Author Note: This post is Part 3 of a four-part series through John 3:16–21. The content is a reduction of my personal notes from a sermon I recently preached. At a glance, the progression has been moving as follows: Part 1: 3:16; Part 2: 3:17–18; Part 3: 3:19–20; Part 4: 3:21 [this week]. Here is the main point of John 3:16–21: The extraordinary love of God opens the door for salvation to everyone who would love his Son and depend wholly upon him.
In Part 3, the reason I said that “the love of God opens the door of salvation for everyone who would love his Son and depend wholly on him” is because of verse 21. This last verse reveals two major truths about the one who believes in Jesus Christ and brings full circle the message underway: (1) It reveals the inward heart of the believer—namely, that he loves the Son; and (2) It reveals the reason why he loves the Son; this reason is what I call “God’s decisive work of love.”
God's Decisive Work of Love (v. 21)
This single verse reveals two massive truths that are true for every true Christian.
(1) The inward heart of those who come to the light. If you are a careful reader, you will have likely already noticed a major implication between the “one who hates the light” in verse 20 and the “one who does what is true” in verse 21. That is, if the “one who hates the light” does not come to the light, then that must mean the “one who does what is true” loves the light—since loving something is the opposite of hating something, and the “one who does what is true” is in direct opposition to the “one who hates the light.”
(2) God's Supernatural work in men. God’s decisive work of love, which is a supernatural work that only he does in the hearts of men as a result of his extraordinary love through Jesus (cf. John 3:3–6).
“The one who does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (v. 21). Those two words “in God” are eternally significant. Your eternal residence—heaven or hell, life or death, eternal pleasures or eternal ongoing destruction—hangs on these two words. And unlike the one who does not come to the light lest his evil works be exposed, this person runs to the light, in order that his works may be put on clear display before the world that they have been carried out in God.
So, what does “in God” mean? In Greek, the word “in” can function a variety of ways, but here it suggests that the works of the one who does what is true are actually the works of God himself. In other words, the works of those who do what is true are not their works ultimately; they are God’s works. This is a clear teaching in the NT. The Christian’s works are not his own, but God’s works in him.
(Philippians 2:12–13) "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."
(1 Corinthians 15:10) "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
(Psalm 68:35) "Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people."
(Ephesians 6:10) "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might."
Therefore, the person who comes to Jesus and believes that he is the Son of God and can remove all of his sins forever only comes because his works belong to God. That is, his aim in life is not to hide his works, but to showcase them in such a way that brings glory to the one who caused the works in the first place. This erases the lie that men are saved because they are merely good people; that they have somehow worked good enough to please God and gain an entrance into his covenant family.
No, men are not saved because they are good people; but because God is a loving God who sent his Son to open the door of salvation for the world and cause his people to live and respond in faith. Why do I say that God sent his Son to “cause his people to live?” I say this because John 3:16–21 is the conclusion of a dialogue between Jesus and a very high religious official named Nicodemus, which starts at the beginning of chapter 3.
Instead of unpacking the entire context of this dialogue, I will just mention that the very high religious official, Nicodemus should have seen the spiritual truths of God, but he did not. Here is what he missed, and here is what verse 21 is about:
(John 3:3–6) “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.’”
Therefore, the Christian’s works are God’s works because all that the Christian has—especially eternal life—has been granted to him and created by God himself. You will have no good works to prove your salvation (not the other way around; your good works do not earn you salvation, they are the fruit of produced by inward the spiritual transformation—provided that you love Jesus Christ) if you are not reborn by the Spirit of God—that is, spiritually awakened to life for the very first time.
The extraordinary love of God opens the door of salvation for everyone who would love his Son and wholly depend on him. Out of the depths of his love for the world, God sent his only Son to bear the wrath that is due the world. Though God’s love extends to every person in the world, there is a unique love that is granted only to those who believe in the Son of God. This love is an effective love, which means it causes people be alive and to love Christ back. First John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” This love is an incomprehensible love: “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge …”(Eph 3:17–18). And it is an unbreakable love, for Paul in Rom 8:38–39 writes, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Through the extension of the love of God, condemnation comes to those who refuse to believe in his love. They see God’s love and mock it with their unbelief. God died for you; and he rose from the dead, so that you might be alive with him in heaven. Therefore, if you refuse to trust in such an extraordinary love, you presently stand in condemnation.
But if you love Jesus Christ, you will come to him; you will expose yourself to the light, and you will thus prove that your works are God's works in you. He accomplishes his will through your life, and he will receive the glory for such a marvelous work of love. So, take heart and rest in his love. It's all around you. It covers you and will never let you go. The price of God's Son is sufficient and effective to keep you in God's love. So, walk in love as you rest in God's love (John 15:15)!