Why John 3:16 Does Not Teach Universal Love
Christians, especially those who are new to the faith, handed down to all the saints and of a like kind revealed in the Bible (2 Pet 1:1; Jude 3), are too easily led astray by false teachers into the false doctrine of God’s universal love for all humanity. This false teaching is so pervasive that you may already be objecting to my proposition, stated negatively. Stated positively, Yahweh’s exclusive love for Christ and those who belong to Him (His Church) is what separates God’s chosen people from the reprobate sinners who do not belong to Him because they do not have the Holy Spirit, for Christ did not die for them on the cross because God the Father did not elect them to adoption as His children before the foundation of the world.
Christians are taught to love their enemies (Mt 5:44), their neighbors (Mt 5:43; 19:19; 22:39), and one another (Jn 13:34–35) because we are not privy to who is elect and who is reprobate. God is love (1 Jn 4:8), and He first loves us, which results in the manifestation of a returned love to Him (1 Jn 4:19). God’s love cannot fail to constrain the beloved elect (Eph 1:4–5), who are the beloved redeemed (Rom 5:8; Eph 5:25), who receive His love in their hearts (Rom 5:5), consequently being controlled by His love (2 Cor 5:14). In short, we love everyone as much as possible because God draws His elect through lovingkindness (Jer 31:3).
The false teacher of universal love has a few favorite Bible verses (e. g. John 3:16; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 Jn 2:2; etc.), but foremost of these is John 3:16, isolated from its context in Chapter 3 of John’s Gospel. In this section, John 3:1–21 is Jesus teaching the teacher of Israel, Nicodemus, a member of the supreme court of Israel, the Sanhedrin. In Nicodemus’ approach, in the dark of night, to interview Jesus about the Nazarene’s identity, our Lord speaks of the necessity for light, in order to see and to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3, 5).
Jesus alludes to Himself as the light that has come into the world (Jn 3:19–21; 8:12), but man’s preference is for the darkness because people are evil and do evil in the cloak of darkness (Gen 6:5; Is 64:6; Jer 17:9; Eph 5:11). When the light of Christ shines in the heart to whom the Holy Spirit enters by baptism (Mt 3:11; Acts 2:38; 10:45), the knowledge of the glory of God is then seen in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Nicodemus was drawn to the Messiah and was literally looking at the Author of faith (Jn 6:44, 65; Heb 12:2), even the Son of Man to be lifted up (Jn 3:14) for all to see. Did he have eyes to see? Do you?
Faith is not a leap. It is the knowledgeable apprehension of the truth of God (Jn 14:6), who is true (Rom 3:4). When there is no light of truth shining, the so-called knowledge presented and received is a diversity of lies (think: secular education, media, advertisement, entertainment, etc.). The children of the devil (Eph 2:2–3; 1 Jn 3:10), who is the father of lies (Jn 8:44) is the prince of darkness, having blinded the minds of those who are perishing, in order to prevent them from seeing and understanding the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:3–4).
The Word of God stands forever (Is 40:8; Mt 24:35; Mk 13:31; Lk 21:33). The Word of God is the Word of truth (Ps 119:160; Jn 17:17), who/which tells us the truth about God the Father (Jn 3:2, 16–17, 21), God the Son (Jn 3:13, 16–17), God the Spirit (Jn 3:5–6, 8), and the two categories of humanity (born of flesh/dead in sin vs. born of the Spirit/having eternal life). In order to receive the seed of the Word (Mt 13:23), implanted in the good soil of one’s heart (Jas 1:21), and for this Word of life to grow, it must be the Spirit of truth (Jn 16:13), that is, the life-giving Spirit of God (Jn 6:63), who causes it to grow by His permanent indwelling presence (Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16; Gal 4:6; 2 Tim 1:14; Jas 4:5). God gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6).
Without the regenerating work of the Spirit (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13), no one will receive nor believe in the One whom God has sent (Jn 6:29). God’s motive in sending His only begotten Son into this dark world was to testify to the truth (Himself/Father/Spirit) and those who believe in Him, that is, apprehend truth, by having been born again of the Spirit (1 Pet 1:3), reap all the spiritual blessing found only in Christ and His body to whom we have been baptized (1 Cor 12:13; Eph 1:3). God’s motive is love, but it is clearly a directed, not universal, love.
Having one’s eyes opened (Jn 9), Jesus, the light of the world is seen (Jn 8:12). Having one’s mind granted repentance (Rom 12:2), Jesus, the truth is comprehended (1 Cor 2:16). Having received the spiritual heart transplant (Ezek 36:26), Jesus, the love of God personified and come into the world (Jn 3:16), finds His home through the Spirit in the hearts of His people and works from there (Gal 2:20). The indwelling Spirit in the born again adds more and more light to the Word of truth, thus, increasing one’s faith in the sent Savior, who has ascended to be enthroned for the purpose of ruling and reigning over all (Ps 110:1; Mt 28:18; 1 Cor 15:25).
Jesus is the King of kings (1 Tim 6:15), the righteous Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5), along with the angels and the world (1 Cor 6:2–3). Here is the judgment of God: the natural man, dead in sin, hates the light (Jesus) because he hates the fact that the light has exposed the truth — that his deeds of darkness are evil (Jn 3:19; 7:7; Rom 5:11; 1 Cor 2:15). People are perishing in soul and body because of their sinful deeds (Rom 6:23). They love darkness, not God, and they are already condemned by Jesus coming into the world (Jn 3:18–19). Nothing can change the natural man’s disposition except the electing, redeeming, regenerating, sanctifying love of God.
Sinners do not love God (Jn 5:42). They hate Him (Jn 7:7; Rom 1:30), and they do not seek Him (Rom 3:11). They hate His Word because they do not have His Spirit (Jn 8:37; Rom 8:9), who they cannot receive because they are from below, that is, from the world (Jn 8:23; 14:17). Therefore, the love God displayed in John 3:16 must find a very different interpretation than all people, everywhere, and at all times (universal). Examine your examination of the Bible. When you read the Bible, which idea clearly stands out? The universal love of God for the world, or God’s exclusive love for Christ and His church, the Israel of God (Gal 6:16; 1 Jn 3:1). An honest answer will suffice.
Of this we are sure from the clear teaching of the Bible. God loves His chosen people from eternity (Eph 1:4–5). Christ demonstrates God’s love for His bride (Eph 5:25), by laying down His life for the sheep of His pasture (Ps 95:7; 100:3; Jn 10:11, 15). Love was sent into the world via the Holy Spirit, too (Jn 14:26; 15:26; Rom 5:5). As many as received God’s love, not by any mythical free will decision or choice made by spiritually dead men (Eph 2:1), but according to the will of God (Jn 1:12–13), He gave to these (elect, redeemed, regenerate) faith that they might not perish along with blind reprobates. He gave them eternal life (Jn 10:28; 17:2; 1 Jn 5:11–13).
The reprobate has no love from God, having not the Spirit nor the Word, nor the faith to believe the truth, having not received the life who is Jesus Christ (Jn 14:6). Has God failed the world in not giving His Spirit to everyone, everywhere, and at all times? May it never be! God is 100% successful in having mercy upon whom He will have mercy (Rom 9:15–16), to the effect that none of Christ’s sheep is lost or stolen from Him (Jn 10:28–29). We have blessed assurance, indeed.
God’s love never fails (1 Cor 13:8). God’s light shines. God’s Word goes forth, even as God’s Spirit goes where He wishes. People from the whole world, in heaven, bear witness that God’s exclusive love for His own found them where and when God intended (Rev 5:9; 7:9). He actually saved us (Titus 3:5). Even as God’s love entered their hearts, they themselves were brought into Christ to abide in Him and His love (Jn 15:10; 1 Cor 1:30; 1 Jn 4:13). This is not a “potential” salvation “offered” to dead men, as false teachers preach, but it is finished in eternity past by the Father, finished by Christ at the Cross, and finished by the Holy Spirit at glorification in the resurrection to come (Jn 5:28–29; Rom 8:30; 1 Cor 15).
Even as Jesus soon judges and destroys this present world (2 Pet 3:7, 10–12; Rev 19:11–21), having not even prayed for it (Jn 17:9), His everlasting love will abound in the new heavens and the new earth where His light will shine as the noon day sun without ceasing (Rev 21–22). His Word of truth will have supreme dominion with no lies to confuse the beloved. Only lovers of God will dwell in His presence, having been granted new, abundant, and eternal life, exclusively by His mercy, grace, and love (Rom 9:23).
This world to come, my dear reader, is the world God loves, and there is nothing there but His love, His life, His light, His Word, His truth, His reign, His blessings, and His inheritance given to the saints in that place (1 Pet 1:4; Rev 21–22). Until the end of this present age, the fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal 5:22a)…and this world does not have God’s Spirit nor His love (Jn 5:42; Rom 8:9; 1 Jn 4:19), therefore, we must conclude that John 3:16 does not teach God’s universal love.
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 1, 2022