by Kevin Phipps
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” ~ John 3:16,17
Recently we were looking at this passage as a family, and my son had a concern about one word. Having already committed verse 16 to memory, he had a theological question about verse 17. The word that prompted his question was “might.” Does the word might in “that the world might be saved through him” mean that there would be those who believed but would not be saved? I explained to him that it doesn’t. The word might does not correspond to the effectiveness of the Father’s gift of the Son. Might reminds us that receiving requires believing. I explained to him that all sinners who believe will be saved but not all sinners will believe. Not all will receive the Father’s gift.
Every year we receive a Christmas gift catalog from an organization that specializes in ministering to impoverished children across the globe. For $18, you can give a mosquito net for malaria protection. For $40, you can give textbooks and learning materials. For $200, you can give a family some goats, so the parents can work towards becoming self-sufficient by raising and selling livestock.
The purpose of these gifts is not just to make this world a better place. According to their website, they believe they must do more than simply meet the physical needs of the poor. Every child who takes part in their program will learn about Jesus and hear the gospel. A summary of their approach to evangelism is “the good news is modeled and shared in age-appropriate and culturally relevant ways — never through coercion.”
This ministry knows that they can give a family a gift in Jesus’ name, but they can’t make someone receive the gift of Jesus. They can teach children about Jesus, but they can’t make them receive the gift of Jesus. The end goal of their mercy ministry is evangelism, but disciple making depends on the sovereign spiritual work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit (John 3:6-8). Without the Spirit’s working, none could believe. All of whom the Spirit works in are enabled to believe and receive the gift of Jesus.
Who do you know that needs to receive the gift of Jesus? What if this year you give gifts in Jesus’ name? Be intentional with the unbelievers in your world and share with them that we give because we have received so much from our Father, namely he has given us his only Son. It could be as simply as including a verse and God-glorifying gospel note in a Christmas card or including an invitation to attend or stream our Christmas Eve services with the Christmas cookies you deliver to your neighbors. Connect the gift you give with the Father’s gift and invite them to join you in worship one Sunday. You can’t coerce anyone into believing, but you can give a gift in Jesus’ name and gladly tell of the gift of Jesus this Christmas season.