God So Loved (John 3:14-17)
I was preaching in a small town when the granddaughter of one of our elders fell in love with a Muslim. I knew, of course, that this gentleman had a soul and needed faith in Jesus rather than Allah; after all, Jesus is the only way to salvation. I set up a study with this infidel, and I started by discussing just some of the numerous problems in the Koran. As we looked at that book, this fella finally became exasperated and told me that I knew the Koran far better than he. Unfortunately, this man—to the best of my knowledge—never did obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
I was shocked to deal with Islam in a small town, but Metro Houston is a different matter altogether—this area is quite a melting pot. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find many of you have a physician who is an infidel. I imagine several of you now work or did work with infidels. There could be some of you who even have some neighbors who are infidels. Some of you may even have good friends who refuse to believe in our Lord.
Because of the plethora of religions in this world, you might have struggled with your faith. I certainly have; I have wondered:
- If I had been born and raised in Iran, would I be a Muslim?
- If I had been born in India, would I be a Hindu or a Buddhist?
- If I had been raised in some denomination, would I believe and practice error?
- If I had been raised by atheists, would I believe that God does not exists in any way, shape, or form?
In other words, I have thought: Is my faith in Jesus simply because my parents taught me to believe in Jesus? Therefore, I have spent time studying, and I’m thankful to say that my faith is now my own—I firmly, with all of my heart, believe what my parents rightfully taught me to believe. You understand that your faith must be your own—you cannot believe simply because your parents believed or because your spouse believes or because you’ve always believed. You must truly—with all of your heart—believe that Jesus is the Son of the living God.
That’s exactly what Jesus taught in this morning’s text. Jesus said: “Your faith in God’s Son brings you life.”
Scripture (John 3:14-17)
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man must be lifted up. When Moses was leading the people through the wilderness, the Hebrews grumbled because they were tired of the food God was providing (Num 21:4-9). Because of their complaining, God sent “fiery serpents” among his people, and many people died. Moses prayed for the people at the Hebrews’ request. God told Moses to erect a bronze serpent on a pole so that anyone who was bitten by a serpent could look at the bronze serpent and live.
Jesus would likewise be lifted up. “Lifted up” obviously refers to the cross; however, throughout John’s Gospel, the Greek term also refers to Jesus’s exaltation. Thus, it seems that Jesus viewed both the cross and his sitting at God’s right hand as necessary for man’s salvation.
“That whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Whoever. Anyone may believe in Jesus and receive eternal life. The Muslim can come to faith in Jesus and so can the Buddhist and so can the atheist and so can the worst of sinners. No matter your past, you can believe in Jesus and have eternal life.
“Believes in him.” The Greek term for “believes” is in the present tense. The idea is that one must continue to believe. You can never stop believing if you want eternal life. In the original Greek, this verse totally refutes the idea of the once-saved-always-saved doctrine. This verse strongly implies you can lose your salvation, for you must always believe.
One cannot believe just anything. You must believe in the Son of Man. Faith in Buddha will not do. Faith in Allah will not do. Faith in Mother Earth will not do. Faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster will not do. You believe in Jesus to receive eternal life.
The Greek reads, “This is how God loved the world.” This sentence, in other words, explains precisely how God loved the world.
“God so loved the world.” Jewish texts often discussed just how much God loved the descendants of Abraham. However, the idea that God would dare to love Gentiles was completely foreign to them. Yet, that’s precisely what the Son of God declared—God loves the WORLD—The Creator of all loves everyone on this planet.
God loves Putin with all the war crimes he’s committed. God loves those parents who abuse their children in horrific ways. God loves those who practice homosexuality. God loves those whose anger or drinking or gambling gets in the way of their family life. God loves everyone. Yes, no matter what you have done, no matter what you may think of yourself, no matter how unworthy of God’s love you feel—God loves you.
“He gave his only Son.” God loved the world enough that he willingly sacrificed his Son. “Only” literally means “special” or “beloved.” The word was often applied to Isaac to demonstrate the greatness of Abraham’s sacrifice. Jesus, likewise, was a great sacrifice—In the sacrifice of Jesus, God gave the only Son he has and the Son whom he loves so dearly.
“Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Again, the Greek means that one must continue to believe in Jesus.
“Should not perish.” The word “perish” in absolutely no way means annihilation. The idea, instead, is ruin or exclusion from fellowship with Almighty God; those who perish shall be conscious for all eternity. God gave Jesus so that anyone who wishes—those who believe in his Son—might not experience that ruin.
“Have eternal life.” Again, “have” is in the present tense. The idea is that as one believes in Jesus he has eternal life in that moment. You have eternal life now; in other words, from the moment you truly believed, you will never die. Your body will—it will rot in the ground—but your spirit—what is really you—shall live eternally.
God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. God’s earnest desire is not that the world be condemned. You understand God is going to judge this world with perfect justice. He will destroy the physical world and ruin unbelieving sinners in the eternal hell prepared for the devil and his angels. However, that isn’t what God wants. God’s earnest desire is that the world be saved through Jesus.
“Your faith in God’s Son brings you life.” We can talk about so much from this text, but I want us to explore this truth in an actionable way. So, let me ask this question: “How can you live the truth that Your faith in God’s Son brings you life?” It’s really quite obvious, isn’t it? You believe in Jesus for eternal life.
So, we have a serious question to answer: “How do you believe in Jesus?”
One: You Develop Your Faith.
You build—develop—a firm faith. You know, as John 3 teaches, without faith there can be no salvation.
- “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25-26).
- When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he needed to do, they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
- “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9).
- “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6).
- “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 Jn 5:1).
If you want eternal life, you absolutely must believe in Jesus—there is no other way. If you deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, you will be damned in hell for all eternity—period.
So you must believe in Jesus. Faith in Jesus comes one way—and one way only—through the holy scriptures. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). If you want a faith that leads to eternal life, you spend time in the word.
I’ve made this suggestion before, but I’ll make it again: Read John’s Gospel several times this week. John wrote his Gospel so that you may have faith that leads to life: John 20:30-31. As you read John’s Gospel, pay attention to what Jesus taught about himself, to the signs he performed, and to his death (his being lifted as the bronze serpent).
Develop your faith in the truth of God’s word.
Two: You Display Your Faith.
You display your faith, i.e., you put it into practice. Faith without action means nothing. After all, the demons believe, and they tremble, yet they are without eternal life.
A faith leading to eternal life is displayed, put into practice. Just look at the example of the saints of old listed in Hebrews 11.
- Through faith, Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain.
- Through faith, Noah built an ark for the saving of his household.
- Through faith, Abraham left Ur to go where God told him.
- Through faith, Abraham offered Isaac.
- Through faith, Moses’s parents hid him from Pharaoh’s edict.
- They—and so many others—acted on their faith. They didn’t simply believe what God said, but they displayed that faith through action.
“As the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (Js 2:26).
Your challenge this week is to display your faith. Challenge yourself every single day to obey God as closely as you can. When you wake in the morning, ask yourself how you’ll display your faith that day. When you lie down at night, think about how well you displayed your faith that day and how you can do better the next day.
Every day of your life display—live—your faith. How well do you display your faith this morning? Do you need to display your faith through obedience to the gospel as we stand and sing?