For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
As we look at this passage, focus on words that start with a W. The first is “world.” Please note, it does not say that God so loved the elect, the church, Christians, saved, believers, etc. God so loved the world. The Greek word is kosmos, and it is used throughout Scripture to refer both to the physical entity known as the earth and to all of mankind. The context here in John would tell us that it is not God’s love for a planet that is motivating him but His love for mankind. And it motivates Him to give “his one and only Son.” The phrase “once for all” appears several times in the book of Hebrews in regard to Christ’s sacrifice. Paul also wrote “the death [Christ] died, he died to since once for all” and “we are convinced that one died for all.” Paul and Peter both wrote about God wanting everyone to be saved, so I think it is safe to say that Scripture is quite clear that Christ’s death on the cross was indeed for every single human who had ever lived—past, present, future.
However, that opens the door to the dangerous heresy of universalism spread by such authors as Wm. Paul Young and Rob Bell, among others. Universalism is the idea that everyone goes to heaven, and indeed, it would seem so if Christ died for all, would it not? Fortunately, Jesus didn’t stop speaking nor did John stop writing in the middle of the verse. This brings us to the second W, “whoever.” Note again that the text does not say “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that the world shall not perish but have eternal life.” The word whoever is both inclusive and exclusive. It is exclusive in that it implies a segment will not be included—those who don’t fit the parameter of whoever. But it is inclusive in that everyone who does fit the parameter will be included. And that parameter is simple: belief. If we back up two verses, we see Jesus linking faith in Moses’ day to faith in His day: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
So in this one verse, we see that God’s love is all-inclusive—the whole world is loved by God—but eternal life is not all-inclusive—it is only the privilege of those who believe. The need for belief or faith is one that is played out throughout Scripture, so let’s be clear: Anyone who preaches universalism or that everyone—the whole world—will be saved is NOT preaching Scripture. I suggest you have nothing to do with such a person’s preaching or teaching, because it is based on a lie.
God loved the whole world that whoever believes shall have eternal life. In other words, to borrow a phrase from a good friend of mine, Christ’s blood is sufficient for all but not efficient for all. There is a condition, one that is applied to every gift. You have to receive it. And as with any gift, you can’t receive it if you don’t believe it exists or is there to be received. I stress this because of its importance and because it is the hinge upon which this original idea of judgment and condemnation hangs. Note the next verse in John 3: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. People who claim Jesus isn’t a judge, that He isn’t interested in condemning anyone, like to cite this verse or John 12:47: If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. In other words, “I’m a nice, moral person, but do whatever you want with my message.” After all, God so loved the world, right? He wouldn’t punish or judge, would he?
But let’s read the next verses in John 3 and John 12:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.
According to Jesus, people will be condemned by their disbelief and rejection of Him. He did not come to condemn the world but to save it. But that does not mean there will not be condemnation. Jesus is the most polarizing figure in the history of the world and He spoke the most polarizing words in the history of the world. And it is your, my, and the world’s reaction to Jesus and His words that causes the division. If we believe Him and them, we have eternal life. If we do not believe Him and reject them, we stand condemned.
There’s one more W in John 3, but we have to turn to the English Standard Version to see it. What the NIV translates as “deeds,” the ESV renders “works.”
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. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 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.
Jesus is the ultimate divider—a razor’s edge. Everyone falls on one side or the other based on their belief or lack of belief. And as Scripture teaches us, one’s works or deeds are the evidence of one’s belief. Those whose works are evil avoid the “Light of the World.” Those who believe, however, come into the light not to reveal how great their works are—and thus how great they are—but that God may get the glory.
If, when, and how Christians should judge is a topic for another post. But please do not make the mistake of buying into the lie that God doesn’t judge anyone or that Jesus taught some form of universalism. That is not the preaching of Jesus; that is a lie from the pit of hell. The truth of Scripture is that God does love every single person, but judges them based on their belief in or rejection of His Son. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life. But whoever rejects Him is judged and will be condemned. Do not be in the latter group.
 Matthew 10:34
 John 3:16-21
 Romans 6:10
 II Corinthians 5:14
 John 3:14-15
 John 3:18
 John 12:48
 John 3:19-21, ESV, emphasis added