With Dale Ratzlaff
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
This is perhaps the most loved and quoted section of all Scripture. Here we find the simple gospel that even a child can understand. At the same time, by taking it phrase by phrase, we see the depths of the love the Father has for His wayward children.
God so loved the world.
In the Gospel of John we find 78 references to the “world”. The “world” is seen in two ways.
The world is opposed to God.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him (Jn. 1:10).
The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil (Jn. 7:7).
Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out (Jn. 12:31).
…that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him orknow Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you (Jn. 14:17).
O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me (Jn. 17:25).
The world is the object of God’s saving love and grace.
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn. 1:29).
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (Jn. 3:16-17).
…and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (Jn. 4:42).
For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world (Jn. 6:33).
These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).
John 3:16 presents the greatest love that is possible. When one reads over the references showing how the world is opposed to God and hates His Son, we wonder how our God can “love” the world. There are several words for “love” in Greek; here it is the verb form of agape (ἠγάπησεν). This is the same word used when Jesus said,
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men (Lk. 6:35).
He gave His only begotten Son.
This is not only the greatest gift, but the arms of this love reach out to the whole world. No one is excluded from God’s gift unless they exclude themselves. “Only begotten” means “unique”, “special”, and “loved”. This term is best illustrated in God’s description of Isaac when God asked Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice.
He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you (Gen. 22:2).
Isaac was the “miracle child” born to Abraham when he was 100 years old and Sarah was well past the years of child-bearing. Jesus was also a “miracle child” in that He was born of a virgin.
…that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Some have tried to narrow “whoever”, but in the whole testimony of John there is no narrowing. “Whoever” means just that. “Believes” describes more than intellectual assent. It includes the idea of trust. This trust is more than hope. It is assured hope in the object of that belief, and saving trust puts the whole life on the line. We trust Jesus’ work for us on the cross alone and completely.
In this context, belief does two things. First, it removes us from the fear and reality of perishing. The word “perish” carries the ideas of ruin, destroy, kill, bring to nothing.
The message here is that to get the sentence of “perishing”, one has to do nothing. We all stand condemned because of Adam’s sin which is imputed to us, often called “original sin”.
The second thing that belief includes is not only the assurance of eternal life in the future, but eternal life now. “Have eternal life” is in the present, continuous tense. This is something that believers have now and will continue to have.
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
This statement by Jesus is one that is cherished by those of us who came out of the Seventh-day Adventist church. If we read much of the early writings of Ellen White, the judgment was something to be feared. Notice this quote from Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 311:
Great and small, high and low, rich and poor, are to be judged “out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Day after day, passing into eternity, bears its burden of records for the books of Heaven. Words once spoken, deeds once done, can never be recalled. Angels of God have registered both the good and the evil. The mightiest conqueror upon the earth cannot call back the record of even a single day. Our acts, our words, even our most secret motives, all have their weight in deciding our destiny for weal or woe. Though they may be forgotten by us, they will bear their testimony to justify or condemn. They go before us to the Judgment.
We were instructed that only those who had professed to believe in God came into judgment (The Great Controversy, p. 480). However, here in John, Jesus says, “He who believes in Him is not judged.” This one reference is enough to clarify truth and expose error.
The purpose of the Father’s gift in His beloved Son was that the world might be saved through Him. Notice that it does not say that Christ’s purpose was to perfectly keep the law so that we could follow His example and then, by our perfect law keeping, we could be saved. Rather, He came as our sinless Savior.
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Judgment in this passage is centered in our belief or disbelief in Christ, not in what we do or don’t do. We are to believe “in the name of the only begotten Son of God”. The “name” means more than just “Jesus”. It stands for the whole “Christ event”—His incarnation, His divine nature, His perfect, sinless human nature, His death for sin, His burial and resurrection and ascension into heaven. While Jesus does not deny a future judgment, nevertheless our passage presents judgment as a present reality.
Later in John’s Gospel we have these statements of Jesus:
For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son (Jn. 5:22).
…and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man (Jn. 5:27).
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
In this statement we see our present culture and the genesis of the hatred that is building toward Christians and Judeo-Christian ideals of morality. Some today are listing Christians as “hate groups”. Why? Because they are reflecting the light of Christ which exposes the evil of darkness. In contrast to those who live in the darkness of sin are believers who live in the light of Christ.
But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
- When we are living in the truth of the Gospel, we have nothing to fear when walking in the light! In fact I believe when we fully understand who we are in Christ—sons and daughters of God, members of the heavenly family it will create a continuous joy with thanksgiving in our souls. As believers we have been judged already and have been given the verdict of eternal life here and now.
- It is a sobering reality to realize that we are either now in the justified family of Christ with eternal life, or, we are still in the condemned family of Adam. There is no middle ground where semi-believers are in probation trying to be good enough to be safe to save.
- For those of us who come from an Adventist background we can jettison, once and for all, the teaching of the investigative judgment. We have the clear teaching of Scripture. “He who believes in Him is not judged.”
- More than that, we can bask in awe that the Creator of the world loved us lost sinners so much that He willingly gave His beloved Son to die on our behalf. Let us never forget this gem of Scripture. Commit it to memory. Meditate upon it often.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Father, when I realize your great love for me, love so big that you should send your Son to die on my behalf, my soul echoes the old hymn that expresses the wonder of it all. “How can it be?”
And can it be that I should gain, An interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me? Amazing love! How can it be That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?