A Gift to the Son: John 17:6-8

John 17:6-8

Jesus has manifested the name of the Father to the Disciples and to us – His love-gift from the Father of a people called out of the world, a people who are called according to purpose and a plan

17:6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

Verse six is a transition verse. Jesus has been talking about His own glory and his petition has been focused on Himself and His work – which is about to be consummated, and yet in His mind the work was all but certainly fulfilled (vs.4).

Now He turns His attention to those that God has given Him, His disciples. And there are several points worth stopping and meditating upon before we go any further. The key points are these:

  • Jesus Manifested the Father’s Name
  • The Elect are a Gift to Christ from the Father
  • The Elect are ‘Out of the World’ and therefore no better off than any other intrinsically
  • The Elect were the Father’s Before Even Being Called to Salvation/Given to Christ
  • The Disciples ‘Kept the Word’ of Christ

Manifesting the Father’s Name

The word “manifest” is phaneroō in the Greek, which means “to reveal” or “to make known” (MacArthur). What does it mean to “reveal” or “make known” the name of the Lord? Certainly it’s more than just shouting “Yahweh! Yahweh! Yahweh!” on every street corner in Galilee and Jerusalem!

The idea here is that the sum total of God’s character and attributes are bound up in His name. So that when Jesus is declaring “the name” of the Father, He is declaring who the Father is in His essential being, and what He is all about – MacArthur says, “God’s name encompasses all that He is: His character, nature, and attributes.”

Hendricksen says something profound here: “The Son is the Father’s Exegete. Apart from him no one ever gets to know spiritual matters in their real, inner essence and value. The Father’s name – that is, the Father himself, as he displays his glorious attributes in the realm of redemption – is not apart from the words and words of the Son. This knowledge concerning the Father means everlasting life (vs. 3).”

When Hendriksen says that Jesus is the Father’s “Exegete”, what he’s saying is the Jesus, as the Son of God, is best qualified to explain to us who the Father is – what He’s like and so forth.

Today we have the word of God in the Scripture – it is living and active (Hebrews 4) and it is “God’s own divine interpretation, through human authors, of his own redemptive acts (Steven Wellum).” Jesus is the Word of God incarnate and here has declared (in the aorist, and therefore finished sense) that He has completed His mission of telling the world – especially those whom God has given Him – about who God is.

Carson says it well, “That the revelation Jesus simultaneously is and delivers can be briefly summed up as your word is not surprising, for all of Jesus’ words are God’s words (5:19-30), and Jesus himself is God’s self-expression, God’s Word incarnate (1:1,14).”

The Elect are a Gift to Christ

Next we see that those whom He declared the name of God unto are none other than those whom God “gave” Christ. What this means is that God the Father has given His Son a gift for the work He completed, that gift is us, His church, His bride, the elect of God.

This week as Chloe and I were riding back home from Good Friday service we were talking about the plan of God in the macro sense of things – I didn’t use theological terms like “metanarrative” or “predestination” and I didn’t have to. After a few questions about giving God praise, and some clever deduction, Chloe figured it out on her own and finally answered (in the form of a question) the question every man and every woman eventually asks: why are we here on earth? She phrased it in stutters, and shifted the words about a few times, but she basically said, “so we are just made by God so that Jesus can have us and control us?” Her answer sounded like the Arminian caricature of a puppet master-God. Once I clarified with her what she was getting at she said again, “well, so, God made us so that He could love us and give us to Jesus so that we could make Him happy?” (I paraphrase) and I said, “yup, that’s exactly right!” Of course, Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ came to mind, but I didn’t sport with her intellect on that score! It didn’t take much for her to figure out quickly what the “chief end of man” was, even though she’s only seven years old.

The reason I point this out though and bring it up today is because all people were made to praise God. Those who don’t are still in their fallen sinful darkened ways. Their minds are darkened to this purpose – to their purpose. Christians have a purpose – we exist for His glory. And here Christ expresses this truth in a unique way: we are a gift from the Father to the Son.

This isn’t a new idea though for us who’ve studied John together.

Earlier in John 6 we read this:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40)

If you think of this in Easter terms, for it is Easter week as I write this, it is a remarkable thing that the ransom was us, and that He died for us, and that the rescue mission was to free us.

The bottom line is that He rose from the grave and brought us along with Him. United to Him (Rom. 6) we have assurance that we will live forever with him. There are many points of assurance to consider, but this particular verse reminds us of another one, namely that if the Father had in His heart the desire or plan to give His Son a gift of a certain group of people whom He died to save, do you think that there is anything in the world or universe that can thwart that objective (Romans 8:31-39)? To ask the question is to answer it. God always – always – get’s His way. And His way here is to give His Son a gift and that gift is us.

Not because of anything about or in us particularly, which leads to the next point…

The Elect are ‘Out of the World’

Jesus says that those whom the Father is giving Him are “out of the world” – that necessarily means that we were of the world before being rescued. And that means that we needed a Rescuer. Which, in turn, means that we were doomed to hell unless He intervened. There was nothing in us that made us more worthy or more desirable than other men. God simply loves to save, and He does so of His own prerogative and according to His own good pleasure.

In other words, you don’t get to choose ahead of time to be part of the gift from the Father to the Son. The Father doesn’t leave something that important in your hands – sorry. Why? Well, because He actually wants to give His Son a gift, and if it was up to you, He would have nothing to give His Son! Why?   Because if it was up to you, you would never choose to be Christ’s, you would never choose to surrender your life to God, you would never choose on your own to believe in the Son of God made flesh. The story of the resurrection would seem like foolishness to you, but guess what, if you’re a Christian today you are rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ because God has shined the light of knowledge into your darkened, depraved and broken soul and has done a work of resurrection in you! For as Paul says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

The Canons of Dort express this well, “…chosen out of the whole human race, fallen by its own fault from its primeval integrity into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons, neither better nor more deserving than others but with them involved in a common misery, unto salvation in Christ; whom even from eternity he had appointed Mediator and Head of all the elect and the foundation of salvation. The elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God had decreed to give to Christ to be save by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification…”

And as Paul says:

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)

Let us not leave this verse without realizing that He has called us “out of the world” and that had it not been for His mercy, His initiating grace, His prerogative, we would be bound for hell and eternal torment. Praise God for His mercy.

The Elect were the Father’s Before Even Being Called to Salvation

Now for the mystery: Jesus says that the elect were the Father’s even before being given to Christ – “yours they were.” Jesus is thinking most particularly about the disciples, but the truth extends to us as well.

Now, we know that everything belongs to God. As He says through the Psalmist, “…every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). But Jesus is speaking more specifically here. He is saying that in the eternal mind of God, we – specific people, not an amorphous unknown to be determined group – were His in a special way before being called to come to Christ.

As Hendriksen says that this happened, “in order that this eternal counsel might become effective in their lives, they had been given to Jesus so that he by means of his atoning sacrifice might save them.”

So it wasn’t just enough for God to “know” these people (you and me) he has taken the extra step in “giving” us to Christ. And Christ calls us to Himself through the drawing power of the Spirit. He calls us to the cross. He calls us to repentance and to eternal life – life only He can give through His mediatorial role.

That’s why D.A. Carson says, “The ones for whom Jesus prays, then, antecedently belonged to God, who took them out of the world and gave them to his Son, who manifested God’s name to them.”

From before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-14) God had us in His minds eye that He would save us and that Christ would atone for our sins. This is a great and mysterious truth, and today we stand back in awe of all He has done for us before we could do anything at all. Before we drew breath, before our parents drew breath, before our ancestors came to this nation, before Noah, before Adam, before time, He had a plan to save you and me and give us to His Son as a gift!

The Disciples ‘Kept the Word’ of Christ

The last thing we learn in this verse is that the Disciples “kept the word” of Jesus.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying we must first affirm what He is not saying.

Jesus is not saying that because they were good people who obeyed God they’re going to go to heaven. That is far from what Christ is saying. In fact, the antecedent declaration that the Father had given them to Christ serves us as a prerequisite for their belonging to Christ.

Furthermore, Jesus is not saying that they were born again by the Spirit and therefore were obedient to the commands of Christ in a new covenant sense. For this is pre-Pentecost and no one had yet been given the gift of the Divine Helper — as is evident from the previous four chapters where the Helper is promised to come later.

What Jesus is saying is that in the pre-resurrection, pre-Pentecost sense that when you look at all the people Jesus preached the gospel to, these disciples of his were the only ones who “kept” his word. In this case, “keeping the word” of Christ means believing that He is the Messiah.

D.A. Carson explains why:

…a good case can be made that when in the Fourth Gospel Jesus refers to his words (plural) he is talking about the precepts he lays down, almost equivalent to his ‘commands’ (entolai, as in 14:21; 15:10), but when he refers to his word (singular) he is talking about his message as a whole, almost equivalent to ‘gospel’. The disciples had not displayed mature conformity to the details of Jesus’ teaching, but they had committed themselves unreservedly to Jesus as the Messiah, the one who truly reveals the Father.

And so what this means is that “they have kept the revelatory ‘word’ that Jesus has mediated to them from the Father” but that doesn’t mean that they are “’Christians in the full post-Pentecostal, Antiochian sense (Acts 11:25). It simply means that, as compared with the world, they have been drawn out of it (vs. 6)…” (Carson).

All of this will come into focus in verse 7 and 8, but first…

…let us consider the crux of all of this…

The thrust of this verse is that God had a plan for a specific group of people from before time began, that these people would be given as a love-gift to the Son from the Father. Because the Father delights in giving the elect to the Son, and because the Son has sacrificed His own body on the cross for the sins of His elect, there is therefore no power in heaven or on earth that can separate us from the mission and love of God in Christ.

What God has joined together, no man may separate – and such is the case of the bride (the Church) and the bridegroom (Christ). For as Paul aptly and joyously states:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

     “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

     we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

17:7-8 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. [8] For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

In verse seven Jesus says that he has told the disciples “everything” that “you” meaning “the Father” had given him. This is tantamount to saying “I’ve fulfilled this part of my mission.”

Stop for a moment and consider the weightiness of the fact that the words that sprang forth from the lips of this man Jesus were words made known to Him before the dirt under your feet existed…it is an awesome thing to think that the words we read here in Scripture came from the mind of God Himself.

Now verse eight says that the disciples “received” the words from Jesus. Earlier in verse six Jesus said the disciples “kept your word”, and I labored a little to show how this “keeping” was really having to do with accepting Jesus as the Messiah, and accepting the gospel message that He was proclaiming. It was believing that He was who He said He was. That is the same here I believe, because Jesus speaks in a sort of parallelism when He says:

They have received them
(They have) come to know in truth that I came from you
They have believed that you sent me
 

All three of these are basically saying the same thing – they believe that what I’m saying is true and that I am the Messiah sent directly from you.

This is remarkable, especially when you consider that others who have delivered messages from God were not always believed. One need only think of Luke 1 and Zachariah:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Zachariah was described as a righteous man not many verses earlier, and yet he did not have the faith to accept a message sent directly from God’s throne room. You can sort of hear the indignity in Gabriel’s voice! “Listen, I just came from the presence of the ALMIGHTY! Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand? I heard this with my own ears not a few minutes ago from God HIMSELF!”

So we must not sell the disciples short. They are not yet indwelt with the Spirit, but they believe the message from Jesus.

What we ought to really take away from this is that the heart of the message that Jesus had proclaimed had to do with the salvation of mankind from their bondage to sin. And the chief remedy to this is to “believe” that Jesus is who He says He is. To believe He came from heaven. That is what we must do. I’ll just end this thought by turning your attention back again to the sixth chapter of John’s gospel where another crowd wanted to know how to please God:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

John 3:16 in its Context

Last night I preached a message from verses John 3:16-21 in our evening service and I’ve posted both the notes and the audio below.  The notes seem extensive, but that’s only because I’ve included footnotes here for your edification.

My goal was to show that salvation is from first to last from God and by God, and that He alone deserves glory for salvation.

Introduction to the Passage

God is the One responsible for our salvation from first to last.  He saves us for Himself, by Himself, from Himself.  In contrast to our love for sin, His love is seen as extravagant. His salvation is provided at great cost, and in a way of His own choosing – there are no other paths up the mountain of God.

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. [i]

Context and Background

John 3:16 may perhaps be the most famous Bible verse in the world.  It has been quoted more times than any other verse, and it is well known to both pagan and Christian alike.

Yet this verse is also one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted verses in Scripture.  It is used to justify all manner of incoherent and incorrect doctrine, especially Universalism and Pelagianism. But as we’ll soon see, this verse must be read in its context if we’re to truly appreciate and understand our Lord’s message.

Prior to this verse, the Lord Jesus has been the one speaking, but many scholars believe that John 3:16 is actually John now commenting, and given the flow and narrative of the passage, I believe that this is correct.

Verse 16 comes on the heels of an Old Testament account of salvation being reapplied by Jesus as he turned the timetables forward to show how the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up in the wilderness foreshadowed His being lifted up on the cross.  Prior to that, dialoguing with a Jewish elder, Nicodemus, Jesus explains that all salvation is predicated upon the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit – you must become a new creation (born again) in order to be saved.

There are three things that this verse teaches us.

  1. That the world lies under condemnation from its own sin
  2. That God’s love and plan for salvation extends far wider than simply to the people of Israel
  3. That Jesus is the chosen instrument through which mankind will be saved from eternal damnation

1. Bound for Destruction

The first thing this verse assumes is that people in the world have the wrath of God abiding on them – otherwise there would be no need for a Savior.

The words, “whoever believes in him should not perish” assume that there will be some who do perish, and that had Christ not come into the world all would, indeed, perish.

Later in the chapter John explicitly spells this out:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36)

So the assumption is that the entire world is doomed for hell unless God does something.  If God doesn’t break through, then we won’t be saved.  We’re all perishing physically, and the larger context of the chapter addresses the nature of the soul and our need for eternal salvation.[ii]

2. What in the World?

The second point is mind blowing – and its also where people get tripped up in Universalism.

John here says that, “God so loved the world.”  In the gospel of John, the apostle uses the word “world” in at least 10 different ways:

The word world (Greek: Kosmos) appears 185 times in the New Testament: 78 times in John, 8 in Matthew, 3 in Mark, and 3 also in Luke. The vast majority of its occurrences are therefore in John’s writings, as it is also found 24 times in John’s three epistles, and just three times in Peter.

John uses the word world in ten different ways in his Gospel.

1. The Entire Universe – John 1:10; 1:3; 17:5
2. The Physical Earth – John 13:1; 16:33; 21:25
3. The World System – John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11 (see also similar usage in Gal 1:4 Paul)
4. All humanity minus believers – John 7:7; 15:18
5. A Big Group but less than all people everywhere – John 12:19
6. The Elect Only – John 3:17
7. The Non-Elect Only – John 17:9
8. The Realm of Mankind – John 1:10; (this is very probably the best understanding of the word “world” in John 3:16 also)
9. Jews and Gentiles (not just Israel but many Gentiles too) – John 4:42
10. The General Public (as distinguished from a private group) not those in small private groups – John 7:4[iii]
 

It’s sometimes difficult to know what meaning of “world” the apostle is going for, but the context always provides the answer, and simple logical deduction helps us stay away from incorrectly applying the wrong meaning.

Our task isn’t made any easier when we realize that throughout the rest of his gospel John sets the “world” over against the things of the Spirit.  That is to say that we are “called out” of the world, we are to not to our minds on the things of the world, and even that the world will “hate us.”

Knowing all of that, I think that the best way to understand the word “World” here is that is refers to all mankind – Jews and Gentiles.  The apostle knows that the Jews are familiar with the love God had for them as His special people, and Jesus’ relating to them the story of Moses and the bronze serpent would have certainly reminded them of God’s loyal love for them (hesed), all of this is contrasted with John now saying that “God so loved the world” – this would have set alarm bells ringing for his audience.  And it should do the same for us.

What he is saying is that God’s plan of salvation is wider than simply the Jews. In fact that is what Jesus meant when He said He would “draw all men to Himself.”  The cross is for Jew and Gentile alike.

All nations will call Him blessed.  Indeed it is a sign of the inbreaking of the kingdom that God’s love is mentioned so broadly.[iv]

Sadly, there are many people who incorrectly associate Christ’s saving work with the entire world, as if all the world will be saved simply because this verse says that God loved the world.  This is a grievous error. I’ll say more about that in a moment…

3. Jesus is the Way

Thirdly this verse tells us that Jesus is the intended way of salvation for all those who believe upon His name.  John later would say this in his epistles:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

Believing on the name of Jesus is believing in what that name represents – salvation.  It is believing that Jesus is who He says He is, and has done what He says He has done.  It is treating His message with seriousness, and laying hold of His promise of eternal life by faith.

The verse says that we get eternal life by “believing”, not by doing, not by working.  Similarly, God doesn’t love the “world” because the world is inherently good.  Indeed we’re told the opposite.  God loves the world despite the fact that the world is evil.  Before you are saved you are not good at all – you are a child of the Devil (John 8) and you are an enemy of God (as Paul argues in Romans).

Therefore your are called to believe – and that faith, that belief, is the instrument by which you obtain your salvation.  Listen to what Jesus says later to the masses in John 6:

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29, ESV)

There is no “work” to be done – that’s already been done by Jesus.  You simply need to trust that it has, and repent of your sins.

What this Verse Does NOT Say

Because it is such a popular verse, people often use this verse as a proof text for universalism – this is probably mainly because A. Jesus doesn’t claim in this verse exclusivity and B. Because the “world” is mentioned earlier in the verse it must therefore mean that Jesus has in view that everyone in the world will be saved by His death. ,

Well first, although John isn’t saying in THIS verse explicitly that Jesus is the “only” way to salvation, I believe that it is implied simply by the context.  Furthermore, John and Jesus say time and time again that Jesus IS the only way to salvation. For example:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, ESV)

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

Secondly, if one examines the verse closely, it is plain that John isn’t saying that God loves the entire world unto salvation. Quite the opposite.  John clearly infers that Jesus came to save those people who would believe upon His name.  The implication is that some will not believe up on His name.

The verse simply says that God loves the world, and that Jesus came to die for those who would believe in Him.  It doesn’t say God sent Jesus to die for the entire world. It doesn’t say the entire world would be saved. It does not describe the intricacies of the new birth.

Conclusion

What Jon 3:16 does say is that God loved the world, He has extended His saving love to more than simply the Jews – to men from all tribes, tongues and nations.  And He has provided us a way of salvation – through His Son Jesus Christ.  For the world sits under the judgment of God for the wickedness and sin debt that we owe Him can never be paid back on our own.  Therefore, in His great love, He has sent a way of salvation –the only way of salvation, and that comes in the person and work of Jesus Christ and belief upon His name.

3:17-18 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. [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.

I think there are two tricky things here. First, the idea that the “world” will be saved through Him, despite the fact that we just heard John use the word “world” to refer to a wide group of people, all humanity in fact, we now hear him use the word “world” in a more selective way – those who will be saved.  So the word “world” is here used to refer to those achieving salvation – the elect.

The second tricky topic here is the idea of judgment and condemnation and how it seems that verses 17 and 18 might not square with each other.

As far as condemnation goes, John says that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world – yet in verse 18 we read that those who don’t believe are condemned!  Is John contradicting himself?  May it never be! It’s more straightforward than we think.

John is simply saying that Jesus’ first advent was not the time of judgment, but rather of salvation – a time to usher in the kingdom of God.

Later, in John 5, Jesus says this:

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:22-24)

1 Peter 4:5 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.

So…what does it mean when John says they are “condemned already?”

It means that there are some who will never believe. Those who do not place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are “condemned already.”  As John 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 John to be saying: “every human being is born already condemned by their own sinfulness and if you don’t believe in Jesus then you will remain condemned.”

Therefore, “Condemned already” is another way of saying, “the wrath of God abides on him.”

This takes discernment, but it will be illuminated (no pun intended) as we read verses 19-21 because while Jesus had not come to “judge” the world, the very effect of His coming exposed the darkness of this world – a world filled with people already under condemnation and headed for damnation. And those who do not believe in the name of the Son of God will not be saved from that condemnation.

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. [20] For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. [21] 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.”

Problem 1: We Love Our Sin

The question we raised a moment ago about “condemnation” is now answered by the apostle, and what he has to say is frightening to say the least.

Why do we sit under condemnation?  Because “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light.”

Judgment in this case is the obvious result of exposure.  It is not a courtroom, or a white throne in revelation; it is the exposure of Christ’s ministry of truth upon the wicked hearts of mankind.  That exposure testifies to one thing, according to John: man loves the darkness.  They love their own sin.[v]

Apart from Christ, before you are saved, you love sin – in fact you cannot NOT love your sin.

This isn’t the only place we read this in the Bible. Listen to what God says to Isaiah about the hearts of men:

These have chosen their own ways,
and their soul delights in their abominations;
I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and bring their fears upon them,
because when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, they did not listen;
but they did what was evil in my eyes
and chose that in which I did not delight.” (Isaiah 66:3-4, ESV)
 

Our deeds are evil, and we love our sinful ways. Our natural tendency is not to love the light but to run from it, to hide from it and hate it.

Problem 2: Our Works Are Evil

Shocking claim number two comes in verse 20. The apostle says we don’t want to come into the light because we don’t want our deeds exposed.  When you pull back and remember that we’re talking about the light of the Gospel of Jesus here – remember John 3:16 anyone? – you add two and two together and see that we have a serious issue here.  Like cockroaches, we are described as running from the light, not running to the light!

Those who have not been born again by the Spirit of God run as fast as they can from the gospel.  They don’t want to hear that they are sinners and that their sin is wrong.  They don’t want to hear that their lives are headed for eternal hell.  They don’t want to follow Christ.  Not only that, but they don’t want to leave their old way of life!  They like their sin.  They like who they are (or so they say).

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.” I bet you hear that all the time, don’t you.  But Jesus doesn’t accept this, does He? What we read here is that we naturally RUN from the light.  He is saying that there are no “good people.” We have all gone astray (Is. 53:6), no one does anything that is truly “good” in the eyes of the Holy God we serve (Roman 3:12).

We read in Romans 3:11 that “…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.”

Theologian R.C. 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.”

Pastor Warren 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 adds, “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)…through the fall, and through our own sin, the nature of man has become so debased, and depraved, and corrupt, that it has become impossible for him to Christ without the assistance of God the Holy Sprit.”[vi]

The Dilemma

So we are faced with a dilemma, aren’t we…we read the glorious offer of salvation (“For God so love the world”), and all we need to do is believe in Him and we’ll be saved. Yet at the same time John describes our character as fallen, in love with the darkness, naturally enemies of God (Romans 5:10).

The issue here is that we see the offer of salvation, but in our natural state we don’t see it as glorious.  Plenty of people understand the ABC’s of what Jesus did.  Plenty of people have heard the gospel, but not everyone sees it as glorious.  And this is what Paul sums up in 2 Corinthians 4:4:

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)

The Solution

What can be done?  How can anyone be saved?

The answer is that this: we need a supernatural change of heart. For no man will ever call upon the name of the Lord without the gracious help of God who opens our eyes and shows us the glory of the light of Jesus for what it truly is.[vii]

Later in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes it in this way:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6, ESV)

In order for anyone to believe upon Jesus, God must sovereignly intervene.  He initiates a love for us that softens our hearts, and draws us to Himself.

First, Jesus initiates a love for us – and then expects us to follow His example:

We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19, ESV)

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:16-17, ESV)

His love is poured out upon us through His Holy Spirit. He brings us out of darkness into His marvelous light by His sovereign initiating love.

In so doing, He softens our hearts with this love. Remember, He is the Lord of all the earth, He is God and He sees and controls the hearts of all men (Prov. 21:1, Ps. 33:13-15, Phil. 2:13).

Perhaps the most famous example of this is found in Exodus when God is said repeatedly to have “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex. 4:21, 7:3, 10:20, 27, 11:10 and so on).  Paul reminds us that:

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:17-18, ESV)

Note: When Scripture talks of God’s “hardening our hearts” it cannot mean God is creating evil that isn’t already there. In fact, if we think carefully about what John has been saying in verses 19-21 we will see that our natural disposition is to love the darkness. It is only by God’s grace that we aren’t completely turned over[viii] to these desires in the first place.[ix]

Nevertheless, the Bible makes clear that we are still held responsible for our actions and our choices. Just the fact that there is a hell and a heaven and a final judgment showcase this obvious truth. And while we may not fully understand why God chooses to work this way, I praise God that He is who He is, and that He has intervened in my life.  I praise God that though I am a sinner, Christ died for me.  Though I loved the darkness more than the light, He has turned my heart toward Him. He opened my eyes to see the gloriousness of the gospel.

Those Who Do What is Right

In the final verse we find that those who do “right” are okay coming into the light.  In fact, they love the light!  These are people whose lives have been changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These are people who used to hate the light, and run from it.

What is remarkable about these people is that they have been turned from sinners who love their sin, to those who love to give glory to God for anything good they do.  This is what is meant by, “so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Christians who carry out the fruit of their salvation in love toward others give glory to God.  For they know in their hearts that any good they do is completely and totally owed to the sovereign work of God.

In Conclusion

What we learn from this passage of Scripture is that salvation is from first to last of God, by God, from God, for God – it is all of God.  He deserves all the credit.

I cannot get Paul’s words out of my mind, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”…for me.  For you.  You were lost.  You were dead.  You were faithless, hopeless, and on a grim march toward eternal death when He snatched you off that path and plucked you like a “brand from the burning” (Zech. 3)!  Praise God for his love and grace and the gospel which reminds us everyday that He has saved us for Himself, by Himself, and from Himself.

How Do We Respond?

How do we respond to what John has written here?  I hope you respond by recognizing the depth of your depravity and your sin and that apart from Christ you were a wretch without merit enough to last one hour before the Holy One.  I hope you see the glorious grace of Jesus Christ and the magnificence of His offer to you this evening.

If you are a Christian and you have become puffed up in your walk. Then I plead with you – repent of that sin.  You have no merit on your own.  Furthermore, you weren’t the one who ordained salvation, and neither will you have to maintain it.  You have been swept up in unspeakable grace, a never-ending grace, a love so powerful that it will never let you go.

If you came here a skeptic and have felt your heart strangely warmed but our Lord’s offer of eternal life, then I encourage you now to repent of your sins.  Cast away your pride and your old life and trust in the salvation that comes from believing in the name of Jesus Christ.  He is faithful, He will lift you out of the mire you find yourself in and set your life upon solid footing for eternity.


[i] Old verse 16 notes that I didn’t get to include: 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.

In his book ‘Chosen by God’ RC Sproul says this about John 3:16 and the distortions mentioned above, “What does this famous verse teach about fallen man’s ability to choose Christ? The answer, simply, is nothing. The argument used by non-Reformed people is that the text teaches that everybody in the world has it in their power to accept or reject Christ.  A careful look at the text reveals, however, that it teaches nothing of the kind.  What the text teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved.”

What this verse does teach us is that God has prepared a way of salvation (eternal salvation) for the whole world – people from every tribe and tongue and nation will have a way to be saved.  God doesn’t not discriminate based on sex, age, race, and ethnicity.  And that is the great love of our undiscriminating God.  God has showed both common grace to all of mankind in that He’s allowed a way of salvation at all, and a more specific and particular saving grace to those whom He chose to save before He made the world.

Lastly this verse teaches us how people are saved: by believing in the Son of God. A very straightforward proposition, however, just like not everyone would have been saved by the copper snake, not everyone is saved by Christ’s sacrifice.  The copper snake had the power (efficaciousness) to save all/anyone who looked at it, as does Christ.  But not everyone would look at the copper snake, and not everyone will look to Christ.  Christ has been lifted up for all the world to see, His salvation has been made manifest and millions upon millions of men have known of what He did, yet millions continue to scoff at the olive branch of reconciliation that God handed down from on high.

[ii] Article 4 of the First Head of Doctrine from the Synod of Dort says it best, “The wrath of God abideth upon those who believe not this gospel. But such as receive it, and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith, are by Him delivered from the wrath of God and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them.”

[iii] This list was taken from reformationtheology.com.  The specific link can be found here: http://www.reformationtheology.com/2009/04/world_johns_ten_uses_of_the_wo.php

[iv] In fact, we as gentiles ought to praise the God for including us into his promises.  Listen to what Paul says in Romans 15:

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
 
10 And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
 
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
 
12 And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:8-13, ESV)

[v] In ‘God’s Greater Glory’ Bruce Ware explains: “Both Jacob Arminius and John Wesley agreed with John Calvin, who in turn agreed with Augustine, on this point (although many in the Arminian tradition have departed from the view of the founders of Wesleyan Arminianism). These men all agreed that sin has resulted in human nature being unable, on its own, to do what pleases God or to obey (from the heart) the commands of God.”  Ware actually cites Paul in Romans 8:7-8 where the apostle says that the desires of the flesh are set against God, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

[vi] This is taken from a sermon called ‘Human Inability’ from three different paragraphs. The full text is found here: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0182.htm

[vii] Bruce Ware talks about how people see Christ intellectually, but they don’t see him as glorious.  It’s a different way of saying what Spurgeon says about the corruption of the intellect. He calls this critical realism, and it’s a via media between rationalism and fideism.  The text that harmonizes this for him is 2 Corinthians 4:4 – a text I use above.

[viii] In fact, when God does “turn us over” to our own desires, they aren’t good, and the outcome is horrific!  Paul tells us as much in Romans chapter one:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:24-25, ESV)

Paul says God “gave them up” or “turned them over” to their own desire multiple times in this passage.  The truth that this conveys is that when human beings are allowed to have everything they naturally want, those natural desires are evil and rebellious – not loving and seeking after the will of God.

[ix] R.C. Sproul has a marvelous explanation of this, especially as it pertains to Pharoah in his book ‘Chosen by God’.  Also, in his book ‘God’s Greater Glory’ Bruce Ware tackles this same text in Exodus with great wisdom and care.