Throughout the course of history, debate has been constantly waged over the issue of attempting to reconcile fate and free will. The biggest battle in Christianity between these two seemingly opposed ideas is over their role in our salvation. I want to start off today with looking at a couple of different translations of one of the most well known scriptures in the Bible, starting with the New International Version, as it is one of the most used translations that is also easy to understand in modern English.
John 3:16 (NIV)
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.
However, most people are more familiar with the King James Version.
John 3:16 (KJV)
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.
I also want to turn to The Message, a paraphrase that has become popular, especially with young people, as it focuses more on translating the meaning of the Bible into contemporary language rather than literally translating it. I want to share this version to emphasize why God gave His Son.
John 3:16 (The Message)
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
Lastly, just to cover the spectrum from a modern interpretation of the scripture to an accurate literal translation, here is the same familiar verse in Young’s Literal Translation.
John 3:16 (YLT)
for God did so love the world, that His Son — the only begotten — He gave, that every one who is believing in him may not perish, but may have life age-during.
I wanted to share several renderings of this verse because it is basically the verse that the salvation of mankind hinges on. It is also from this verse that we can ascertain God’s intent for our lives, and we can see that although God knows all who will choose life over death, it is still a choice that man makes and is not determined by God.
As important as this verse is to our faith, I want to break it down clause by clause. First, and quite obviously from all translations, God loved the world. He created it and everything in it. When God created man, He made the decision to make us in His image. In doing so, he gave us the free will to determine our own fate. He knew what the outcome of doing so would be because He knows everything that was, is, and will ever be.
What did God do because of His love of the world that He created? He gave His only Son. this is one place where various translations word the phrase very differently. In situations like this, I like to take a look at the text in the original language to try to get a clearer meaning. The Greek word from the original text is monogenes, which, according to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, has two meanings:
- Pertaining to being the only one of its kind within a specific relationship.
- Pertaining to being the only one of its kind or class, unique in kind.
The first meaning is what is considered the “begotten” meaning of the word monogenes. However, this meaning would indicate that Jesus was a created being, which would contradict scripture earlier in the same book:
John 1:1-3 (NIV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
John 1:14 (NIV)
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Taking this into account, the second meaning of the word monogenes is implied in John chapter 3. John wanted to highlight Jesus as the Christ, one in being and purpose with the Father, and uniquely the one true God that has existed since before time began.
The next part is crucial. It is the outcome of God giving His Son for the world. It was so that anyone that believes in Him would have salvation and that no one would have to face destruction. This is where I have to disagree with groups like the Calvinists, who believe that only the so-called “elect” will have salvation. Anyone that makes the choice to follow Jesus will be saved from destruction. He did not say a select few or only this group would be saved. Salvation is available to everyone. The only thing that you have to do to attain it is to make the choice to follow Jesus. Anyone that doesn’t make that choice faces destruction.
Ultimately, each person’s salvation is up to that individual. Being a part of a certain group cannot bring you salvation, and no one else can choose salvation for you. Although God already knows ultimately who will choose to follow Him, He didn’t select a group of people from the beginning of the world to be the only ones to receive the gift of salvation. He does not want any of us to perish, but God gave us the ability to choose our own destiny. God made our salvation so simple that anyone can have it, if they would only reach out and take the gift that God has offered to us.