Without a doubt, the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The word “believe” (or a form of the word, such as believeth and believed) appears nine times in the thirty-six verses of John chapter three. The chapter is about believing; it is a chapter about faith.
With all that said and the fame of John 3:16, one of the few verses known by many non-churchgoers, it is amazing the varying opinions on how to obtain eternal life.
While asking people, “Why should you go to heaven?” I have heard the following replies.
“I’ve been baptized.”
“I belong to a church.”
“I’m a good person.”
“I haven’t done anything deserving of hell.”
“I haven’t murdered or raped anyone, so I probably make it.”
“I have an uncle who is a preacher.”
There are other responses, but for now, this small sampling will suffice.
Examining what people have said, the reasons someone goes to heaven are 1) they are religious, or 2) they are no worse than most everyone else, or 3) God has a list of atrocious things, and they haven’t done any of those, or 4) they have a relationship with someone who qualifies and therefore safe.
If you notice, none of these have anything to do with John 3:16, belief, faith, trust, or any other synonym of believe.
If we take a look at the other verses of the chapter that mention “believe” will we see a connection between faith and the people’s responses.
Verse 12 contains the first two times “believe” is used and it is Jesus asking Nicodemus how he didn’t believe these things already. The rest of the usages of the word “believe” are all about eternal life.
John 3:16 may be the famous verse, but it only is a repeat of verse 15 with a little more detail. Here are the two verses together, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Verse 18 is the most detailed of all the believe verses of John 3. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
From our responses above, most people think they are on their way to heaven unless they cross a line, commit some hideous sin, or are just so bad overall God has enough of them and casts them into hell. However, verse 18 explains we are condemned until we believe; until we have faith in Jesus Christ. We go from being condemned to not being condemned, not the other way around.
The last two uses of the word “believe” are located in the blanket statement in the last verse of the chapter (v36), “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Believing on the Son equals everlasting life and not believing on the Son equals the wrath of God. Again, faith in Jesus Christ is the determining factor.
Where does your faith lie? Are you trusting that you are better than most or that Jesus is the Holy Son of God? Are you trusting that your church has the way of salvation or that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”? Are you trusting in your deeds or in the work Jesus did on the cross?
John 3:16 is all about Jesus and faith in him.