3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
- Immediately following the Old Testament account of salvation, Jesus turns the timetables forward and declares that God’s love for His people hasn’t changed since the days of Moses. He has prepared a way of salvation, for He is a loving and patient God and not willing that any man should perish.
- What has become, however, a sad commentary in our current day is that many have distorted this verse and taken it out of context. Jesus tells us explicitly that in order to be born again, one must be born of “Water and the Spirit” – not of any human work (“lest any man should boast”). And yet here it seems as though Jesus is saying that He has died for the entire world, and that all we need to do is believe. Some have taken this verse (incorrectly) to mean that on our own we can make a decision on whether or not we want to believe in Jesus. Well, we certainly make that decision, but not until we are born again – otherwise we would never desire to choose to believe. For it is God alone working in the hearts of men, who melts those hearts, who changes those spots, who does a supernatural, miraculous work in our lives in order for us to see the majesty and great value of Christ.
3:17 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.
- In other words, this is not the time of judgment. That time is coming when Christ comes back, but Jesus didn’t come down to judge the world at this time, but rather to bring salvation and usher in a new covenant with His people.
- We are so used to thinking of Jesus as a savior, that sometimes we forget that ultimately He will be our judge, and in fact will judge all creation. We can lose site of the holiness of His character and the reaction that garnered in those who were near Him. His holy character brought out a sense of reverence and fear in the disciples (Mark 4:41; Luke 5:8), and so it is natural that we hear Him saying here that He didn’t come to judge the world at this time.
- Note especially 1 Peter 4:5 which says, “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” The “living” are those who have been born again to new life, and the “dead” are those who are spiritually dead. Make no mistake, every man, whether spiritually alive or spiritually dead, will face the judgment of Christ when He comes back in glory.
3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
- We know from our own experiences that there are some who will never believe. And those who do not place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are “condemned already.” As MacArthur notes, “while the final sentencing of those who reject Christ is still future, their judgment will merely consummate what has already begun.”
- I will offer a paraphrase here based on what I understand Him to be saying: “every human being is born already condemned and if you don’t believe in Me then you will remain condemned.”
3:19-21 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
- Jesus pulls no punches here and explains why it is that they will be judged, because “their works were evil.” Most people we talk to on a day-to-day basis would probably tell us (if they are non-believers) that they are basically “good people.” Jesus blows this notion up. There are no “good people.” We have all gone astray (Is. 53:6) and no one does anything that is truly “good” in the eyes of the Holy God we serve (Roman 3:12).
- But Jesus takes it a step further, He says that not only have men done evil, He says that men “loved the darkness” – we actually love our sin more than we love God. And this is why we need a supernatural change of heart, and why no man can simply believe upon Jesus without the help of God to open our eyes and get us to believe in the first place. Paul concurs with Christ in Romans 3:11 when he says, “…no one understands; no one seeks for God.” And in Ephesians 2:2 we read that as unbelievers we “…followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” In John 8:44a Jesus says of those who are unbelievers, “you are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”
- Sproul says, “Man’s natural tendency is to flee from the presence of God and to have no affection for the biblical Christ. Therefore, if you have in your heart today any affection for Christ at all, it is because God the Holy Spirit in His sweetness, in His power, in His mercy, and in His grace has been to the cemetery of your soul and has raised you from the dead. So you are now alive to the things of Christ and you rejoice in the kingdom into which He has brought you.”
- Wiersbe puts it this way, “It is not ‘intellectual problems’ that keep people from trusting Christ; it is the moral and spiritual blindness that keeps them loving the darkness and hating the light.”
- C.H. Spurgeon put it this way, “there is no man so ignorant that he can claim a lack of intellect as an excuse for rejecting the gospel…it is not any lack or deficiency there (in the mind). The nature of man has become so debased and depraved that it has become impossible for him to Christ without the power of God the Holy Sprit.”
- It is evident by this passage that if it were not for a supernatural work of God in our hearts, we would never choose God. That God the Holy Spirit must act in regeneration and then give us the gift of faith before we would ever choose Christ. This is because we always choose our strongest inclination at the time (this is the “will”, it is the “mind choosing” as Jonathan Edwards would say), and our strongest inclination is always the darkness/sin until the Holy Spirit brings us to the light.
- These good works that we carry out are said to be “in God” in verse 21 and this reminds us of what Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We know that our own good works are filthy rags before God (Is. 64:6), but that Christ works in us to perform good works for His glory.
- The most important thing that I see laid out here by Christ is the nature of eternity and the coming judgment. He begins the chapter by explaining how one might be born again – by supernatural operation of the Spirit. Then He explains that He has authority from heaven to give this gift. Furthermore, He says that there is no other way to see/enter the kingdom of heaven but by this supernatural work of the Spirit. Then He enumerates the second step of the salvation process (faith), as well as the role of the Son in the redemption of human souls. So He explains then what humanity must do in order to partake in this salvation (trusting upon Him by faith), and reminds them in no uncertain terms that the wrath of God/His judgment lies on whomever does not trust in the Son for salvation (cf. 3:37). Finally, He reminds us of our own inability to inherit the kingdom due to our wickedness and love of sin, and that this only occurs within the sovereign and providential framework of God’s work.
- How do we respond to what Jesus is saying here? We respond by recognizing the depth of our depravity and our sin, and the magnificence of the grace and glory of God. Tomorrow when you have a moment, stop and realize how base and repugnant your thoughts and words are, how sinful your mouth has been, how worldly your passions have been and remind yourself of the extent to which Jesus has gone to redeem your soul. What an amazing Father we have; so gracious, so patient and long-suffering. We respond to this truth by throwing ourselves upon the mercy of Christ and running to the cross. You may be a Christian who is haunted by sin, by things you simply cannot conquer, and the Devil wants to remind you of the depth of your sin. Well simply agree with him, and say, “what of it?! I have been forgiven. My standing with God does not depend upon what I do or don’t do but upon the grace of almighty God who has saved me from this state of slavery.” Indeed. Praise God for His salvation.
In summary, how do we teach this to our children?
Today we learned that Jesus came to the world to die for our sins. We learned that on our own we would never desire to love Jesus, but instead we would keep sinning because we naturally love to sin more than we love Jesus. But the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to soften our hearts and help us love Him. Only with the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to love Jesus and accept His free gift of salvation. We also learned that when Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago He didn’t come to judge people but to save them, however, when He comes back He will be ready to judge everyone – both those who believe in Him and those who do not believe in Him.