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. (John 3:16)
To many, the matter of salvation begins and ends with John 3:16. Sadly, if that’s all we know, our salvation is most likely a doomed illusion, a casualty of our own spiritual ignorance. For we can seldom make doctrine of a single verse of Scripture. We need instead to read the Bible contextually or we will fail to see the breadth of God’s intended Word. It’s akin to one of those pictures at the shopping mall that at first glance seems to be nothing more than a gazillion colorful dots that have no discernible form. Yet others looking at the same picture are talking about seeing the face of Christ. They explain that you have to “look beyond” the canvas to see what you cannot now see. And when you do, suddenly the face of Jesus appears. Likewise, while God does not hide from us, we can only comprehend The Word when we take the time and reverence to read and understand the whole Word. Then, and only then, will we be able to see what is right in front of our previously blinded eyes.
A single verse of Scripture is seldom a stand-alone, and without its companion verses almost assures we will miss the enlightened meaning of what God is actually telling us. We need not be a 24/7 life-long Bible student to understand God, but we do need to give Him and His Word the respect they deserve; and, in part, that means avoiding taking the path of least spiritual resistance and making doctrine out of a single verse that is intended to be but a part of a scriptural tapestry.
Perhaps this is never more true than on the matter of salvation.
John 3:16 is most certainly a good place to start, as without a belief in the Son, as well as an acceptance of Him as our Lord and Savior, little else matters. That without question is the genesis of our faith, but it is only just that, the start of the journey that leads to spending eternity in His holy presence.
To make the point, let’s review salvation in its biblical entirety.
We are to hear the Word: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. (John 5:25)
We are to believe the Word: That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)
We are to repent: I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:3)
We are to confess and witness: Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32)
We are to be baptized: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:16)
We are to obey: And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; (Hebrews 5:9)
We are to endure: And ye shall be hated of all [men] for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. (Matthew 10:22)
Do any of these verses supersede John 3:16? Are any in conflict with John 3:16? The answer to both questions is no. Not one verse of Scripture trumps another, and all verses are in harmony, not conflict.
Yet we can clearly see how easy and dangerous it is to make spiritual life decisions on but a part of the totality of biblical wisdom God offers His children. As God says what He means, and means what He says, we have every reason to believe that all requirements biblically outlined must be followed to honor our Father in heaven and the sacrifice of the Son. Salvation is perhaps the quintessential example of the importance of the principle of contextual biblical knowledge; e.g., we may believe John 3:16, but if we fail to be baptized, or refuse to repent, we will not spend eternity in heaven. But we will only know that biblical certainty if we take the time to read and understand everything the Bible teaches us about salvation.
We must read our Bible to know the truth of the Lord. We cannot simply pick and chose a verse or two, we must know the complete truth. And when we do, we will read the Bible with new enthusiasm, as when we abide in His truth we are truly free, never to be deceived again. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:13)