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The ‘Simple Gospel’? John 3:16 In Depth

September 2, 2013 1 comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s series in 2 Peter, comes the following (shared, from Dr. J. G. Vos, The Simplicity of the Gospel.) analysis of the “simple” verse John 3:16:

Alas, this favorite verse of millions of Christians fairly bristles with theological questions that have to be answered if the verse is to have a definite meaning for us.

The first clause, ‘For God so loved the world’:  Does it describe the extent of God’s love for mankind, or the intensity of God’s love?  Is the stress on that he loved so many people, or is the stress on the intensity of it that his love is so strong it would even love such a vile thing as the world? Is the idea of universality or that of wickedness?

Does it describe the extent of God’s love for mankind of the intensity of it?

That He Gave His Only Begotten Son: 

Does this mean that God gave his Son to become man to live a perfect life under the law, to suffer and die as a substitute for dinners on the cross, to rise again the third day?

If that is what it means then does not this little word gave involve in it’s meaning here the whole doctrine of the incarnation, the humiliation and exaltation of Christ, the atonement, Christ’s active and passive obedience in the covenant of grace?

Again why was it needful for God in order to put his love for the world in action to give his Son?  Was this because of the lost guilty and sinful condition of the human race?  If that’s the meaning then does not this verse in it’s true meaning really involve the whole doctrines of the creation of mankind, the covenant of works, the fall, original and actual sin, total depravity and total inability?

If God gave his Son in order to save men from sin, must we not know what sin is in order to grasp the real meaning and force of the word gave?

What is meant by referring to the Son as the only begotten?  Does that mean that Christ is the Son of God in a unique sense?  If so does not the phrase, his only begotten Son involve the doctrines of the eternal sonship and deity of Christ? And do these doctrines not in turn involve the doctrine of the Trinity if they are to mean anything?

The phrase ‘believes in Him’:

Does this mean what is called saving faith?  If so, what is the nature of saving faith, and how does it differ from other kinds of faith such as mere historical faith, temporary faith, et cetera?  If this expression ‘believes in Him’ is really to mean anything to us, do we not have to know the biblical doctrine of saving faith?

And what is the force of the words in him in the phrase ‘believes in Him?’  Does this phrase involve making Jesus the object of the believer’s faith?  If so, what is the difference between making Jesus the object of one’s faith and making Jesus one’s example as a man of faith?  In short, what is the difference between having faith in Jesus and having faith in God like Jesus’ faith in God?”

The original commentary continues further through this verse — but the above is just a sample of the depth of the “simple gospel.”  The final conclusion:

The person who rejects theology and says that he wants only the simple gospel of Christ only deceives himself.  What he calls simplicity is not really simplicity, it’s only vagueness, that’s what he wants, vagueness.  The person who wants to take John 3:16 just as it stands without facing any of the theological questions which this verse raises, may think he is insisting on simplicity and is religiously superior to other Christians who want definite and clear cut knowledge, but in reality he is only hiding his head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, and saying the truth is not important.

Search the Scriptures

June 16, 2010 Leave a comment

From Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” Devotional  (June 9), the following great words in reference to John 5:39, search the scriptures:

The Greek word translated search signifies a strict, close, diligent, curious search, the kind men make when they are seeking gold, or hunters when they are in pursuit of game. We must not be content with giving a superficial glance to one or two chapters, but with the candle of the Spirit we must deliberately seek out the meaning of the Word.

Holy Scripture requires searching—much of it can only be learned by careful study. There is milk for babies, but also meat for strong men. The rabbis wisely say that a mountain of matter hangs upon every word, indeed, upon every title of Scripture. Tertullian declared, “I adore the fullness of the Scriptures.” The person who merely skims the Book of God will not profit from it; we must dig and mine until we obtain the treasure. The door of the Word only opens to the key of diligence. The Scriptures demand to be searched. They are the writings of God, bearing the divine stamp and imprimatur—who shall dare to treat them casually? To despise them is to despise the God who wrote them.

How many believers do a superficial reading, a few minutes of daily devotions, and are satisfied, thinking they know enough, all they need to know.  The Bible really is an amazing book, with “milk for babies, but also meat for strong men.”  If ever one should think “I’ve read and studied enough and cannot learn any more,” let them ponder the words of Spurgeon and other teachers, great reminders to keep us humble and stir us further to continuous, diligent study.  Consider the following observation from S. Lewis Johnson, when he was 70 (during the “Divine Purpose” series):  I want you to know that I’ve learned a lot of things, I think, through forty years of reading and studying the Scriptures.  And I’ll tell you one other thing too: I’m still learning some things.

J.C. Ryle also has some great words of wisdom, as to how we spend our time:

If there is anything in the world of which a man need not be ashamed, it is the service to Jesus Christ. Of sin, of worldliness, of flippancy, of frivolousness, of time-wasting, of pleasure-seeking, of bad temper, of pride, of making an idol of money, clothes, hunting, sports, card-playing, novel-reading, and the like–of all this a man should be ashamed. Living after this fashion he makes the angels sorrow, and the devils rejoice. But of living for his soul–caring for his soul–thinking of his soul–providing for his soul–making his soul’s salvation the principal and chief thing in his daily life–of all this a man has no cause to be ashamed at all. Believer in Christ, remember this! Remember it in your Bible-reading, and your private praying. Remember it on Sundays. Remember it in your worship of God. In all these things never be ashamed of being wholehearted, authentic, thorough, and true.
From Practical Religion, chapter 3.