This is an excerpt from my book, “Born From Above: a commentary on John 3″- available at
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 rec- ognized rabbinic schools, but He was 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. His 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 its 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, (be born again).
Salvation is not just for a particular group, but Jesus died for all. Anyone who hears the gospel and looks believingly unto Jesus shall receive the gift of the new birth, which is also called eternal life.
David Pawson, the man I mentioned earlier who wrote an insightful book about John 3:164 makes the point that the word believes is in the present continu- ous 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; seekand 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)
Those verbs are also in the present continuous tense, they literally say, “Ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on finding, knock and keep on knocking, for everyone who asks and keeps on asking receives . . .” Knowing the Greek tense clears up a lot of misunderstandings in scripture. Another example is from 1 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 . . .”
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 . . .”
Going back to our
text in John 3:16, we see that the word believes, is also in the present continuous tense. It 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.
So also the Word ‘Have’ is in the same tense. “…shall go on having eternal life”.
Interestingly, Pawson points out that the love God loved the world with, is in the aorist tense, which means that He did it once–For God (once) thus loved the world.
When did God love the world? When Jesus died on the cross. The act of God in love for this fallen rebellious world is a once and for all event, it will never be repeated, nor would it ever have to. God loved the world once, and for all time, in the offering of the cross.
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 improve- ment.
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.
Back to the text again, Pawson pointed out that 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. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2)
True, all that Jesus requires of those of us who come to Him for salvation, is that we believe in Him, remaining in faith in His work on the cross and as our High Priest.
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)
4 David Pawson, Is John 3:16 the Gospel? Terra Nova publications.