If there is one verse that’s been commonly cited against the definite atonement or particular redemption, that has to be, in my opinion, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
This verse is used frequently to show that Jesus died for all and to argue that fallen man retains a small island of ability to choose Christ. Here is a primary example of wrong interpretation, incorrect logical inferences. This text does not say such a thing at all. The Rule of interpreting Scripture is that implications drawn from Scripture must always be secondary to the explicit teaching of Scripture. We must never reverse this to lower the explicit teaching of Scripture to possible implications drawn from Scripture.
This verse means exactly what it says even in the context. And it does not destroy other doctrines here or elsewhere in the Bible. So, simply no need to force John 3:16 to say more than it does. There is no need to say that Christ died for the whole world when other verses in scripture say He died for His sheep or His elect. So, it would be enough to just let John 3:16 mean what it says. What this text teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved. Whoever does A (believes) will not receive B (perish) but will receive C (everlasting life). The text says absolutely nothing, about ‘who can believe’, and ‘who will believe’.
Two tips understanding this text:
- The placement of the word ‘so’ – The Greek word (houtós-Strong’s 3779) ‘so’ indicates the quality of God’s love.
- John’s use of the word ‘world’ – Scholars agree that John uses this Greek word ‘Kosmos’ (Strong’s 2889) in so many different ways in his Gospel. e.g. “He was in the world [earth] and the world [earth] was made by Him, and the world [inhabitants of the earth] knew Him not” (John 1:10). And, in John 1:29 it says, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world [Savior not only for Jews, but also for Gentiles]. So, in this text the word ‘World’ is used to portray the whole mass of unregenerate men alienated from God, hostile to Christ, and organized governmentally as a ‘world system’ or federation under Satan.
John is saying here the quality of God’s love towards sinners, not the quantity of love. Jesus’ death on the cross shows how far He and His Father will go to reconcile sinners to God. Apart from the love of God, the world stands under God’s condemnation. But in Christ, believers experience God’s surprising, redeeming, and everlasting love.
Necessary condition and Sufficient Condition
“If A, then B” and “A, only if B” refer to two different kinds of conditions: necessary conditions and sufficient conditions. If we say that “X is a necessary condition for Y”, we mean that if we don’t have X, then we won’t have Y. Or put differently, without X, you won’t have Y.
John 3:16 says nothing about fallen man’s natural moral ability to ‘believe’. Simply, the “believe’ is a ‘necessary condition’ of salvation. Necessary condition does not guarantee the result. Sufficient condition guarantees the result. If we say that “x is a sufficient condition for y,” then we mean that if we have x, we know that y must follow. In other words, x guarantees y. And, the text does not say anything about the ‘sufficient condition’. Sufficient Condition is a condition, if that it is met, guarantees the result.
For example, in the case of Fire, Oxygen is a necessary condition. But mere presence of Oxygen does not guarantee a fire. If you have a dry piece of paper, and plenty of Oxygen, and then you light a match and you touch that lighted match on to the paper then you will have fire, because the burning fire from the match is a sufficient condition to ignite dry piece of paper.
So, what is the sufficient condition that talks about in this passage that is needed for gaining the everlasting life? This verse (John 3:16) must be understood in the context. This verse comes in the context of Jesus teaching Nicodemus about how the Spirit gives new birth to a spiritually dead person. Jesus gives a powerful foundational understanding of monergistic salvation (the view that God alone affects our salvation). Notice in verse 3, Jesus said to Nicodemus “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
What does the word ‘unless’ mean? Unless points to a Prerequisite, a Necessary condition. Jesus is saying, one must be born again, in order to see the kingdom. So, Born Again, in other words Regeneration, is a prerequisite (necessary condition) for seeing or entering into the kingdom of God. Now the Question is, Does the ‘Born again’ guarantee that one sees the kingdom?
Father Drags Sinner From Death To Life
The Bible says Father gives believers to Christ, and Jesus himself makes it clear that only those Father gives to Him will be saved.
- (I have said to you) No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them. (John 6:65)
- No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. (John 6:44)
The term ‘No One’ indicates a Universal Negative -all inclusive (Negative absolute). The word ‘Can’ denotes ‘ability’. So, when we expand the term ‘No one can’ it means ‘No human being has the ability’. Now, what is it that no human being has the ability to do? The answer is, ‘to come to Jesus’.
Now, let’s ask ourselves these questions: According to Jesus, does any man have the ability to come to Him? Do some men have the ability to come to Jesus? NO. According to Jesus, ‘No human being has the ability to come to Him’ UNLESS something happens. Jesus is saying that SOMETHING must take place before anyone comes to Him, before any one gets the ability to believe. What is that ‘SOMETHING‘ identified here? That is, ‘Father has to permit, Father has to enable, Father has to draw’.
The Greek verb used in this text is, to ‘drag’ [εἵλκυσεν – heilkysen]. Let’s quickly look at a few places where this same Greek word is used.
- James 2:6 – But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts.
- Acts 16:19 – But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
- John 21:11 -Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.
- John 21: 6 -And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.
Kittel theological dictionary of the New Testament, defines the word Draw/Drag, ‘to compel by irresistible superiority’. This act of force, or the divine compulsion is sufficient to bring a dead sinner to life (Regeneration). Regeneration is that mighty work of God in which He drags us out of our condition of death into life. Salvation is purely a monergistic, divine, sovereign act of God apart from any human involvement. We did not make any contribution to our first birth, and there is no way we can contribute to our second birth either. Birth happens ‘to us’, and birth does not happen ‘by us’. We receive life and existence from God from above. God must speak Spiritual life into existence. God must create life spiritually just as He created life physically. A creative miracle must happen from above. And that’s what begins everything. Then we will respond to His call. Then we will believe, having repented and embraced Christ. Regeneration precedes (leads to) faith (the act of believing). Faith is the gift of God as a result of the working of the Holy Spirit (regeneration). God Himself provides the necessary condition as well as the sufficient condition to come to Jesus.
The work of Christ on the cross, the atonement of Jesus, is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some. That means it brings the effect of redemption only to some, though it is sufficient to cover the sins of all the world. The merit of Jesus is sufficient to save every last person on the earth. But only those who believe, only those who Father enables to believe in fact are saved. What was God’s purpose in sending Christ to the cross? Was it to save every human being on earth? If God sovereignly decided to save everyone in the world and to have Jesus atone for the sins of every one of the world, on the basis of that atonement then everyone should be saved. But, we know that according to scripture that’s not what happens. Some will be saved, but others will not. So, what is God’s intent of the cross from eternity?
God’s intent of sending His Son to the cross to provide salvation only to elect. That is His eternal design, and He brings it to pass. God chooses to move in the lives of His elect and bring them from spiritual death to spiritual life, no power in heaven or on earth can stop Him from doing so.
Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. John MacArthur, Mark Kielar
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