Often quoted and perhaps the best known verse of the New Testament, Jesus’ declaration of God’s love recorded at John 3:16 is a key verse of scripture. Some say that “It’s all you need to know.” It is not uncommon to see the reference on banners at sporting events, on tee shirts, signs, etc. It has been advanced as a theme verse of the Bible, and it certainly could be, it’s a great verse to be sure.
Spoken by Jesus, it was offered to answer the question by Nicodemus “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). What things? Well, the questioning was centered around one being born again (John 3:3; 5-8). Our Lord said that for a man to enter the kingdom of God, he must be born again. The concept of a “Spiritual” birth involving “water and the Spirit” was something new and signaled an obvious change from the Law. Nicodemus recognized that Jesus must be “a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles.” Right! That was the reason Christ and His disciples went about doing miracles (Heb. 2:4). Obviously, the Lord saw this as an important teaching that he needed to know, and transitioned immediately to “you must be born again to enter the kingdom of God”—one grounded in the Truth (v.11). The Heavenly messenger Christ is here delivering the message of salvation (vs. 14-15).
This was a spoken declaration of God’s love. The most precious, most valuable of Heaven was given to redeem mankind (Rom. 5:8). Selfless love is seen in the gift given (Phil. 2:5-8). The pattern was set for followers of Christ in giving time, self, money, talent, and life (II Cor. 8:5). This being noted, it must also be understood that the example set by Christ is ultimately unattainable by men and women, thus requiring God’s grace to be acceptable (Eph. 2:8-9).
As is often the case in Scripture, the declaration of John 3:16 summarizes the plan—a plan before the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:3). It was a plan and action that the world could not contain the books to record it all (John 21:25). The plan was fulfilled and completed in obedience (John 14:15). This verse does not deny water baptism as some falsely teach, it affirms it! Our Lord is continuing the discussion from verse 5 where He had stated “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” So, away with the statement some make that water has nothing to do with it. Jesus said it did, and He set the example by being baptized of John (Matt. 3:13-17). Obedient faith in baptism saves (II Pet. 3:21).
In John 3:16 the greatness of God’s love, gift, opportunity, and deliverance is seen. Further as it has been observed many times, a great possession, eternal life, results from one’s obedience. F. F. Bruce said of this passage: “The love of God is limitless; it embraces all mankind.” Doesn’t that stand to reason, that God who made all mankind would desire all have the opportunity to be saved (II Pet. 3:9)?
Does this one verse contain all you need to know to be saved? Well for those who make such statements please observe that repentance is not mentioned (Luke 13:3), confession is not mentioned (Rom. 10:9-10), faithful living is not mentioned (I John 1:7; Rev. 2:10b), and there is no specific reference to the church (Acts 2:47). The above are all affirmed by those who claim “It’s all you need to know.” It is a summary statement of God’s part and man’s part in salvation. If one has faith he/she will repent of sin, confess Jesus as Lord and be buried in the watery grave of baptism to wash sin away (Acts 2:38), and be born again (II Cor. 5:17). This is not just a doctrine among many doctrines. It is a statement of God’s love.