Reformed Theology & John 3:16
by Burk Parsons
We see it everywhere. From bumper stickers to billboards, from T-shirts to tattoos, from old faded church signs to spray-painted signs along country roads—John 3:16 is everywhere. As such, some Christians have become complacent about the simple truth of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Some think it’s just for children, some think it’s too elementary, and some perhaps think it’s doctrinally beneath them to spend time studying such a simple verse in depth. But in John 3:16 we find both the beautiful simplicity of the gospel and the glorious depths of the gospel. John 3:16 is not just for children to memorize in Sunday school; it is for the greatest biblical scholars and theologians to examine, and it is for every Christian to contemplate daily as we rest in the sovereign, gracious, and sacrifcial love of God.
John 3:16 is the verse that the late Professor John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary used to begin his classic treatment of the atonement Redemption Accomplished and Applied. “No treatment of the atonement can be properly oriented that does not trace its source to the free and sovereign love of God. It is with this perspective that the best known text in the Bible provides us.” He adds, “Here [in John 3:16] we have an ultimate of divine revelation and therefore of human thought. Beyond this we cannot and dare not go.” The powerful truth of John 3:16 permeated the preaching of Charles Spurgeon, who said, “John 3:16 might be put in the forefront of all my volumes of discourses as the sole topic of my life’s ministry.” Puritan pastor Matthew Henry asserted that in John 3:16, “we have the very marrow and quintessence of the whole gospel.”
As I fought against Reformed theology more than twenty years ago with all the free will I could muster, I firmly believed that John 3:16 was directly opposed to Reformed theology. But I finally came to see that John 3:16 is at the very foundation of Reformed theology. In John 3:16, we find every tenet of Reformed soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) in its most basic form. For those who want to understand Reformed theology, they can begin by striving to understand John 3:16. And for those who have studied the depths of Reformed theology, may we never become so sophisticated that we cannot boldly proclaim John 3:16.