“For thus God loved the world, so that He gave His only begotten Son, in order that all having faith in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This is the most frequently quoted verse in the New Testament, but it is widely misinterpreted and misunderstood to the extent that Christians base their hope for salvation upon God’s love for them. But we must understand that God’s love is significantly different from what man calls love. God’s love, unlike that of man, is not based upon His feelings, but upon His character and nature. He cannot feel good about a world that has turned its back upon Him, that lives in never-ending rebellion, that defies His authority and blasphemes the name of His Beloved Son. No, love is part of the character and nature of God; other Divine attributes are holiness, righteousness and justice and His love is not greater than those. nor does it supplant them.
Also, God’s love is for the world, not just Christians; He loves His creation, as it was created, but His love did not stop Him from wiping out most of humanity in the Flood; nor will it stop Him from sending all those to hell who deny Him; nor will it stop Him from blotting out from the Book of Life the names of those who have been called and chosen but who have been deceived into unrighteousness, lawlessness and unfaithfulness. It is “overcomers” whose names are not blotted out of the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5); these are those “having faith in Him”, not just “believing in Him” as it is most often translated; after all, the demons of hell believe in Christ; they have looked upon Him in the heavenlies so they know Him in a way that Christians don’t.
Believing is an inadequate response to the revelation of Christ Jesus; faith is what that revelation demands, and faith cannot be separated from trust, absolute surrender and obedience.
Consider the Jews who were God’s chosen people; He referred to them as His wife, in the same way that the company of the redeemed is to be the Bride of Christ. God loved the Jews above all others; His only begotten Son was incarnated as a Jew, such was His love for this “peculiar people”.
The Jews were diligently adhering to their religion right up to the time Christ came; they were keeping the Sabbath, observing the Law, observing all the rituals and the new moons and the feasts and all the rest of the practices of their religion, attending the temple and doing all the things laid down in their Law. They were doing it right up to the time of the coming of their Messiah, and they kept doing it; and then they crucified the Lord of Glory because they didn’t know Him. They kept to their religion and they still keep to it this day, despite the absence of a temple, prophets, a High Priest, the Ark and all the other necessities of their religion laid down in their Law. Their religion became cultural, not spiritual and was lived in the flesh, not the Spirit. That was the burden of Christ’s message to His people; repent and come back to the Father!
But it is a mistake to think that Christianity is any different; Christianity has fulfilled the Jewish antitype; it is the creation of men, not God. Christ came to set men free from religious bondage and to show them how they may know God, hear His voice and have fellowship with Him as individual believers, without the necessity of priests or other intermediaries by whatever name.
But is it not true that corporate Christianity has evolved into a range of religious practices that do not require the presence of God; that take place without any reliance on the presence of God; that are rituals based on doctrinal mantras and interpretations handed down from generation to generation? Is not John 3:16 one of them? But the Word without the Spirit is a dangerous tool and routinely used by Satan to deceive.
And just as Paul prophesied, the “mystery of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7) is working to deceive Christians; just as he did the Jews.