The apostle John continues his summary of the great news concerning God’s love toward the world. John 3:16 is the statement of fact concerning God’s love. This is the way God loved the world: he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. God’s love is stated in a factual manner. This is the way God loved us. Verse 17 continues from verse 16 identifying God’s purpose in sending his Son into the world. John is helping us grasp what God is doing through Jesus so that there is no confusion about the purpose of God’s love.
God’s Purpose: Salvation, Not Condemnation (3:17-18)
God sent Jesus to redeem humanity, not in wrath against humanity. This is an important framework to have in our minds as we think about God. God did not come against us in wrath. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. This statement gets easily taken out of its context and used to suggest that God does not condemn anyone. But that is not at all the point of what John is saying. Verse 18 explains why God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world. The world was already condemned. Jesus did not have to come to his creation to condemn it. The creation is already condemned. We are already under condemnation from our sins. Carefully notice verse 18: not believing does not condemn us, because we are condemned already. John is moving our thinking away from believing that we are good people who are deserving of eternal life. We are not in the condition of doing nothing means that we are safe with God. We are condemned. Doing nothing maintains our condemnation. Something has to happen to change the outcome of our condemnation. If nothing else happens, then all of us will remain in the condemnation of our sins and, according to verse 16, we will perish. Jesus did not come to a morally neutral world. He came to a world of darkness already condemned from their sins. Therefore, God did not send his Son for our condemnation but for our salvation.
Further, to not believe in the Son is to leave ourselves in our condemnation. Do not forget what we have learned in this chapter about belief. Belief is not acknowledgement or confession, but life transformation. Jesus described it a being “born again” and “born from above.” A new birth has occurred, which is also described as being born of water and the Spirit. This is the new heart and new life that seeks to obey and desires the ways of the Lord. We must experience new birth in Jesus. Jesus is the only way out of our mess. Jesus is the only way to be set free from our condemnation. To use the imagery of verses 14-15, Jesus is the only way to be healed from the death sentence of sin. There is nothing for the condemned to do. The sentence has been passed. John reveals the verdict in verse 19.
The Verdict (3:19-20)
The judicial sentence has been passed. The NIV 2011 hits the picture well, “This is the verdict.” The verdict is very sobering. Imagine being in the courtroom of God and listening to this verdict being declared in our trial. “The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19 ESV) The light is referring to Jesus. Jesus is the light who has come into the world (cf. John 1:5,9; 8:12). The light has come, but we loved the darkness because we are wicked, as seen by our actions. How sad! We would rather live for ourselves rather than be saved from our condemnation. What staggering sinfulness! The light has come into the world, and we still are living wickedly as if Jesus did not come. The light has come and there has not been life change in the hearts of the people. No transformation has occurred. There is something wrong!
Let’s relate this to the scene in the wilderness like Jesus did in verses 14-15. This would be like the people being bitten by the venomous snakes, the bronze snake being put on the pole for salvation from the venom, and people rejecting that salvation pole. They close their eyes and refuse to look to the bronze serpent by faith. They would rather complain and die in the wilderness rather than change their lives through the glory of God’s grace and live. They would rather reject God as the source of their life and die in that desert rather than believe that God would heal them if they faithfully turned to him. Who is going to refuse the anti-venom? Who is going to reject the antidote to death? John says that we are. We are rejecting the antidote to death because we love the darkness rather than the light.
Feel the weight and release of these glorious words penned by the apostle Paul by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 ESV)
Why would we reject this? Why would we reject the antidote? Why would we refuse the offer of salvation? John tells us that we reject the light because it exposes our sinfulness and we do not like it. We like our sins and we do not want them exposed. That is what is happening in our hearts. We are saying that we prefer our sins which lead to our death rather than Jesus which leads to our life. So we try to somehow have a relationship with Jesus but maintain our sinful ways, trying to hide them from others. But Jesus is light. Light exposes darkness. We cannot treasure our sins and prefer our wickedness over Jesus. When we choose evil then we are hating the light. We are hating Jesus and we run away from the light. There is something amazing about what our Lord is calling us to do. God is calling us to expose our works. Those who do evil do not want their deeds exposed so they hate the light. If we are doing what is true, then we will walk into the light and have our deeds exposed. Those who live by the truth willingly walk into the light, allow sin to be exposed, find cleansing, and begin the new birth/life transformation. To look to the bronze serpent on the pole is to admit guilt and to admit the need for healing. We have to humble ourselves to walk into the light of Jesus. We have to confess our sins and admit that we need a Savior. Stop hiding your sins. Stop pretending that your sinfulness is okay. Stop thinking that being lukewarm toward God is acceptable. Do not run from the light of Jesus. Let the light shine into your heart. Feel the weight of our common condemnation and turn from that darkness. Come to the light.
Carried Out In God (3:21)
I love how this paragraph ends with the Nicodemus story. “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.” (John 3:21 ESV) We are sinful and we do not do good works by our own devices and schemes. We love because he first loved us. It is only by the revelation of God, the love of God breaking into the world, the light coming into the darkness, and Jesus’ death on the cross that propels us to good works. Works based on us are works of darknesses. Works based on God are works of light. The goal is to have life transformation so that our actions are no longer the works of darknesses but works carried out in God. The new birth is based in God, not in us. Why are we doing good works? We do good works because the light has come into the world. Jesus has come and we are compelled to live for him because he has taken away our condemnation. Fleeing sinful living is not about doing it because God said so. Obedience and service should not feel like a command to us. Light has come and we are to desire the change from wicked deeds to good works. God wants people to come to the light, not avoid the light.
How can I know that my belief is a saving belief? How can I know that I have no condemnation now? Nicodemus believed Jesus was sent from God but was told he would not see the kingdom of God unless a new birth occurred. Genuine belief in Jesus reveals itself in humble obedience. This is what verse 21 is declaring to us. You can know what belief you have. Is the model of your life to come to the light in humble obedience and submission to the Lord Jesus or is the model to hide our sins, stay away from the light, and live as we want? Our life is in God. Our actions are in God. Our hope is in God. Everything we do is to be carried out in God. This is the new birth. This is life transformation. Jesus is the light. Come to the light.