John 3:16: Part 12

“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Joel S. Heckendorf

Grandpas carry them in pockets. Restaurants stock them next to the cash register. A peppermint candy swirl is one of the most mouth-refreshing candies. Yet it poses a problem. It’s too easy to chomp down. Instead of lasting 10 minutes, you devour it in 30 seconds. Soon you wish you had a new piece of candy so you could savor its sweetness again.

John 3:16 is one of the sweetest pieces of gospel candy. Because of its familiarity, it’s easy to chomp this verse down without considering its meaning. Slow down. Let it sit in your heart and steadily send sweet sensations to your head and life. Savor the sweetness each layer of this verse offers.


The first sweet taste comes in the key word love. The original language of the Bible employs numerous terms for love. Agape, the term used here, is the sweetest and richest. Agape is a special kind of selfless love. It’s an attitude that results in action. Look at the action love prompted our Father to do—he gave his one and only Son.

Savor that sweet truth. God gave his Son. Relationships are strengthened by shared experiences. Think about the experiences the Father shared with his Son. Sitting in the heavens, they could recall the day of creation when they said, “Let’s make man in our image.” They could reminisce about their rescue effort of Noah or how they led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had an eternity of experiences together, and yet God gave his one and only Son for you.


The Bible clearly teaches that no one can believe on his or her own. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit. Savor the sweetness of this verse that subtly points to the miracle of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. Also, savor the sweetness of the seemingly insignificant word whoever. Whoever assures us that we don’t need a special pedigree to be part of God’s family. We don’t have to live in a certain era or location. The gospel spans cultures and classes. Savor the sweetness of the unity the Spirit brings to “whoever believes.” And you can’t earn the status God freely gives to “whoever believes.”

But it’s not just belief in anything. It says, “Whoever believes in him,” which brings us to the core of this piece of gospel candy:


To savor the full flavor of this sweet message, we need to grasp that hell is real. Hell is suffering. Hell is anger. Hell is pain. Hell is separation from God. Hell is where we were headed. But just as hell is real, so is heaven. Heaven is joy. Heaven is peace. Heaven is contentment. Heaven is seeing God face-to-face. Heaven is ours because Jesus rescued us by living a perfect life and dying an innocent death in our place. Through Jesus, God places the sweet taste of eternal life on our tongues. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Savor the sweetness.



1. What was the most difficult “good-bye” you ever had?

Answers will vary. Usually, the longer you are with someone, the more difficult it is to say good-bye. I think of my grandparents. Having been married for 68 years, my grandfather touched every pillow in the funeral home because he wanted the softest pillow for his now departed bride. Having lost the one who shared his life’s experiences threw him into a tailspin so that he died of a broken heart. The fact that we can witness such closeness in imperfect, human relationships makes us marvel at the love of the Father that he was willing to give his Son for us, the Son with whom he had a perfect relationship.

2. Describe a time when you most appreciated your unity with other believers.

Answers will vary. Examples may include a time when you were traveling. When Christians find one another in a heathen-dominant country or area, there is great joy in the bond of faith. Cherish the miracle that the Holy Spirit can make many “whoevers” believe.

3. Why do we often fail to celebrate the miracle of faith in our hearts?

We all are born with an attitude that I can do something to earn salvation. Or, we believe and live in a culture that promotes we are inherently good. Until we realize with the apostle Paul that each of us ranks as the “chief of sinners,” we will fail to fully celebrate the miracle of faith.

4. How does a declining belief in the reality of hell impact the sweetness of this verse?

Readers may want to check out this USA Today article: Five years ago, only 59 percent of Americans believed in hell. If hell is nothing to worry about, the need for a Savior diminishes. On the contrary, when we realize hell is where we were headed, our appreciation for the Son is magnified.


Contributing editor Joel Heckendorf is pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wisconsin.

This is the final article in a series on the 12 most popular Bible passages accessed in 2012 through Bible Gateway, an online Bible resource.

Scripture references in this study are taken from the New International Version 1984.



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Author: Joel S. Heckendorf
Volume 101, Number 10
Issue: October 2014

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