Matthew Fitzsimmons

Meditations on John 3

Most of you probably know by now that I am a firm believer that the Doctrines of Grace as expressed by the five points of what is commonly called Calvinism are thoroughly biblical, and that any interpretation of the Gospel that denies these truths does serious damage to the Gospel. I recently started reading through John, and today I got to John 3.

John 3:16 is often used by Arminians to say that Limited Atonement (better known as Particular Redemption) cannot be accurate, because it says God loved “the world” and “whosoever believes.” I’ll point out in passing that Calvinists do not deny that anyone who believes in Christ will be saved; we just believe that no one can come to Christ unless God draws him. These two doctrines do not contradict each other. (If it sounds like I’m getting off of the Particular Redemption point and onto some of the others, I probably am as they are all inextricably linked to each other).But to get back to John 3, what I want to point out today is that the verses immediately following John 3:16 are clearly in support of the doctrines of Calvinism. Look at the end of verse 17: “but in order that the world might be saved through him.” What we are looking at here is a use of the word “world” that obviously does not mean that it will be effective for everyone in the world. To interpret this the way Arminians say that “world” should always be interpreted is to claim that everyone in the world will be saved, and that none will be condemned. This clearly violates other Scriptures, and the average Arminian or Pelagian would not be willing to go this far. But it is their own reasoning that takes us to this conclusion.But let us move on a bit further (while remaining in the same paragraph that was begun by John 3:16, verses 18-21:

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. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.

What we see here is that everyone who is wicked does not come to the light because he hates the light (v. 20) and that these people were condemned before Christ even came (v. 17-18). What we also see is that the ones who are not condemned are those who come to the light and believe in the name of Jesus. Furthermore we see that those who come to the light are those whose deeds have been “carried out in God.” To paraphrase verse 21, the ones that do what is true are the ones who come, but they don’t come or do good of themselves, but they come and do good because of God. You’ll notice that this work of God actually precedes the act of coming.I guess I got off the original topic of Particular Redemption, but that is because, as I mentioned before, these five doctrines are inextricably linked (some would go so far as to say they are just five ways of saying the same thing). My summary, therefore, is this: John 3:16 does not deal a blow to the Doctrines of Grace as many claim, but when taken with the rest of the context in which it appears lends significant support to these doctrines.

All Scripture passages taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.