"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
-- John 3:16, ESV
The greatest gift of all is the gift of salvation, given out of the greatest love of all, by the greatest person of all, namely God. It is all God's doing and it is a spectacularly trinitarian experience. It is God the Father who determines to give it, it is God the Son who pays the price for it, and it is God the Holy Spirit who brings it "from above," as Jesus just explained to Nicodemus (ref. John 3:1-15).
The gift of salvation is the gift of justification, by faith. Nowhere in the Gospel of John can we read the word "faith," yet the active form of the verb "believe" is used 100 times. Faith is the gift we receive from God (ref. Ephesians 2:8; 2 Peter 1:1) that enables us to actively and willingly believe, and keep on believing, in the Lord Jesus Christ. A better translation might be the title to the famous hymn, "Trust and Obey." Born again people, born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit, believe the gospel, trust in Christ alone for salvation, and obey the word of the Lord (ref. John 3:36).
By faith, born again believers are justified (ref. Romans 5:1). Only a judge can justify, or declare righteous, not guilty, not condemned. God is the only Judge who ultimately matters. Justification is necessary because the world that God loves is guilty, totally condemned by the condition and manifestation of sin in each one of us. Faith, and faith alone, can justify and forgive us of all of our sins.
The gift of salvation is the gift of sanctification, by word and Spirit. The light that God graciously gives is the revelation of Himself. Light enables newborn believers to see in a spiritually dark world. Believers stay in the light of biblical spirituality and morality, embracing and trying to obey the commandments of God. When we err we confess it, when we sin we repent of it, for by the grace of God we love the light of God more than the darkness. This is the ongoing process called sanctification, which is happening in every true believer, and this too is a gift from God.
The gift of salvation is the gift of glorification, life with God for eternity. A great and terrible day is coming, when the text we are talking about today will divide all of humanity into two groups. The born again, believing, justified, sanctified, will be glorified before the Judgment Seat of Christ (ref. Romans 14:10, 2 Corinthians 5:10), where the light will shine on our lives. Do not fear, child of God, for this light will show that your "works have been carried out in God," in faith and in faithful service to Christ your King. Your reward will be greater than anything you could ever imagine on earth, for you will be in the new earth, and new heaven, forever, with the Lord Jesus Christ, all of your believing family and friends. You will "not perish but have eternal life," and this is owed to the great grace of God.
All others will experience the horrific opposite before a great white throne of judgment (ref. 20:11). Remember, they are condemned already. No belief means no justification. No Spirit means no sanctification. No salvation means no glorification. There will be only and indescribable condemnation, death, and darkness forever.
But the theme of our text is not death, but life, eternal life. It is the life sentence that every convicted sinner will receive if they only believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Come now, God is thinking about you. Come now, God is gracious towards you. Come now, God has sacrificed for you. Come and give your life to the One who has given His life for you, and you will "not perish but have eternal life."
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs. He is a graduate of Valdosta State University, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has served churches in Arkansas and Georgia, and preached the gospel across the United States and other countries. Email him at [email protected]