Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, and author of Biblical Prayer for Today's Believers: Transform Your Prayer Life (available on Amazon).
John The Indecisive
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (1 John 3:16, ESV) wrote John. Neverhteless, the same John also wrote these words: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15, ESV). Why did John instruct believers not to love the world if God Himself loves the world? Aren't we supposed to love what God loves and despise what God despises? Yes, of course.
Why then did John instruct believers not to love the world if he also declared to believers that God loves the world? Was he being indecisive? Of course not! We're not talking about John the Indecisive, but about John the Apostle. This man was writing the words of God!
John was neither contradicting himself nor being indecisive. Instead, he was using the same word world (in Koiné, kosmos) to talk about two different groups. The second group, which John instructed the believers not to love, is a group of values held by those who do not believe in Jesus Christ or love God. The first group, on the other hand, refers to all human beings.
It is the basic idea of the word, together with its context, that gives away what John means when he writes world—so one must carefully study the text to discern what John means when he says world.
More Examples of How the Word World Is Used
Look at this verse: "Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world." (John 11:9, KJV). Because Jesus is talking about light during daytime, as opposed to darkness during nightime, we can infer that when He says "world" He means Planet Earth.
The same word world refers to Planet Earth when Jesus says, "Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:36, KJV). We find the same use in chapter 9: "Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind."
However, there are many times when the word world does not mean Planet Earth, but people. Thus, in the sixth chapter, we read: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." (John 6:51, KJV). Obviously, Jesus did not give his flesh for the life of the planet itself, but for the lives of the people who populate the planet.
In John 7:4, the idea is not that Jesus should show himself to the planet, but to the people living in the planet (and actually, to the people living in the same society as Jesus): "For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, shew thyself to the world" (John 7:4, KJV).
Now, notice how (in the following verse), the definition of the word world changes: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not" (John 1:10, KJV). At first, John was talking about how Jesus was in Planet Earth; finally, John says that the world—that is, the people living in planet Earth—did not recognize Jesus as the Creator. In the middle of the verse, when John says that the world was made by Jesus, the word world encompasses both the planet and the people.
Many People from All the People
Sometimes, the word world is used to mean many people from all the people. Look at this verse: "The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him." (John 12:19, KJV). Obviously, the Pharisees did not use the word world to refer to all humanity—no, not even to refer to all Israel: but they meant that many people from all the people in Israel were following Jesus.
Look once again at John 1:10: He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not" (John 1:10, KJV) Obviousluy, John does not mean that all humanity knew not Jesus—instead, he means that a great number of all the people that were exposed to Jesus's ministry did not know Him.
And, in John 3:17, we read: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17, KJV). Obviously, every human being is not saved, but a great portion of all humanity is.
The Word World Refers to a Group Consisting of Believers and Unbelievers
However, it is important to notice that the word world sometimes refers to a group of poeple composed of both believers in Christ and unbelievers. So, inJohn 3:16, we read: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, ESV).
At first, we may be tempted to think that John is saying that God loved many people from all humanity, namely those who believe in Jesus (those whom God knew would believe in Jesus Chrit); but now read the two verses that immediately follow: "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. 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" (John 3:17-18, ESV).
The world that God loved is all humanity. In verse 17, John declares that God loved a world composed of people whom He could have condemned, but whom He chose to save. Then, in verse 18, John explains the process of salvation and condemnation: those who believe in Jesus are not condemned, but those who do not believe in Jesus are condemned already. So, the world that God loved is composed of people who would believe in Christ and who would not believe in Christ, people who would be saved and people who would be condemend. However, God determined that, of that world, only those who did believe in Jesus Christ woudl be saved.
Read the main verse once again: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, ESV) Of the world that God loved, some would believe and receive eternal life—but not all.
Of The Whole World
John also wrote, "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2)
At first, it appears as if this verse does not have enough context for us to determine whether Jesus is the propitiation for the sins of all humanity (believers and unbelievers) or of believers only. However, John says that Jesus is not the propitiation for "our sins" only (the sins of John and his audience), but also for the sins of the "whole world." John does not say but also for "the sins of the world" but "the sins of the whole world." If he had meant only believers, there would not have been a need for him to write "of the whole world" because, obviously, Christ is the propitiation of all believers. But by writing "the sins of the whole world," John makes it clear that he means "of all humanity," those who believe and those who do not believe. Because the sacrifice of Christ is enought to atone for the sins of every human being, but not every human being will receive the benefit, save those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Whom Did God Love, and for Whom Did Christ Die?
Does God love you? Yes, He does: God loves every human being to such an extent that He gave his Son for that human being—for the Son's sacrifice is more than enough to atone for the sins of all humanity (past, present, and future).
If anyone should ask you whether God loves him, or her, your answer should be, "Yes, He does. However, God will only give salvation to those who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ—otherwise, you will be condemned.'
"But how can God condemn someone He loves?"
"God can condemn someone He loves because doing so is just. God loved you so much He gave his Son for you; but if you reject God's Son, God will also reject you—this is just, and this is what you will deserve for rejecting God's love."
"But didn't God know I would reject the Son? How then can He love me if He did not prevent me from rejecting his Son?"
"God did everything He had to do to show you that He loves you—now, God wants you to make a choice."
Questions for Reflection
- Whom does God love? Does God only love the elect, or does God also love those who haven't yet belived?
- For whom did Christ die? Did Christ die only for the elect, or did He die for the sins of all humanity?
- How does the author's position different form the Calvinist doctrines of limited atonement and irresistable grace?
- Why do you think it is important for people to know that God loves them—everyone of them?
© 2021 Marcelo Carcach