Do you ever feel as if God couldn’t possibly love you? Maybe you think you’re too messed up, that you could never get into the Lord’s good graces. But “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He loves the whole world. You. Me. The worst sinner.
Jesus had told Nicodemus what it means to be born again, and the rabbi then asked Him, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). The Lord answered with an Old Testament verse: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).
Whoever Believes in Jesus
Jesus was referring to a time when God had punished Israel’s rebellion with poisonous fiery serpents. The Israelites had pled for deliverance, and the Lord had told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). Jesus was telling Nicodemus, “It’s like that. Just as the serpent was lifted up, so I must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Me will not die but live.”
John 3:16, probably the best-known and most quoted passage in the Bible, tells us why God sent His Son to “be lifted up.” The little word “so” implies that God loved the world so much that the word “love” itself could not adequately express God’s heart.
Do You Know That Jesus Loves You?
Who is “the world”? Wicked, sinful people. Some think that Jesus was saying God loved “the world of the elect,” a small number of people whom God chose to be saved. But the Greek word for “world,” cosmos, is consistently used in Scripture to describe all people. God loves everybody. And He loves each person individually—whether rich or poor, learned or unlearned, talented or untalented, handsome or homely, strong or weak. Good or bad. You can say to your neighbor, your colleague, the mechanic fixing your car, the person ringing up your groceries, “Do you know that Jesus loves you?”
God’s love is not an occasional shout from heaven, “Love you down there! Hope you’re all right.” No, God demonstrated His love: “God so loved the world that He gave.” God said, “I love you,” and then He said, “I’ll show you what I mean.”
The words “only begotten” mean “one and only.” Jesus Christ is God’s Son as nobody else is. Yes, Christians are children of God, but we became sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus, and Jesus has always been the one and only Son of God. And this Son—His most precious possession—is who God gave.
Loving and Giving
Now Jesus wraps up His answer to Nicodemus’ question. He has told him about God’s part in bringing about the new birth: loving and giving. Now Jesus explains the human element to the salvation equation: belief in Him.
The Greek word for “believe” implies action rather than simply intellectual assent. When we believe something with all our heart, we act upon it. To believe in Jesus means to take the facts about Him and apply them to our lives personally—by surrendering to Him, trusting in Him, clinging to Him. Our belief in Him alters our life. This is saving faith.
This Wonderful Message
All who believe in Jesus have eternal life. Nobody needs to perish. We are here on earth to proclaim this wonderful message. A lot of people have a mental picture of Christians as accusers, as holier-than-thou hypocrites, but God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn it—it’s already condemned. Let’s be wise and gentle in our approach to people. God sent Jesus into the world to save us—because He loves us.
If you ever doubt that God loves you, remember the cross of Jesus Christ. Our feelings about God’s love come and go, but the love of God is a reality that was demonstrated in history and one that we can bank on—and take to the world around us.