“So” what?

John 3:16 is back in the news with a commercial put together by Focus on the Family, that was aired during the NFL playoffs.  It’s a great verse, and a great commercial.  Yet this verse often gets a bad rap, as if it is cliche or taken for granted.  It shouldn’t, mind you, but it does.  But what is really cool is to go back and translate the verse from the Greek and as you do, you find that there is a lot packed into this verse that you may have even taken for granted or not even thought about.  So I offer you my translation and “gloss” (fancy way of saying “commentary”) on the verse:

For in this way, God loved the World as follows:  He gave the only-begotten Son, in order that all who trust in Him would not perish eternally, but would have life eternal.

Quite often the “God SO loved the World” is understood, mistakenly as “God loved the World so much.”  As nice as that sentiment of “so much,” it’s even greater to hear “this is HOW God loved you.”  Think of it in terms of a relationship between husband and wife.  One can say “I love you so much.”  That’s great!  Would more couples say that to each other on a regular basis.  But just listen to a wife talk about HOW her husband loves her:  “My husband is great:  he gave up that promotion so we can spend more time together.”  You see, our God is a God of action.  Even His Words are active and creative… and sending His Son as the Word-made-flesh for us and on our behalf.  We can look and see for certain God love us.

The next amazing thing about this verse is the WHO/WHAT God loves:  the World.  Not “just Christians,” not “those who would eventually believe,” but “the World.”  Yes Jesus came for all.  He died for all creation.  Jesus died for fallen man… and yes the world itself which was fallen because of man.  This is why it is truthful to say to anyone “You are forgiven, your sins are atoned for through Jesus death on the Cross.”  Yes, even the unbeliever’s sin is forgiven.  In fact it is this very proclamation… that Jesus died for sinners, for enemies of God that creates faith, and to which faith takes hold of and receives.  This is why those who do not believe are condemned (Mark 16:16).  Their condemnation rests not in anything lacking or incomplete on God’s part, but on themselves.

Finally, “in order that all who trust in Him would not perish eternally, but would have life eternal” gives us the purpose of God sending His Son.  The goal, the purpose, is that those who trust in Him would not perish, but have life eternal.  Faith is a “trust” which clings to a promise and proclamation.  Faith says “Amen,” “I believe.”  This faith can only come about because that good new proceeded it.  Once that message enters one’s ear hole (or eyes for the deaf/reader, or fingers for the blind reader), the Holy Spirit creates faith to trust that very Word (see Romans 10:17).  Thus faith is not our work (Ephesians 2:8-9), but a gift.  And faith clings to that “It is finished,” Jesus has done it all FOR YOU proclamation.

“So” what?  It’s all about what God has done for you by sending His only-begotten Son to live, to die, and to be raised FOR YOU… that’s what.

Some cool Franz Pieper quotes on this:

An essential prerequisite of justification by faith, or of subjective justification, is the objective justification (the reconciliation) of all mankind. If God had not in His heart justified the whole world because of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction, and if this justification were not offered in the Gospel, there could not be a justification by faith.

Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, electronic ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999). 508.

We note, finally, that the assurance of justification is bound up with the truth that the creation of faith and justification occur at the same moment. Apology: “Faith reconciles and justifies before God the moment we apprehend the promise by faith.” (Trigl. 213. See also Trigl. 149, Art. IV [II], 97; 147, ibid., 87.) Objective justification precedes faith, for it is the object of faith, and its proclamation creates faith (Rom. 10:17). Subjective justification, however, does not take place prior to faith nor later than faith. To assume a prius or posterius in time would abolish the “by faith” (πίστει) and thus also the assurance of justification.

Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, electronic ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999). 552.


2 thoughts on ““So” what?

  1. Quick question for you:

    If God has pronounced each and every individual who has ever lived just and righteous in His sight, how is it that not everybody will be saved at the last? Was unbelief not forgiven–was that sin not imputed to Jesus on the cross?

  2. Joey,
    This is a very good question! A helpful Scriptural passage is Romans 3:23-25, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are declared righteous as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God publicly displayed as the propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” So it is that the very same “all” who “have sinned” are the same ones who are “declared righteous.” This is pure gift. As is faith (see Ephesians 2:8-9), which receives this gift of grace.

    Interestingly enough, Pieper deals with a similar question that is posed by the “unforgiveable sin” of blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:29):

    5. How does the fact that the sin against the Holy Ghost is not forgiven agree with that other fact that Christ gained forgiveness for all sins, therefore also for the sin against the Holy Ghost? Unscriptural solutions of this difficulty are offered by the Calvinists and by the Papists and the synergists. The Calvinists solve the difficulty by declaring, in the end, that the gracious will of God and the merit of Christ extend not over all men, but only over a part of mankind. They say that those who commit the unpardonable sin belong to the class of those whom God never intended to save, whom Christ has not reconciled to God. This solution is wrong, for according to Scripture Christ is the Propitiation (ἱλασμός) “for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). They furthermore claim that the converting operation of the Holy Ghost does not extend to those who sin against the Holy Ghost. The very description of this sin shows that this claim is a pure human fiction. This sin is precisely, according to Scripture, the malicious revolt against the internally convincing operation of the Holy Ghost.
    Roman theologians solve the difficulty in a different way. They hold that those who commit the sin against the Holy Ghost belong in the class that has failed to acquire the needed merit to obtain salvation. And the synergists of all shades hold that, as in the ease of the unbelievers and the obdurate, so also in the case of those who sin against the Holy Ghost, there is a lack of the required self-determination; they do not reduce the resistance and the guilt of sin to the degree needed for conversion and salvation. But that this co-operation in conversion and in the obtaining of salvation is fiction, Christ shows in that very connection in which he warns against committing the sin against the Holy Ghost. Christ teaches in this very context that all men remain under the power and dominion of Satan until the Stronger One, Christ, overcomes him and robs him of his spoils. In short, we must say also in regard to this sin: a) If a person does not commit it, it is due solely to God’s grace and in no wise to a good human quality or accomplishment, call it what you will. And b) If a man does commit the sin against the Holy Ghost, it is entirely his fault; it was not caused by a lack of God’s grace or of Christ’s merit or of the saving operation of the Holy Spirit. Here, too, it is either, on the one hand, the sola gratia Dei or, on the other, the sola culpa hominis.
    We face this situation also in the case of obduration. The Formula of Concord reminds us: “One is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is converted again, etc.—in these and similar questions Paul (Rom. 11:22 ff.) fixes a certain limit to us how far we should go, namely, that in the one part we should recognize God’s judgment. For they are well-deserved penalties of sins … in order that we may live in the fear of God, and acknowledge and praise God’s goodness, to the exclusion of, and contrary to, our merit in and with us, to whom He gives this Word, and with whom He leaves it, and whom He does not harden and reject.” (Trigl. 1081 f., 57 ff.) And where is the Christian who, when he honestly examines himself, would dare to say: The reason why I have not committed the sin against the Holy Ghost lies in me? Therefore Luther says in his “Sermon”: “For this let us pray that we do not fall into this sin that will not endure the plain truth; for in that case there is no counsel, or help, or excuse, but the final wrath of God has set in.” And at the close of the “Sermon,” Luther repeats the prayer: “May God keep us from this sin” (St. L. X: 1206, 1209).
    Concluding Remark. There is only one thing that will deliver us from the fear of having committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. We must turn our heart, mind, and thoughts wholly to the absolutely universal and the absolutely free grace of God in Christ, which is revealed in Scripture sole clarius (clearer than the sun). Sorry comforters in this case are the Papists and the synergists and also the Calvinists. The Reformed theologian Schneckenburger shows conclusively that a Calvinist must first become a Lutheran if he would deliver anyone from the fear of having committed the unpardonable sin. Therefore it behooves us to maintain the universalis gratia and the sola gratia. That will be demonstrated further in the first section of Volume II.

    Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, electronic ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999). 575-77.

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