Rooted in Christ

The Bad News of John 3:16

The good news of God’s love broadcast in John 3:16 cannot be fully appreciated apart from the bad news represented in the word perish.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, NKJV) 

Without the Coronavirus there would be no talk of a vaccine for it or immunity to it. A cure for COVID would not make sense without the reality of the virus and would make no particular difference were it not a threat to life. 

That’s how it works with the love of God in John 3:16. Remove perish and the meaning of love loses its potency. The existence of the disease of sin and the peril it presents provide the bleak backdrop against which the love shines so gloriously. 

We see the same thing when Paul showcases the love of God in his letter to the Romans. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom. 5:8–9). 

God’s love is presented against the threat of His wrath. God’s love is understood as giving His Son to die for our justification by His substitutionary sacrifice and salvation from the wrath of God due us. Remove the threat and the love loses its redemptive relevance. 

Yet removal of God’s love as His solution for sin’s condemnation is just what we see in the teaching of Satan that has infiltrated the church. An article published around Easter this year touted a better way to understand the cross, not as a loving sacrifice to atone for sin and satisfy the wrath of God but merely as an example of sacrificial love. 

Not long ago a committee rejected the hymn, In Christ Alone, from inclusion in their denominational hymnal. Why? Because of these words: “'Til on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” 

The good news of God’s love broadcast in John 3:16 cannot be fully appreciated apart from the bad news represented in the word perish. The fuller context makes this clear: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17–18). 

Unlike with the Coronavirus, when it comes to sin’s infection there is no vaccine against its contagion. All are born sinners, and find themselves alienated from God and objects of His wrath (Eph. 2:3). Nor can people develop immunity to it. In fact, the Scriptures describe them as already dead in sin (Eph. 2:4). 

But there is a cure. A cure provided by God, a product of His love and produced in abundant supply for all who partake through faith. It carries this label: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). 

Digging Deeper

  1. Why is it necessary to see the wrath of God in order for the love of God to make sense?
  2. How does John 3:36 summarize John 3:16-18?     

God of glory and grace, protect Your church from compromise to the truth You have revealed. Deliver us from the lies of the devil. 

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Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale