For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should
not perish but have eternal life.
We are so used to the verse in John 3:16 and, unfortunately, to its out of context interpretation. This interpretation seems to focus on a “positive message” where just the first half of the verse is the focus of attention: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (I am keeping the punctuation of the ESV). This emphasis points to God’s great love which moved Him to sacrifice His Son as a propitiation for the sins of rebellious mankind is very important. The lack of love, kindness, and real acceptance is ruining people’s families, friendships, and lives. Man needs the message of true love. However, it is the omission of the rest of the verse and the context of this teaching that exacerbate the problem of misunderstanding God’s love and replacing it with human wants.
The unconditional love of God actually has a condition: eternal life is given to those who believe in Him, the Son. For the full context we must read the passage including verses 17 to 21:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ for forgiveness of our sins, and God’s graceful acceptance for anyone into this truth is unconditional. There are no preferences, anyone, even the gravest sinner, the evilest man is welcome.
The passage however explains the fate of those who reject the Way of God to reconciliation with Him: without belief one is already condemned because they did not believe in the name of the only Son of God. But the Word of God does not stop here. In His teaching Jesus gives an explanation exactly what the judgment is: man’s choice of evil and thus rejection of the true light of God. It is the works of man in rebellion to God that are evil and are made such just because of that rebellion. Thus verses 19-21 give the precise rationale why man loves darkness and evil, resulting in his desire to stay away from God and His Son, who is light.
With this fuller perspective we understand the love of God better:
1. God loved the world even if it was evil;
2. His love for the world moved Him to a point to offer His only Son as a sacrifice for man’s sins;
3. The love of God results in an offer of eternal life;
4. Man is evil, loves darkness, not God;
5. To enter into eternal life one must believe in the name of His only Son.
(Which means to acknowledge Jesus’ origins and essence in God, and his descent to this world in the flesh to become a man and Savior). The love of God is unconditional at the entry point but it does not condone remaining in once former state of being. True faith changes us. If one continues in darkness, he does not believe in the Son.
God’s love does not spare the painful truth. The reason for people rejecting His Son and salvation is their love for their works which are evil and done in darkness. For one to enter into peace with God he has to turn his back to darkness and move to the light. There is no love that leads to eternal life outside of the Son of God. Without faith in Christ what awaits one is judgment.
This full contextual view of John 3:16 gives us a better glimpse of the love of God for us. We are made aware not only of His nature, and His sacrifice, but even more so, as we understand our own sorry and fallen state. The love of God releases us from the grip of our own chains and addiction to darkness. Yet our darkness and corruption will condemn us to judgment if we reject the sacrifice of God, through the work, death, and resurrection of His only Son.
God is a loving Father, but He is also a righteous Judge. His true love is seen in the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins, evil, and damnation. If we believe in His Son we will clearly see who God is, but we will also fully know who we are. We will understand that due to our rebellion and following corruption we do not deserve eternal life yet He gave it to us, if we believe in the Name.
John 3:16, the love of God and eternal life are inseparable from the second part of verse 16, and the clear teachings of verses 17 to 21. Only if we consider the context, we will fully understand the meaning of “God so loved the world” and John 3:16. Do you want eternal life? Believe in the name of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.