“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.
These inspiring words, forming the heart of the gospel, have revived, encouraged, and rekindled hope in the hearts of men and women for hundreds of years. They tell God’s and man’s roles in the plan of salvation. Martin Luther called John 3:16 “the gospel in miniature.”
The love of God is a concept that we cannot fully understand. We can only catch glimpses of it through His created works and through His miraculous recreation of the human heart.
Yosemite National Park in California is one of the loveliest places in the United States. It has attracted millions because of its splendid scenic beauty. The spectacular sights are so breathtakingly beautiful they defy description. Several high waterfalls tumble hundreds of feet to the valley below, creating mist that waters luxuriant foliage and giant trees. The mist is not always white, for as the sunlight strikes the droplets of water, rainbows are formed. In the deep valley, the waterfalls start or join meandering rivers, clear as crystal and cold as ice. Here one experiences a touch of God’s sense of beauty and originality and thanks Him for satisfying man’s inner longing for relaxation and true beauty.
Everything beautiful was created for our benefit and happiness. Mountains and cliffs covered with stately evergreens rise above clear streams and are mirrored in crystal-clear lakes. Snow flowers and wild flowers and animals delight the senses.
Even though the Creator shows His goodness in the beauties and bounties of nature, which are an expression of His great love, many people have doubts about Him. They accuse Him of being stern, vindictive, ruthless, and tyrannical and say He sits high in the heavens sentencing man to be punished and tormented in endless misery somewhere below the earth’s surface. What a distorted picture of our loving Father! Christians who have preached such falsehoods are doing the work of the devil, who is a liar and a murderer. Millions are spreading the erroneous teachings of Satan, making infidels of people and causing them to lose the reward God offers to those who believe in Him.
Fortunately, no one needs to be deceived, for the Bible gives a thorough description of God’s character, and if we will read it, we cannot help but be attracted by His overwhelming love. “God is love,” we read in 1 John 4:16. As we understand this primary characteristic of our heavenly Father, our fears and worries are swept away. We will not serve God because we fear His punishment but because He has loved us so deeply.
Loved the world
God loves every individual who has ever been born. All nationalities and races are equal before Him. No one class of people is inferior or superior. God is no respecter of persons. “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him.” Romans 10:12.
At the beginning of creation, God’s purpose was to have man multiply and populate the earth. The first human pair was His ultimate delight and the crown of creation. But as a result of the transgression of the moral law, the world sank into a degraded condition, which we can see all around us today. Immediately God put into operation a plan for restoring the original condition of man and the world, and still today He is offering everyone the paradise that was lost and forfeited. He loves the inhabitants of this Earth who have gone astray and is calling them to return to Him by ceasing their wicked ways. All celestial beings are interested in the souls on this lost planet who want salvation. Great is the joy in heaven when one sinner repents!
Gave His only begotten Son
God gave everything He could to fallen humanity; His Son was a living proof of His love when He walked on this earth and gave His life for us sinners. Thus God’s love was not only written about in the Holy Scriptures but was also carried out in action. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” 2 Corinthians 9:15. This gift was the only begotten Son of the Father.
Jesus Christ, from eternity, has been highly reverenced and adored by the angels; His life was the highest possible price—and the only price—that could redeem man from the condemnation of God’s law. No one but the Father or the Son could ransom man from the penalty of death. Not even the angels were sufficient to sacrifice their lives for guilty man. Priceless was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He not only suffered physical pain but also bore the enormous burden of the world’s sins.
Before His crucifixion, Christ was brought before Pilate to be mocked and scourged. After this cruel treatment, Pilate symbolically washed his hands before the raging mob, declaring himself innocent of the blood of the Messiah. “. . . The soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand: and they bowed the knee before Him, and mocked Him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon Him, and took the reed, and smote Him on the head.” Matthew 27:27-30. It is difficult for us to imagine the brutal mistreatment of the Savior by the cruel rabble inspired by Satan himself.
Whosoever believeth in Him
To believe, we must come to Christ and place full confidence in Him. A total surrender of the heart is the necessary requirement. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Acts 16:31. Belief in Christ will lead one to honor God’s law and obey His every commandment. One who truly believes recognizes his unworthiness and lost condition and accepts Christ as His personal Savior. The moment this fact is acknowledged, the sinner passes from unrighteousness to a state of perfection in Christ. This gift of heaven is called justification by faith.
“Here is where thousands fail; they do not believe that Jesus pardons them personally, individually. They do not take God at His word. It is the privilege of all who comply with the conditions to know for themselves that pardon is freely extended for every sin.” -Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 52.
It is impossible for us to save ourselves. Thousands of dollars may be channeled into church activities through tithes and offerings. We may regularly attend Sabbath school and help orphans and widows. All of these actions will be the result of genuine faith; they will come naturally when the heart is filled with love. But works will never earn us a place in heaven.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8, 9.
If we could buy our way into heaven, every millionaire would have an advantage, but there is only one way to eternal life, and that way is open to every single person. We are saved by faith alone. If we were saved any other way than by faith, there would be pride, self-sufficiency, and a feeling of superiority present in our hearts. Maybe we would say, “Lord, Lord, look at what I have done. Last week I contributed a very large sum to the church. I don’t smoke, drink wine, dance, or even curse. So now I am entitled to heaven.” If such works could save us, we wouldn’t need Christ. Our faith in Christ, however, produces fruits that are visible to everyone.
Should not perish
God’s desire is that none should perish; He wants all of humanity to be saved. Every individual has been predestinated to have salvation freely. Although everyone is elected to be saved, only a minority will answer the call and, looking to Christ, keep His commandments. They will receive the reward of eternal life. Those who have chosen to be disobedient will receive their reward–eternal death–never to be remembered or lamented. This will occur at the end of the millennium, when God will perform “His strange work.” Isaiah 28:21. God will reveal to the whole universe the results and the wages of sin. Everyone will be judged fairly; their sentences will be righteous.
But have everlasting life
“And, behold, I come quickly and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” Revelation 22:12. Those who have by faith in Christ overcome every sin will receive their reward–eternal life. This promise will become reality when Jesus Christ comes back to earth the second time, and all indications are that it will be very soon. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this wondrous expectation will be realized to the faithful in a very short time. Redeemed man will then live continually without experiencing death. The mind is not capable of grasping fully the thought of such endlessness!
How happy those will be who were crippled and diseased, for their new bodies will be free from every ailment. They will have perfect health. Throughout eternity people will never again be annoyed by Satan or fall into sin, for Satan will be destroyed and every sin will have been overcome. Every minute in eternity will give the redeemed new revelations of God’s lovely character.
Dear reader, may God give you blessed insight to appreciate and embrace His love letter to you–John 3:16–is my wish and prayer.