A study of John 3:16
Whosoever Believeth in Him
We have seen that the theme throughout John 3 is: “This Is How God Saves”. And we have seen that the verses preceding John 3:16 are all agreeing concerning the sovereignty of God. They all agree that we cannot make ourselves become born from above, and we cannot cause ourselves become born of God by the will of the flesh or by the will of man, for this occurs only by the will of God.
We cannot force the hand of God or force the Spirit of God by making a decision for Jesus, or by making us be baptized in water, or by saying the sinner’s prayer, or by accepting the Lord Jesus as our Savior, for God the Holy Spirit breathes on whom He wills and not on whom we will. We saw, from Ezekiel 36 that God takes the initiative to put a new heart within us, which means that our dead soul has become alive, since it has become born from above. And God will take the initiative to put a new spirit within us, which means that we now have an ongoing desire to do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
We have seen that there were two groups of people in the camp of Israel in the wilderness. One group of people died without mercy from the venom of the fiery serpents, and another group of people was given grace unto repentance, and God gave them the grace to live long enough to see the brass serpent made and be put on a pole, and they were healed from the venom of these fiery serpents. We have seen, from the words of John 3:14-15, that this event whereby the Israelites looked on the brass serpent is equivalent to us believing that the Lord Jesus on the cross paid the full price for our sins.
But like the children of Israel were given the grace to see the serpent on a pole, so in like manner we are given the grace to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our sin-bearer on the cross. But now we have arrived at a sticky issue. For in this century many churches hold to the doctrine that first we must believe on the Lord Jesus as our Savior, first we must accept Him as our Redeemer, and then in response He will save us from our sins and from the consequences of our sins. In other words, beginning with John 3:16, they conclude that we have an active part in our salvation: we must accept Him and believe, or else Christ’s blood will not cleanse us from our sins.
Is this really so?
Is it possible that the conclusions from John 3:16 run opposite to the conclusions from the previous 15 verses, and even opposite to the conclusions of chapters 1 and 2?
You very well know that this is impossible! God is not a liar in one place and speaks the truth ten verses later. Let us read:
1. For God So Loved the World
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Last week we looked carefully at the first half of this verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son”, and we saw that all the controversy around the first half of this verse centers on the understanding of the word “world”. Many people have said unto us, “Of course the word “world” means what it says; it is the whole world, it means everybody in this world;
is it not true that God loves everybody in this world?
Well, that means you are taking this verse out of context.
For the Bible does not say anywhere that God loves everybody in this world. We know how difficult it is to set aside the traditions of men. We have heard this verse explained from the days of our youth, and we have difficulty accepting that we have been wrong for such a long time. Nevertheless, if we are not continuously learning from the Bible, we set ourselves up for being sucked into a cult. If we hold the opinion of our former teachers higher than the opinion of God the Holy Spirit, we set ourselves up for a fall.
God says in:
“Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD”.
In other words, if you put your trust in what man says rather than what God says you shall fall under the curse of God, for you have departed from listening to God.
Is it possible that the same meaning of the word “world” would remain constant through the Bible?
No! That is not possible.
If we assume that the word world in John 3:16 means everybody in the whole wide world, and that God loves everybody in the world so much that God caused His only begotten Son to be sacrificed on the cross for everybody in the world, then how do we explain a great many verses in the Bible which state that God does not love the world?
For example, we read in 1 John 2:15-17,
1 John 2:15-17
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Clearly, this is a world that we should not love, since God does not love this world either. You might say that this world does not include people but only things. We may not be overtaken by a desire to have more and more things of this world. That is true.
But can you see that this is one of the many different meanings of the word “world”?
On the other hand, we can find verses here in John where the word “world” refers to people who hate Christ and hate His people also, and whom the Lord does not love. For the sake of illuminating John 3:16 I will try to restrict myself to references just out of the Gospel according to John. Let us see what God says about the word “world” in the Gospel of John. We have here in chapter 17 the High Priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus, just before He went to the cross. He says in:
“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine”.
This is surprising from two points of view. First of all, this is a world that Christ does not pray for, and thus it cannot be a world for whom He died on the cross, because Christ does not love this world, and this world does not love Him. Secondly, this verse lays down the principle that there are only some people Christ prays for and others He passes by. The Lord Jesus prays here for His disciples, and in verse 20 He prays for us.
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word”.
These two verses should be taken together, for in this entire chapter these two verses indicate for whom the Lord Jesus is praying and for whom He is not praying. He prays for His disciples, and He prays for all those who shall believe on Him as their Savior and Redeemer from sin and Satan. He is not praying for everyone else in the world who remains unsaved. This world of the unsaved is His enemy. This world of the unsaved hates the disciples because this world also hates Christ. We can see this clearly in verses 14-16.
I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
What Is that World?
In John 15 the Lord prepares His disciples for the sufferings they are going to meet in the world that hates them. He says in John 15:18,
¶ If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
There are three principles here. First of all, the Lord speaks here of the world of the unsaved; it is the world of people who will never become saved. Believers do not hate Christ, so that the world here must refer to a world of unbelievers, in contrast to the world of those who love Christ. Verse 18 refers to a world of people who hate God and who hate those who are children of God. In His omniscience God knows this. God knows that they are going to Hell and that they are going to spend an eternity there.
Would this then be the world of people that God so loved that He gave His only begotten Son to suffer and die on the cross on behalf of all their sins?
Should God so increase the sufferings of Christ that He must not only pay for the sins of all those who will certainly be saved, but also pay for all the sins of people who will definitely pay for their own sins in Hell?
Can you see that this situation is getting ridiculous?
Can you see that this is altogether insulting the perfect omniscience of God, for God knows the end from the beginning?
Secondly, the Lord says in verse 19, “ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world”.
What does this mean?
Does it not mean that the disciples belong to a different world than those who hate God?
We see here a world that hates God, and another world of which the disciples belong. And from John 17:20 we know that we who are saved also belong to that world of the disciples. The Lord Jesus says, “I have chosen you out of the world”. In other words, He chooses to bestow His favors on some whom He chose out of the world of the unsaved, and placed them into a world that He is going to save. There is a world of the unsaved and there is another world of those whom Christ has picked out of the world of the unsaved.
The world of the unsaved is going to be destroyed on the Last Day; that is not the world that Christ came to save, for it will not be saved; it will be destroyed. But the other world of those whom Christ has chosen is a world that shall be saved; it is a world that already exists now, but it is empty.
It is the world of the New Heaven & New Earth that shall be inhabited by all those whom Christ chose and saved, and whose soul is the dwelling place of God. That is the world that shall be saved. Thirdly, the Lord says in verse 20, “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you”.
It means that all the disciples would be persecuted and would suffer for the sake of Christ. However not only the 12 disciples, but all believers shall be subject to persecution and shall suffer for the sake of Christ, for these words of verse 20 apply to all believers throughout time. We who are saved are all servants of Christ; we are not greater than Him, and thus we shall suffer persecution as He did. And so, we see that the Lord Jesus painted a contrast between two worlds: an evil world of the unsaved who remain unsaved, and another world consisting of the ones chosen out of that evil world. This contrast becomes even clearer when we consider the following verse.
The Lord speaks here of the dwelling place of God the Holy Spirit. We read in John 14:17,
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
Which world cannot receive the Spirit of Truth?
It is the evil world of the unsaved who cannot receive God the Holy Spirit, for to receive the Holy Spirit is equivalent to salvation. They cannot receive the Holy Spirit, for God did not plan to save them. That is why those who have been chosen out of this evil world, and are spiritually placed into another world altogether, do receive the Spirit of Truth. And so what we have seen from these few verses out of John 17, and 15, and 14 is that the word “world” has several meanings, but two of those meanings are the evil world of those who remain unsaved, and the world of those whom the Lord chose out of the evil world and placed into another world, the world of the chosen ones. Let us now apply these conclusions into the verse of consideration in this article, John 3:16. And here we see both of those worlds contrasted against each other. The first thing we observe is that the “world” in John 3:16 does not refer to every human being in this world, but refers to the world of those who have been saved. We read in:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
We see in verse 16 that the world which God loves is a world filled with believers. This is a world for which Christ shed His blood so that this world might be saved. We see in verse 17 that this same world will not be condemned, but will be saved. And thus, the world of verses 16 and 17 is the world of the chosen of God. But in the next two verses we see another world that is being condemned. In verse 18 the Lord speaks of those who will be condemned for their unbelief. And in verse 19 we see that this is the world of the unbelievers which will be condemned; it will be destroyed on the Last Day, and the men who loved the darkness of sin more than Christ, the Light of the world, shall also be condemned, “because their deeds were evil”.
They shall have to pay for their evil deeds in Hell, rather than have Christ pay for their evil deeds on the cross. And so, we have arrived at these conclusions because the meaning of the word “world” depends on the context. This is a principle which we must apply to all interpretations of Scripture. We must always let the context control our interpretations of Scripture, or else we would arrive at contradictions, which cannot be tolerated, for God is not a liar. Now let us look at the second half of John 3:16, and consider the second controversial subject matter:
2. Whosoever Believeth in Him
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Does “whosoever” really mean whosoever?
In this context, Yes! Whosoever means ALL those that believe in Christ as their Savior from sin and Satan have received everlasting life. It is not something reserved for the distant future, but everlasting life begins now, in this life, and it is given to whosoever believes in Christ.
But who out of his own initiative does believe? Have you heard of the Four Nones in the Bible?
Yes, let me tell you of the Four Nones that we find in the Bible. God says in Romans 3:10-12,
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: (1st None) There is none that understandeth (2nd), there is none that seeketh after God (3rd None). They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one (4th None).
Is God exaggerating a little bit here?
Absolutely NOT! God is driving home the principle that there is no one in the whole wide world who of his own accord will come to believe on the Lord Jesus as his Lord and Savior. No One! Just like Lazarus was dead in the grave (John 11), so is every person initially born into the world, spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, incapable of doing any good work that pleases God. God considers our souls as dead. That is why we need to be “born from above” in order to see the Kingdom of God.
How did Lazarus become alive?
Well, the Lord Jesus called him: “Lazarus, come forth!” But a dead man cannot hear this call from the Lord Jesus. And thus it means that Christ first made Lazarus alive so that he could hear the call from his Lord. Lazarus did not come alive because he heard the call from Jesus. Lazarus first became alive and then he heard Jesus calling and then he came forth. And so it is with each one who becomes saved. Initially we are like stinking corpses in the sight of God.
None of us is able to respond to the command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Only when the Lord has made a person here or there alive is that person able to obey the command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and show the evidence of his or her salvation by the faith to believe all that is in the Word of God. We are not saved because we decided to believe the Bible.
We believe because we were first made alive by God, and then we were able to respond to the Gospel call. We do not put our trust in our acceptance of the Lord Jesus as our Savior. Or let me say it in a different way. We do not put our trust in our own faith, but we put our trust in Christ and what He has done for us. Our faith is not the cause of our salvation. Our salvation is the reason for God’s gift of faith. Our faith is a gift from God.
There we read:
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
God gave us here a very basic principle. Everything that we have received are gifts from God. All things that we humanly call good or bad, both prosperity and adversity, are all gifts from God. And that includes faith. Faith is also a gift from God as is shown in John 6:29. The Jews asked the Lord Jesus,
“What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? In other words, they were asking, “What can we do that is pleasing to God?” They did not directly think of salvation for the Jews believed that they were all gong straight to heaven since they were children of Abraham and since they obeyed the Ceremonial Law.
And what was Jesus’ answer to this question?
He said in verse 29,
“Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent”.
This is the work of God. If you believe on Jesus Christ, this is the work of God. This is a very straightforward answer. Do not think that you can conjure up a true faith in Christ; it must be a gift from God, for this is the work of God to work in us that which is pleasing in His sight. It pleases Him if we have faith in Christ, but of our own selves we cannot bring forth such a faith. Salvation is entirely a gift from God, and thus the signs of salvation, including faith, are all gifts from the Almighty. If “whosoever believeth in Him has everlasting life” then ALL who are saved show as the outward sign of salvation that they believe.
And since none of the unsaved shall believe the true Gospel, for it remains hidden to them, none of the unsaved shall have this sign of believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. But now we have to ask:
Shall everyone who has a superficial knowledge of Jesus Christ be saved?
Shall everyone who believes in the historical Jesus be saved?
This is a legitimate question, for even the Moslems believe in the historical Jesus Christ. They consider Him to be a prophet. Shall such superficial knowledge of Jesus Christ be sufficient to satisfy the righteousness of God? And right away we realize that there is a deeper meaning attached to the phrase, “Whosoever believeth in Him”. The Moslems believe in Jesus, but their Jesus is a different Jesus than the one you and I believe in. And so, the real question boils down to this:
Can we state unambiguously which Jesus Christ we put our trust in?
If God gave us the faith to believe on Christ, then which Christ is this that He made us believe in?
The answer is found in the First chapter of the Gospel of John. God introduces us here to the real Jesus Christ, the Christ of the Bible, the Christ in whom we believe if God indeed gave us that faith. He is the Christ who is not only the Son of God, but He is God Himself. He is the Second Person of the Triune God, God the Son, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. We read here in John 1:1,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
And as you very well know, “the Word” that is mentioned three times in this verse refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. He is called here the Word, for His name is also called, “The Word of God”. And what this name refers to is the Bible, the whole Bible. The name of Christ is the Word of God, because the Bible describes the Lord Jesus Christ in full, as far as we humanly can know Him. We cannot know Him in all His glory, but as complete as we can know Him in this life so the knowledge of Him can be obtained from the Bible, which is the Word of God. God spoke and the world came into being. Again God spoke, and the Bible came into being.
Now, if the description of God and of Christ is complete in the Bible, then it stands to reason that if we are adding something to the Bible or if we take away something from the Bible, then the image of Christ in the Bible has also changed. Christ and the Bible are intimately woven together as one tapestry. It means that in the phrase, “Whosoever believeth in Him” must refer to putting our trust in the atoning work of the Christ of the Bible.
Not only do we trust that the Lord Jesus Christ made a full atonement for our sins to the full satisfaction of the righteousness of God, not only that He paid the full penalty that was due for our sins, the equivalent of an eternity in Hell, but also do we believe that everything in the Bible holds true, for this is a full description of the Christ in whom we trust. If there is anything in the Bible that we do not like, and that we eliminate from our minds, we end up with a Christ who is somewhat less than the whole Bible, and thus we have a different Jesus Christ than the one who is described by the whole Bible.
We have here a verse that is deliberately omitted or changed by many churches for this verse does not fit their view of end time events. The Lord said in John 5:28-29:
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
The Lord says here that there will be a time in history when at the same hour all that are in the graves shall be resurrected. This is the moment at the last trumpet call from heaven, just before the final judgment, that all the saints will be resurrected and raptured to be with Christ forever, and all the unsaved will be resurrected to stand before the great white throne, and will be judged, and will be cast into Hell. Many churches have inserted a thousand years between the resurrection of the saints and the resurrection of the unsaved. They have changed the meaning of this verse, and not only this verse but they have also changed many other verses in the Bible to make them fit their eschatology.
What have they done?
They have made themselves a christ who is smaller than the Bible portrays Him to be, but he is not the Christ of the Bible. He is an impotent idol. I dare to say this on the authority of the Word of God, for God says that we may not add to, nor take away from the Word of God. If we do so we have exchanged the true God for an impotent idol. But let us now turn to the matter of John 3:16. I have shown that the interpretation of John 3:16 completely fits the context of the verses preceding it.
The context states beyond any doubt that God is totally sovereign in His decision whom He will save and whom He will not save. And John 3:16 completely agrees with this context. It does not make God a liar, by stating two different things in the same chapter. In fact, the entire Gospel of John agrees that God is totally sovereign in salvation.
All That the Father Giveth Me
In this chapter the Lord Jesus laid down the principles of election in a very straightforward manner. There is no beating around the bush. These verses can only be interpreted one way. We read in:
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
Even though this verse needs no paraphrase, allow me to restate this in my own words: All those whom the Father has chosen to salvation have been given to the Lord Jesus, and they shall come to Him for God shall make them come to Him. Therefore all those who shall come to Jesus He will not turn away, for God has sent them. And then the Lord says: For this purpose I came down from heaven, not to do My own will but to atone for the sins of all those whom the Father has given Me. And thus we conclude that God’s electing love is on display in verse 37, and Christ’s atonement for His elect is in view in verse 38. God elects those whom the Father has chosen to give to Christ for a Bride.
And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
In other words, none of those whom the Father has given to Jesus for a Bride shall be lost. They shall all persevere as saints unto the end of their life, and Christ shall raise IT up on the Last Day.
What shall Christ raise up?
He does not say, I shall raise them up on the Last Day, but He said, I shall raise IT up on the Last Day. He refers thereby to the world of the elect, the New Heaven & New Earth, which He will have on display at the resurrection on the Last Day. Clearly, the resurrection of the saints and their following rapture will take place on the Last Day, and there will be no 1000 years after the Last Day. Next verse:
And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
In other words, it is the Father’s will that everyone which sees the Son and believes on Him, shall have eternal life. This particularly applies to the 11 disciples who were eyewitnesses of the ministry of the Lord Jesus. They shall be resurrected with everyone else on the Last Day; not sooner & not later.
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.
In other words, No one who is not among the elect shall turn to Christ, for no one who is not drawn by the Father shall come to Christ. They are not willing and they are not able to come to Christ. All who shall come to Christ have been drawn by the Father to come. Clearly, unconditional election is in view in verses 44 and 45. And all those shall be resurrected on the Last Day, not sooner and not later. Clearly, there is none who of his own accord shall come to Christ in faith.
God, in His omniscience, did not draw those whom He saw would turn to Christ, for no one is able to do that. Moreover, they shall all be taught by God, and that is why they shall come to Christ.
But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.
And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
We see here in verse 64 that there are people who will not be saved, for Christ knew from the beginning whom He will pass by. These did not belong to the group of people whom the Father had given to Jesus. And if you perhaps still did not understand what Jesus was saying in verse 44, He repeats it here in verse 65. No one can come to Jesus except it were given him by the Father.
In other words, no one can be saved unless he was chosen by the Father unto salvation. No one who of his own accord accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior is saved, for it is a salvation program that does not bear the approval of the Father.
All those gospels whereby man must make a decision whether he will believe on the Lord Jesus, really do not save anyone, for they are man-made gospels. This really nails down the meaning of the phrase, “Whosoever Believeth in Him”, for only those whom the Father has drawn to Jesus will believe on Him in a way that bears the approval of the Father.
Is this a Gospel that was popular among the Jews?
Absolutely not! We read in the next verse:
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
And so it goes with the true Gospel that is preached today. It is not a popular Gospel. God is sovereign, and God will not be mocked. But people ignore the words that God wrote, and people will invent their own way of salvation. There is no fear of God before their eyes. The fact is that the interpretation of John 3:16 that I have given here is in conflict with what most churches today believe. They will refuse to believe the words of John 6, and many other verses that speak of the sovereignty of God. The fact that they refuse this does not change God. God is still sovereign. God is on the throne. And we must remain faithful to the Bible. We must remain faithful to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him belong all the honor and all the glory.
By Alfred Chompff