This is my second week of blogging where I am going to address the fundamentals of what it means to be saved. As I said in my last blog post, I am finding that many people I talk with do not understand the basics of the Gospel. Today, I am using the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.
First, I think it is significantly important to recognize that John 3:16 comes from the mouth of Jesus. It is the Son of God who is speaking, not Paul, Peter, John, James, or a pastor or priest of a church. It is Jesus who says these words. I mention this because if you don’t agree with it, I want you to realize who you are debating with.
Second, the verse John 3:16 follows right after Jesus is talking about being “born again.” (“Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again. “– John 3:5-7). Jesus says expressly that you cannot be in His kingdom unless you are born again. So if you are not sure if you are “born again” you better find out before you die, because the stakes are infinitely high. On a side note, being born again is a term that Jesus uses, so I would be cautious when a Church hides this phrase from its people.
Third, this verse is the midst of a conversation that Jesus was having with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was educated. He was a Pharisee, so that means his life was all about the Bible, and he was very religious. His purpose as a Pharisee would have been to know the Bible and follow every iota of the law, meaning that he was trying to do good things to earn a seat in heaven. With that said, Jesus was disappointed in Nicodemus for missing the whole point of the Bible and his inability to understand “You must be born again.” (“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”- John 3:10).
So in a nut shell, John 3:16 is Jesus explaining to a highly educated religious teacher who was very familiar with the Bible what it means to be born again and why he should care.
In verse 18 Jesus says that if you don’t believe in Him, you are condemned already. This is crucial. Jesus is saying that the verdict is already in and you have been found guilty. This is true for Nicodemus and for everyone, including you and me. Jesus says that the punishment for this verdict of guilt is death (“perish”). This is obviously not good. So the first part of John 3:16 tells us that all humanity (i.e. the world) is condemned and sentenced to death. Hence, we are desperately in need of help. We are in need of a savior.
In verse 17, Jesus tells Nicodemus that Jesus is that savior, that he came to save us. Jesus tells us that this is the purpose of His life, to come into the world to save those who are condemned and to replace death with eternal life. This is good news. So how does this happen? How do we grab hold of this good news?
In verse 16 and verse 18 Jesus tells us twice how we are to avoid death and get life. It is not complicated. Jesus says, “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life“ and “whoever believes in him is not condemned.” Notice that Jesus does not say to the highly religious guy, believe in me AND …
Jesus does NOT say that in order to be save you have to believe in me AND take communion every week, or AND be baptized, or AND show up to church on Easter and Christmas, or AND jump through this hoop or that hoop (Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to those things, they just won’t earn your way to heaven). Jesus tells Nicodemus, that you must believe in the complete ability and sufficiency of who Jesus is and what he came to do.
This is what it means to be born again, this is what it takes to be saved to trust in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to save you…period. Faith alone. Grace alone. Christ alone.