16 is often the verse that first pops into our head.
Often it is the word “some” that causes us the bulk of the problem. Does not John 3:16 teach us that God loves all, the world? John 3:16 doesn’t say God loves some and because He loved some He sent His Son, no rather it says God so loved the WORLD. So, how can these people say that God only elects some?
Or perhaps you do not care much about Election one way or another, but rather you see John 3:16 as THE Gospel verse. Is this not the verse, by which all we have to do is tell someone it and they can be saved? Is this verse not the Gospel? You tell those “election” people to stop clouding up the Gospel, and tell them to preach Jesus more.
So, which is it, does John 3:16 teach us the Gospel, or is it the proof text against Election being limited? Well can the answer be, yes and no, and no? Yes, it can.
John 3:16 does teach us the Gospel (the Good News), however not usually in the way that most of us thinks it does. Also it is not a proof text against election being limited. So the answer in short is, yes and no, and no.
Yes, it is the Gospel, simply stated; however it is not the Gospel explained. Of course all we have to do is believe in Jesus to be saved, but what does that mean, and who is Jesus, and is this the only way? John 3:16 doesn’t give us really any detailed answers to these questions. Thus we can say, rightfully, that it tells us the Gospel –that Jesus was sent from God to save those who believe in Him- but it doesn’t tell us very many other details.
No, it is not a proof text against election being limited. God loving the world has nothing to do with who actually believes in Him, or why they do. All this verse is teaching us is that God loved the world so much that He provided salvation for it, even His very own self. It doesn’t teach that everyone will believe in Him and be saved, in fact it gives no details about who actually do believe in Him and who don’t, other verses in the Bible teach that. It’s primary purpose is to declare God’s love and what it motivated Him to do, and what the proper response should be to this, and what the outcome of that response will be. It teaches all these things in very broad and simple terms, not in the detailed and complex ways often our thoughts on it assume.
So, the next time you hear someone talk about election don’t let your mind run to John 3:16, rather let this verse move you in appreciation for God’s love. As you think of this consider Christ and His work, how He humbled Himself for our sakes, and how He is now Glorified and promises us, who trust in Him alone for our salvation from God’s wrath, the same resurrection to glory. May God provoke us with His love, and humble us by His Glory, so that we will believe and obey all His Words!