John 3:16 – 21

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 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 works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 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.”

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In last week’s study, we examined in detail verse 16 above, which is probably the most well known and most loved verse in Scripture.  Now I want to take a look at the larger context of this passage to show how John sees spiritual reality in terms that are very black and white.  As such, we will see that there are two sides that are complete opposites of each other.

In these six verses, I see at least four pairs of spiritual opposites: life vs. death; salvation vs. condemnation; light vs. darkness; and obedient deeds vs. evil deeds.  In John’s theology, there are these two clear and completely opposite realities.  There is no middle ground.  The question as we go through this is to ask ourselves “Which side are we on?”

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The first truth is that in Jesus there is spiritual life.  Apart from faith in Jesus there is spiritual death.  I encourage those who have not read Part 1 of this two-part article to click here and see what I wrote about verse 16.  It is very important for a person to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only is there a God, but that He loves each and every one of us so much that He let Jesus come to die in our place so that He could offer spiritual life to us.

Verse 17 goes on to tell us that the very purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to bring us the gift of salvation.  Before Christ Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin there was only the sure consequence of condemnation awaiting all of us.  But Christ came to free us from that condemnation.  By putting our faith in Jesus, His righteousness becomes ours, and in God’s final day of Judgement, God will be able to say to us who believe, “Not guilty!”  What an amazing gift of grace.

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The third comparison is made between “light” and “darkness”.  John is not talking about the physical properties of light and darkness, but the spiritual realities of good and evil, truth and deception.  In chapter one, we saw how John the Baptist spoke out about “the light that was coming into the world.” Later in this Gospel (8:12), Jesus will say this about himself:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

One of the properties of light that can apply both in the physical and the spiritual realm is that light has the ability to reveal or expose that which is dark.  And light always overcomes darkness.  The question for us is whether we are attracted to that Light, or are repelled by that Light.  Those who are hungry to know God will draw close to the light, but those who want nothing to do with God will shrink away from spiritual truth.

And it is in this attraction or repelling that the true nature of our character comes out.  Those people who are attracted to God will want to do the things that please God.  Perhaps a better way to translate verse 21 would be something like, “But whoever follows after the truth of God will come to the light and in so doing will clearly show that he was obeying God.”

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There is one more important linguistic aspect to these verses that I want to make sure that none of us miss.  The majority of the verbs in this passage, specifically those that refer to the actions of people, are written in Greek in the present tense.  Not the past tense, i.e. “those who did…” and not in the future tense, i.e. “those who will do…” 

But it is not enough to just translate the verbs in the simple present, i.e. “those who do…” as if obeying God or rebelling against God is a one-time event in our lives.  No, this passage should be translated in the present continuous, and in that way this passage has much more punch to it.

In other words, it is the people “who are continually and habitually doing the things that are evil, and are constantly living their lives in spiritual darkness and in rebellion against God who experience spiritual death, both in this life and certainly in the life to come.”

But for those “who are continually and habitually coming to Jesus, the Light of the world, and who constantly are seeking to please God through their acts of obedience to Him, they are the ones who have entered into spiritual life and salvation from the condemnation that sin brings.”

So my friend, which side are you on?  If you haven’t already, I urge you to accept God’s love and receive Jesus into your life so that you can truly live.