For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
The third chapter of John allows us to overhear a conversation between Nicodemus, the chief rabbi of Israel, and Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was not trained in the recognized rabbinic schools, but approved of God by signs and wonders as well as by the irrefutable doctrine he taught. Nicodemus came to him, and spoke for other leading rabbis when he acknowledged that Jesus had come from God.
The topic? The New Birth, as the entry into the long-awaited Kingdom of God.
Here at this point in the discussion, at John 3:16, Jesus is teaching Nicodemus, (and us) how it is that God could righteously give we sinners a new birth. God so loved the world that He gave His monogenes,only unique Son, as a sin offering… . God made a righteous way to grant new life to unrighteous men and women, Jesus paid the price for us.
John 3:16 is a much beloved verse of the Bible, perhaps the single most translated prose ever written. But it’s very familiarity sometimes has the effect on people that they assume that they already “know it”. But the Bible is alive and there is always more light, and helpful enrichment in every verse of scripture.
For example consider the phrase “whosoever believes in Him”. As in the story of the brass serpent lifted up on the pole, anyone who looks up in faith to the “only begotten Son” hanging on the tree will not perish but have everlasting life, (ie be born again). Not just a particular group, but all who hear the gospel and look believingly onto Jesus…shall have life.
David Pawson, the man I mentioned earlier who wrote an insightful book about John 3:16* makes the point that the word “believes’ is in the present continuous tense.The greek language has more tenses than the English language. (I am no greek scholar, mind you, but I can read the work of others).
The present continuous tense doesn’t often translate into the English, because we don’t have one. For example, in Jesus’ teaching on prayer, Luke 11:9-10 quotes him as saying,
And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)
But those verbs are in the Present continuous tense, they literally say “Ask and Keep on Asking, Seek and Keep on finding, knock and keep on knocking, for every one who asks and keeps on asking recieves…”. knowing the tense clears up a lot of misunderstandings.
Another example is from First John 2:15, which says “Love not the World nor the things of the world, if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him…”. But because the word ‘Love’, agape, is in the present continuous tense, it could just as easily read,
“Don’t go on loving the world, nor go on loving the things of the world…”
The word ‘believes’, is also in the present continuous tense, John 3:16 could just as well be understood to say, For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever goes on believing in Him, might not perish but have everlasting life.
Interestingly enough, Pawson points out that the love God loved the world with, is in the Aorist tense, which means that He did it once, God (once) thus loved the world…, when did God love the world? When Jesus died on the cross. The cross is the only possible meeting place between a Holy God and sinful men.
God doesn’t have a broad and ongoing relationship with the World, approving of this “good”aspect, but disapproving of that “bad”one, yet ever hoping for improvement. The Holy God has announced that as of the cross, the world is under judgment, the sentence is passed and his attitude towards it is utterly unrelenting, the world is doomed.
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.(John 12:31-32)
But “Once” and with perfect and ongoing effect, God Loved the World…by giving sinful men a way out of their dilemma, through the cross of Jesus.
But the word ‘Believes’ is present continuous tense. We are to “go on believing in Jesus” that we might ever have “eternal life”.
There are many who are so confused about this that they claim that a person could so backslide that they renounce Jesus entirely and die in their sins, but they suppose that they will be allowed into heaven, because at one point, somewhere along the line, they “believed in Jesus unto salvation”. This false doctrine flies in the face of much of scripture however, for example,
And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister(Colossians 1:21-23)
Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.(I Corinthians 15:1-2)
All that Jesus requires is that we believe in Him, and that we maintain faith in Jesus. But faith isn’t static, it is an ongoing dependency, an ‘abiding’ in Jesus, a constant feeding on his finished work, his person, eating and drinking his words.This is the only true ‘personal relationship’ with God.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.(John 15:1-4)
* Terra Nova publications,IS JOHN 3:16 THE GOSPEL? David Pawson