For 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.” John 3:16

We know that God loved the world. But is the expression of His love the same for Christians as it is for non-believers, or even for His creation? To help us understand the expression of God’s love on a deeper level, Professor Brad Sickler expands on the translation of John 3:16.

“The way that verse is translated, ‘for God so loved the world,’ it really means ‘for this is the way God loved the world.’”

“The object there is the world. It’s a call to repentance and belief; it’s not primarily a declaration of God’s love. Of course, God’s love is implicit in all that because otherwise what is there to repent and believe in? The whole death and salvation offered in Christ is driven by that love for His creation.”

Scripture affirms that God’s love is expressed to His church and His children through the gift of salvation. But how exactly does He express His love for those who reject Him? Professor Sickler refers to 2 Peter 3:9,

“We read that ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ John says in 1 John, ‘It isn’t that we first loved Him, but that He loved us and provided Christ as an atonement sacrifice for our sins’ (1 John 4:10).

“The love of God is always the initiating factor to sinners. We don’t trigger God’s love by becoming good.”

“There’s a sense in which God loves the whole world, of course and every sinner, and then there’s a sense in which He loves His church. But by alienating ourselves from God through sin, Paul says in Romans 5 and in Colossians 1, we make ourselves God’s enemies and we need to be reconciled to Him.”

While God’s love for the world may be a complex picture to grapple with, we do know that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is equally available to everyone.

Ask the Professor: On the third Thursday of every month we invite Bible professors from the University of Northwestern into the studio and open the phone lines for your questions on the Bible, faith, and the church. Call in during the live show, or submit your questions via email on Connecting Faith’s show page.

Ask the Professor: God's love for the world