“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
The text quoted is John 3:16. It has been called the Golden Text of the Bible. It is one of the most well known and beloved verses of the entire Bible. I am pretty sure it was the first verse that I ever committed to memory as a child. It contains so much truth that men have been preaching from it for centuries, and still haven’t reached the depth of these wonderful words.
While we can recognize that there is a special significance to certain texts in the Bible, it does not mean that those texts are more authoritative. Every word of Scripture is inspired of God (2 Tim 3:16). Our job isn’t to go and find the most important scripture and disregard everything else. The totality of God’s word is truth (Psalm 119:60). So our job is to make sure that our beliefs harmonize with EVERYTHING that the Bible teaches.
Some people have put such a premium on John 3:16 that they have decided that it is the only verse you need to know in order to be pleasing unto God. For many people, John 3:16 is the end-all-be-all for the question of “what do I need to do to be saved?”. But should it be?
I want to highlight some questions that John 3:16 can not answer alone. If it can’t answer these questions alone, then it is not the only passage that should be used when thinking about salvation.
First, Who is God? We understand this to be the same God that created the heavens and earth, the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the God that gave His law to Moses, etc. But how would we know that if all we did was look at John 3:16? We have no idea who this God is without reading other passages.
There were a number of “gods” that had sons. In Greek Mythology alone, there were dozens of “gods” that had sons. Zeus had a son named Hercules. How do we know John is not talking about Zeus? Because we don’t stop at John 3:16 in our knowledge of God.
Similarly, we would have no idea who the Son is. You wouldn’t know that he was prophesied to be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matt 1:20-23). You wouldn’t know that he lived a sinless life (2 Cor 5:21). You wouldn’t know that he did miracles (John 20:30-31). You wouldn’t know that he had the power to forgive sins (Matt 9:6). You wouldn’t even know his name if all you did was look at John 3:16.
Likewise, we need to look at multiple passages to get the full picture of God’s plan of salvation. While John 3:16 summarizes the gospel beautifully, it in no way outweighs everything else that the Bible says about salvation. Actually, we wouldn’t use the word’s “saved”, “salvation”, “grace” or, “gospel” if all we did was look at John 3:16.
How would you know what to believe if all you did was look at John 3:16? Most people agree that you need to at least believe that Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected to be saved. But where do you find that in John 3:16? You can’t. You have to get that information elsewhere.
When we put scriptures together on what belief is, we can walk away with a healthy understanding of John 3:16.
Romans 10:17 says that faith(belief) comes by hearing the word of Christ. Belief is not some “blind leap”, based on a “still small voice”, or from a “warm feeling”. The source is always and will always be from the Word of God.
Belief includes things that are believed. Less redundantly, belief includes the acceptance of various facts. How does one end up with their beliefs? By the word of God. The word of God contains various pieces of information that I need to accept. Among those are the facts concerning who Jesus Christ is and what He did. (As a point of emphasis, there is not a single fact about Jesus that any one of us knows that does not come from the Bible).
In John 2:24 the same greek word for belief is translated to “trust” or “commit”. Belief involves a disposition to trust or commit myself to the person or message. Tied up in this idea is that of conviction. The information that we receive should convict us to a point of trusting.
Finally, in the same context of John 3:16, John adds an additional component to what belief means. In verse 36 he says “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” The belief of John 3:16 includes obedience to the Son. This point is clearly illustrated over and over in Hebrews 11.
Belief in John 3:16 is accepting the teaching about Christ, and the teaching from Christ (John 8:31-32). Jesus taught about what people need to know and to do to be saved. In Mark 16:15-16 he said “ Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned.”
I have yet to find someone who can explain to me how you can say you believe and trust in Christ, and then turn around and say you don’t need to be baptized to be saved. Did Jesus say it? Do you believe in what he says?
Most of the time these people quote John 3:16 as a proof text…