I think John 3.17 should be held up on a sign by a guy in a rainbow wig at the Super Bowl. It should be the mantra for a new generation of Christians in the same way that the verse immediately prior to it has been since the 1970s.
See here is the thing. I want to focus not on the “who so ever believeth…” but rather that “the [whole] world might be saved…” It seems to me that 3.17 turns the attention in the right direction in two ways. First, it focuses on the saving work of Jesus, not on the work of humanity in believing. Second, it focuses on the whole world, not on the individual believer. These, I think, are two things that Christians need to pay attention to.
First, we have for too long made God’s saving work the result of our good deeds. The cross is the full and necessary sacrifice. That is all that was needed to save the whole world. As Christians we are called to act as Jesus acted, but we should by no means begin to think that we get to share in the salvific work already done on the cross. We do good works as a response to the freedom given us by the cross; not vice verse.
Secondly, western civilization has fallen in love with the self. Community is a word that exists only with an adjective friend (i.e. gated community, faith community, resort community, over-55 community, etc.) We have lost the concept of community; the art of living together for the common good. But if one thing has become clear over the past decade or so, we are all part of the human community (ooops there’s that adjective thing again). The world is flat, as they say, and the selfishness of the individual stands to doom the work of the community. Hence the turn of focus from “whosoever believeth” to “the world” is necessary for the Church in the 21st century.
So the next time you see the John 3.16 sign at a sporting event, think of yourself standing next to it with a sign of your own; John 3.17.