The Problem with John 3:16


August 18, 2020

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.


So what’s the problem with John 3:16? It’s only the most succinct power packed verse in all of the Bible. The problem is not with the verse. The problem is how the verse has been presented over the past hundred years or so.

The church has tended to present John 3:16 as the finish line instead of the starting line. Believe the truth about Jesus and go to Heaven when you die. The gospel has been flattened into a series of propositional statements we are asked to agree with like a software agreement. All is bad. I’m a sinner. Jesus is the Savior. Believe in him. All is good.

The gospel is not first a truth to be accepted. The gospel is an invitation to a meet the one true and living God in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Way who shows us the way. He is the Truth who reveals the truth to us. He is the Life who gives us life.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

If this is the starting line, how might we speak of the finish line? Thanks for asking. Serendipitously, it can be found in 1 John 3:16.

“This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us; therefore, we must lay down our lives for one another.”

The primary and most compelling way the world can know the love of God is to experience it through those who claim to love him.

If John 3:16 captures the first half of the Gospel. 1 John 3:16 shows us the agenda of the second half of the Gospel.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, therefore we must lay down our lives for others. (1 John 3:16)

Being loved and becoming love. This is the Gospel. But be clear– love is not soft, squishy, sentimentality. Love is hard, but love is the only true power and love can do impossible things.


Abba Father, thank you for your son, Jesus, through whom you revealed your love for us and in whom you show us what love is. Come Holy Spirit and empower this kind of love in us who follow him, for the sake of the world you love. In Jesus name, Amen.


1. Do you know John 3:16 by heart? are you ready to learn 1 John 3:16 by heart?

2. We readily receive the first half of the gospel. What keeps us from going the second half?

3. What do you think about this tendency to reduce the gospel to a series of propositional truths? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt

P.S. If you’re a pastor, we have a bit of a roadmap for the months ahead that we want to share with you. Perhaps it will help with some planning in this unpredictable COVID season. Let us know here.

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

3 Responses

  1. Nice Post JD. I was actually doing some study and looking for an intro sermon to my intro sermon on Lenten spiritual formation practices. This fell right in line with what I’ve been talking about. So, I am “stealing” the idea of the “Problem With John 3:16”.
    Also, in further study, I was noticing the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, that discussion they had on no one having ascended to heaven without first descending from heaven. Brings about that wonderful image in Phil 2. That recognition that throughout time we keep trying to ascend on our own merit as if we can steal wisdom from heaven like Prometheus and his stolen fire.
    I may be visiting your inverted “V” again.
    Thanks for your timely post.

  2. I don’t disagree with what you are saying, but my experience was to hear and receive the message and rejoice in the knowledge of my salvation. A short time later I read and learned about real love and giving my life for the kingdom. I think if I had been told that the good news was free but then you have to commit your life, I would have said “NO THANKS” because then that would mean the Gospel isn’t free and because of ignorance I would have declined to say the prayer. It takes a while to grasp everything and understand that there are two separate worlds on this planet going on simultaneously and initial messages to the people need to be soft and loving because people need to feel the love and feel the acceptance and as they read and as the Holy Spirit prompts and sanctification process continues then they will undoubtedly come to the place where they know 1 John 3:16.

  3. The Gospel that saves is 1 Cor 15:1-4. Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day. This is what we must believe to be saved. John 3:16 does not mention Christ’s death and resurrection. Apart from.Paul’s Gospel, John 3:16 is incomplete

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