The message of the Bible, and of our church, is essentially one of Good News! Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners! One famous verse that summarizes this news is John 3.16. We believe you can understand the terms of salvation by understanding this verse, and highlighting four keys terms (underlined emphasis added):
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."*
Let's explore the Good News using those four terms as an outline...
Salvation Begins with God
John 3.16 begins where we must begin—with God. There really is a God: one who is utterly amazing in His goodness, power, and holiness. Indeed, the Bible says that the very creation around us declares His existence. We see His creativity and craftsmanship in all manner of places: from the beauty and expansiveness of the Solar System, to the tiny intricacies of the human eye; from the amazing variety of the millions of animal species He has created, to the varied personalities and cultures of the people of the earth. He has "been clearly seen ... through what has been made" (Romans 1.20).
God is also clearly seen through the human conscience. We all know innately that certain things are right, and others are wrong. Some may try to argue this point, claiming all truth is relative—but their arguments would melt away if you stole their wallet or keyed their car! Everyone knows that there are moral absolutes! Our own consciences declare to us that there is a higher power whose laws we ought to obey (Romans 1.19). We all know, deep down, that He is there!
And not only do we know God … but we have a pretty good idea that He is awesome. Who else could create with such beauty, magnitude, and detail? Who else could make an ecosystem is big as the universe?
We also have an inkling that this God is good. All the ethics that we know instinctively are good. The absolutes that we all agree on (about how we should treat one another) are all meant for the good of mankind. So we have some idea that this God who initiated them must be good! And if this God is awesome, powerful, and good—He deserves to be reverenced, obeyed, and adored. Which brings us to our next point …
Salvation is Necessary because Sin is in the World
We all know that there is a God. And we all have an inkling that He is worthy of praise and obedience. But the Bible says this about us: "Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks" (Romans 1.21). We are, by nature, rejectors of God and rejectors of what is right. None of us treats God like we ought. We have heard of Him. We have some idea of what He expects. And we so often ignore Him anyway. Examine your heart and you will find this is true. The Bible calls this sin. Another word for it is worldliness. And that is what John 3.16 is getting at when it says God loved "the world". The world—you and I included—is caught in the trap of sin. We have spurned God. And He is righteously angry. In fact, Romans 1.18 declares that God’s wrath is against us! What shall we do?
Salvation was Purchased by God’s Son
We are worldly, sinful people—deserving of God’s punishment. But John 3.16 says that God loves the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son that we might be saved. God loves to set sinners back on their feet again … to restore the relationship they ought to have with Him . . . and to rescue them from eternal misery. He is "compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness" (Psalm 103.8)! What wonderful news!
But wait a minute! God cannot just let guilty sinners go free, can He? Wouldn’t that be a corruption of justice … to let a convicted criminal go free? How would you feel if the judges in your city began a new policy of letting thieves and rapists go free simply because they felt sorry for them? Letting criminals walk with no penalty is a twisting of justice. And if God were to somehow ‘work the system’ and bend the rules for us, He’d be sinning too! And that is impossible!
So, we have an apparent dilemma. God loves sinners and wants to set them free. But His perfect justice demands that He must punish the crime! So what is He to do? How will He maintain His unimpeachable justice and at the same time reach out a hand of mercy to sinners whom He loves? There is only one solution. Someone else must stand at the bar of God's justice in our place. If God wants both to punish your sin, and also to rescue you from His punishment, the only option is for someone else to pay your penalty. Then your sin could be punished (in that someone else), while you yourself could go free.
But where would God find such a man? Where could He locate another human being who did not already have sins of his own for which he must stand before God's judicial bench? There aren’t any! So God sent His own Son to earth to become a man, to live without sin … and to be the someone else who could pay the penalty for our sins! And Jesus willingly did it! "He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him" (Isaiah 53.5). His death purchases for us forgiveness, a right relationship with God, a fresh start, God’s supernatural help to overcome our struggles with sin, and a home in heaven that will never be taken away! That’s good news! But what must we do?
Salvation is Granted only to those who Believe
Jesus Christ died to save sinners … even sinners like you. His work, in this regard, is done. That is the best news a person could ever hear! But you must respond. You must lay hold of this free gift by faith. That is what John 3.16 means when it says that "whoever believes" in Jesus will not perish (underlined emphasis added). What that means is this: You must rest in Jesus. You must stop running from God … and rest in Jesus alone. You must stop trying to save yourself with good deeds, or religious activity … and rest in Jesus alone. He is fully capable of rescuing you and restoring you to God. He does not need your help. But He will only perform the rescue when you stop striving to save yourself and rest in Him! Salvation "does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Romans 9.16). So, "believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved" (Acts 16.31)!
*Scripture quotations taken from NASB®.