What Does John 3:16 Say?

John states the fol­low­ing in his gospel account of Jesus Christ:

“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.
John 3:16

Ok, noth­ing new here, but what is really going on in this pas­sage? It was brought up to me that by the dec­la­ra­tion of “world” that means that any­one may come to Christ, but we must look at this carefully.

“For God so loved the world…”

Ok, God loves the world; that is that He loves all of His cre­ation. Noth­ing to hard here.

“…that He gave His only begot­ten Son,”

God loved the world (that is His cre­ation) so much that He offered up His Son as a sac­ri­fice for our trans­gres­sions on the cross.

“…that who­ever believes in Him shall not per­ish, but have eter­nal life. ”

And this is where it gets sticky. I’ve had debates with other Chris­tians that declare that this last state­ment means that ALL of cre­ation that can come to Christ, but when we look at this we will see that this is not what this pas­sage is declaring.

We must estab­lish what this text is say­ing. It is clearly stat­ing that those who believe in Christ as their sav­ior receive redemp­tion, not that all may come to Christ. The Bible is very clearly that we are unable to come to God (Romans 3:11; 1 John 3:14; Eph­esians 2:1). In fact, the very con­text of John 3:16 pro­vides the answer:

“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.
John 3:19–20

Here Jesus is speak­ing about our con­di­tion as fallen crea­tures. “Men loved the dark­ness rather than the light…” He so clearly states. Dur­ing this, “[our] deeds were evil.” In fact, we love the dark­ness (sin, spir­i­tual death) so much that we hate the light “for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Also, we must look at how many times “world” is used in this gospel (not includ­ing his epis­tles and Rev­e­la­tion, just this con­text). Keep in mind this is not an exhaus­tive list as “world” is men­tioned 57 times in the NASV.

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
John 1:10

“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.
John 3:19

Judas (not Iscar­iot) *said to Him, “Lord, what then has hap­pened that You are going to dis­close Your­self to us and not to the world?“
John 14:22

“I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;
John 17:9

But you say to me: “Chris, don’t the fol­low­ing pas­sages speaks of sal­va­tion for the world?” (As if you would ask me that question.)

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
John 3:17

“I am the liv­ing bread that came down out of heaven; if any­one eats of this bread, he will live for­ever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.“
John 6:51

If we take these pas­sages lit­er­ally, then it means that Jesus was a Uni­ver­sal­ist, or that all are saved (even those who don’t believe in Christ). By defend­ing that view of these texts you are really say­ing: “Jesus came into the world so every per­son past, present, and future may be saved; and they don’t have to believe on Christ for this gift.”

We must be care­ful to jumps on words like “world” or “all” in mak­ing a state­ment on how God saves men.

So, what does John 3:16 mean?

It means just what it says that all who believe on Christ will be saved, but it does not answer the ques­tion: “how do we come to Christ.” And that is the crux ques­tion that many Chris­tians attempt to read into this text. I believe that all who do believe on Christ will be saved (obvi­ously, Solo Chris­tus!); but we must not quicken to make a the­o­log­i­cal stance.

We are dead to the things of God, that is to say that no one can come to God with­out His grace, and He pulls us out of death into life.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eter­nal life, and does not come into judg­ment, but has passed out of death into life.
John 5:24

“If any man doth ascribe of sal­va­tion, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth noth­ing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.“
Mar­tin Luther

“Thank­ful” by Caedmon’s Call

‘Cause we’re all still­born and dead in our trans­gres­sions We’re shack­led up to the sin we hold so dear So what part can I play in the work of redemp­tion I can’t refuse, I can­not add a thing

‘Cause I am just like Lazarus and I can hear your voice I stand and rub my eyes and walk to You Because I have no choice

I am thank­ful that I’m inca­pable
Of doing any good on my own
I’m so thank­ful that I’m inca­pable
Of doing any good on my own

‘Cause by grace I have been saved
Through faith that’s not my own
It is a gift of God and not by works
Lest any­one should boast