The Promise of Eternal Life 

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 17 June 2011 


“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 Gospel of John is so full of important promises that it is hard to choose one to speak on. But I think it is needful that we consider the most famous of the promises in this book, John 3:16.

This verse is so famous that some people think that this is all that the Bible contains. And yet, this is also a much misunderstood verse.

In this study, the Spirit helping us, we want to look at this verse briefly to see what the Lord has promised and how it should affect us. For our purpose, let’s consider (1) The Immensity of God’s Love; (2) the Gift of God’s Love; and (3) the Recipients of God’s Love.


1. The Immensity of God’s Love

This is hinted in our English translation, but it is even clearer in the Greek. The Lord says: “For God so loved the world.” In Greek, the word translated ‘so’ is right at the front of the statement to emphasise it. So the whole promise in this verse hinges on the great love of God for the world. From this we can also infer that the love of God referred to is not just a general love of benevolence, but a deep, agape, salvific, love.

But what exactly does the Lord mean when He says, “For God so loved the world”? Now, there are some who say that the word translated ‘world’ is the Greek cosmos—so it must mean that God loves everyone in the world head for head. So they say: “God loves everyone in the world and Christ died to make salvation possible for everyone in the world.”

There are, however, a number of problems with this view. In the first place, it is illogical, for if God loves everyone so greatly, why does He send so many to Hell?

In the second place, it contradicts other parts of Scripture, for God himself says, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:13).

In the third place, it is simply not true that the word ‘cosmos’ always means everyone in the world, head for head.

For example, when the Lord says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” and “I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). It is quite obvious that He is not merely taking about the people in the world. Likewise, in Luke 2:1, there we read that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, “that all the world should be taxed” (Lk 2:1), it is obvious that not everyone in the world head for head would be taxed. There were many places, for example, which were not under the rule of Caesar Augustus.

So what does the Lord mean when He says that God loves the world? Well, I believe He is not speaking about world without exception, but world without distinction organically considered.

You see, one of the points that the apostle John is emphasising in regard to the ministry of the Lord was that He was not just the Lord of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles. As Peter puts it in Acts 10:34, “God is no respecter of persons.”

The Lord Jesus is saying essentially that God’s love falls not only on the Jews, but also on the Gentiles. Now, if you think about it, technically, the love of God falls precisely on the elect in the world. However, remember that one of the emphases in our Lord’s statement is the extent of God’s love and not merely of the depth of it. This is why He uses the word “world,” for He would have the Jews understand that He is not just a God to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. God’s elect are found not only among the Jews, but also among the Gentiles.

God loves not only Israel for the sake of the elect in her, but He loves the world for the sake of the elect in her. Israel in the Old Covenant, organically considered was beloved for the sake of the elect. The world in the New Covenant, organically considered was beloved for the sake of the elect.

But now, this love is the reason why God sent His Son into the world. Consider therefore, …


2. The Gift of God’s Love

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,…

We have seen how God loves the world without distinction organically considered. It is for this reason, the Lord informs us, that “He gave His only begotten Son." The Lord Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. He is very God himself, being same in substance and equal in power and glory with the Father. But He is economically subordinate to the Father, and so is spoken of as being given by God the Father.

Who is He given to? He is given to the world, even the world without distinction, organically considered, which is beloved for the elect’s sake.

Christ is given to the world in that He became a part of the world by taking on human flesh. As the apostle Paul reminds us, He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7).

Why? Why did Christ take on human flesh? No doubt, He did so, in order to manifest God’s love for the world, and to redeem the world from the course of destruction that sin has set it on.

Sin is a debt owed against God. Sin cannot simply be overlooked, or there will be cosmic travesty of justice. God is righteous and holy. He cannot allow His holy character to be sullied by ignoring sin, even if it is sin against Himself. But God could not get someone else to pay the debt owed to Him, or there would be no love and no forgiveness. God must pay the debt Himself.

Suppose someone owes you a huge sum of money. You can pursue the debt by suing him and making him pay. But if this person is someone you love, you would want to forgive him. But what does it mean to forgive him? Would you be forgiving him if you compel him to borrow from the bank to pay you? No! Would you be forgiving him if you allow him to pay by instalment? No, no; you and I know that to forgive him, you must cancel the debt. You must suffer the loss, and bear the pain of the loss yourself.

Sin is always painful. In order to forgive His people, God must pay the debt Himself by suffering death Himself—for the wages of sin is suffering and death. But God cannot die. Only by taking on human flesh can God die. Christ who is very God Himself took on human flesh for this purpose.

He took on human flesh to suffer and die as the God-Man for His people because of God’s great love for them, which is also His love for the world without distinction, organically considered.

But as we noted earlier, God does not love everyone in the world, head for head, without exception. He is benevolent towards all, but His salvific, complacent love is only for His elect.

How would the elect be brought into the fold? This is what we must look at as we consider …


3. The Recipients of God’s Love

Sin is ugly and painful. The wages of sin is death. This is God’s sovereign appointment. All man descending from Adam by natural generation sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression. All men fall short of God’s glory and deserve to die.

But God so loved His people that He would not let them die. He sent His only begotten Son to save them. How would He distinguish them from the rest of the world? He would distinguish them by calling upon all men everywhere to repent of their sin and to believe in Christ. He would have His elect to respond by faith—by believing in His Son whom He sent to rescue them.

Yes, we cannot exercise faith by ourselves because we are by nature dead in sin and trespasses. Yes, God must create faith in us by His Spirit quickening us. But God has appointed faith as the hand by which we may receive the grace that the Lord Jesus Christ procures for us by His incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection. And we must exercise faith by believing in the Lord, in all that He says He is and came to do.

We will not know immediately if God the Spirit has given us the new birth. For as the Lord reminds us in this same chapter of our text:

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:8).

All must obey God’s call to repentance of their sin. All must believe in Christ. Only those who are elect and in whose heart the Spirit works a work of grace will truly repent and truly believe.

All such as believe in Christ by the grace of God will not only be rescued from death, but also given everlasting or eternal life.

What is eternal life? Eternal life, according to our Lord’s own definition, involves knowing and enjoying God through Him. It is not just a life that never ends, but a life that is filled with meaning, joy, and love. It is a life that is abundant and free, even a life of enjoying God’s fellowship for all eternity.


Conclusion

Beloved brethren and children, this is the simple promise of John 3:16 and of the Gospel. All who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ that He is who He claims to be and what He came to do, will be saved and given eternal life.

The question is: Do you believe? If you do, are you enjoying eternal life? Eternal life does not begin at death. It begins today. Those who cannot say they are enjoying eternal life are either backslidden and walking in darkness or they have never truly believed. Do you believe beloved brethren and children? You believe or remain in misery and death. You must believe if you would have life. And you will have life. The Lord has promised. Amen.