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In contemporary North America, people are often seen at sporting events holding a poster with “John 3:16” written upon it in large print. While this may not be the most effective evangelistic strategy, it does bear witness to an important truth. No passage in the Bible more powerfully undergirds the biblical imperative to herald the good news concerning Jesus Christ to all sinners than this one. Even if the risen Christ had never given the church the Great Commission, John 3:16 would suffice to drive believers to tell all the world of God’s great love, which He demonstrated in the giving of His only Son, inviting men and women everywhere to believe in Jesus Christ and so be saved from perishing.
The implications of John 3:16 for the biblical imperative to preach the gospel to all people can be expressed under three headings: the gospel message, the gospel’s proclamation, and the gospel’s “well-meant” offer.
First, the gospel message. From one perspective, it might seem odd to say that John 3:16 is a powerful incentive to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth. Nothing is expressly stated in this verse about the need to go and tell others what it declares. John 3:16 does not require its readers to do anything, at least not in so many words.
What John 3:16 does, however, is remind us that the gospel does not consist of “pious advice.” The first and principal word that is spoken to us in the gospel is not that we need to do something to be saved. Like a news report that tells of what someone has done, the gospel tells of what the true and living God has done for a fallen world. So great is God’s love and so rich is His mercy that He came to save us through the work of His own Son, the Word become flesh. And He did this with the express purpose that we should not perish but have eternal life.
Second, the gospel’s proclamation. In Luke’s account of Christ’s birth, we are told that the shepherds, after they went and saw the child who was born, “made known the word that had been told them concerning this child” (Luke 2:17). These shepherds could not contain themselves. Once they confirmed the truth of what they had been told, they went and made it known to everyone they met. The same must be true for all who hear the good news announced so beautifully in John 3:16. How could anyone hear and believe this news, and yet remain silent. This is the kind of news that needs to be heralded to the whole world, announced from the mountaintops, and published to all peoples.
Accordingly, the New Testament is replete with imperatives that call all believers to publish these glad tidings. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, the evangelist records the words of the risen Christ: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Luke likewise closes his gospel with the Lord’s words: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [Christ’s] name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (24:47). In Acts 17:30, we read that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.”
Third, the gospel’s well-meant offer. When believers witness to the good news that God so loved the world that He gave His own Son, they must unhesitatingly declare to everyone, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” The language of John 3:16—“whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”—warrants the proclamation of the gospel to each and every person. With urgency and sincerity, all believers must invite sinners to believe this gospel. And they may do so with the utmost confidence that whoever comes to Christ in faith will not be driven away (John 6:37).
In the history of the church, some believers have hesitated to affirm the propriety of this well-meant offer of the gospel indiscriminately extended to all sinners. Some are hindered by questions such as: How can I know that God has chosen to save this particular sinner to whom I am speaking? How can I be sure that Christ died for this person’s sins?
But why should I have to know the answer to these questions before graciously extending the gospel’s invitation to any sinner? Surely, John 3:16 provides us with a sure footing for a free and well-meant offer of the gospel to all sinners. This passage tells us everything that we need to know in order to invite sinners to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. It speaks of a love so great that it prompted God to give nothing less than His Son. And it reminds us that the world God loved, and for which He gave His own Son, was a lost, undeserving world. With unmistakable clarity, it declares that “whoever believes” will be saved. What more must I know in order to say sincerely to any sinner, “Believe in Christ and you shall be saved”? After all, we have God’s Word for it.