“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” – John 3:17
“Don’t judge me!” is a common retort from anyone whose decisions, lifestyle, or views are questioned today. The media comes down hard on anyone who would hold to and be so bold as to voice the idea of absolute truth. If you are courageous enough to step out and say something is wrong or, heaven forbid, “sinful,” you will be set to the side with a swift dismissive label such as “intolerant,” “hater,” or “bigot.” “Hey,” the self-proclaimed defenders of the new immoral code say, “What condemnation? God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world. Don’t you know that?”
So what about “condemnation”? What is it? And what does it mean when Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”? If you look at the world around you with even a marginal biblical worldview it sure does seem as though there’s quite a bit going on that deserves condemnation. Sin and immorality is proliferating. Government is legislating, legalizing, and imposing on its citizenry things the Bible clearly calls sinful, e.g. same sex marriage. Someone has commented, “If God doesn’t judge this world He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” So let’s look at condemnation and in particular these words of Jesus.
Most who say, “Don’t judge me” refer to Jesus’ statement, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). It’s always important to keep scripture in context. What does the context of this verse reveal? In the same teaching Jesus states, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs: nor cast your pearls before swine, . . . . Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. . . . Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. . . .Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:6, 13, 15, 20, and 21). The term “judge” used by Jesus is a translation of the Greek word krino. Krino means separate, distinguish, decide, decide between, think, approve, resolve, determine, give judgment, condemn, punish, and judge. This is a word that speaks of assessment, of weighing facts and truth about something. There is an element of assessing, of judging in determining who dogs and swine are, those who go through the narrow or broad gate, who the false prophets are, the fruit of a person, and lastly, the genuineness of someone who uses the words, “Lord, Lord.” Is Jesus contradicting Himself? No, Jesus doesn’t contradict Himself. If that is the case, then our understanding of Jesus statement not to judge must mean something different than simply not judging people at all.
We are steered on the course of right interpretation when we look at Jesus words about not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” being eligible to enter heaven. Jesus says basically talk is cheap. It’s not what someone says alone that gets them into heaven, but also whether or not their actions line up with their words. Jesus says, “but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Our actions and words must line up. This is key to understanding Jesus initial statement on not judging. Someone who says one thing and does another is a hypocrite. Jesus denounced hypocrisy with clarity and sternness (e.g. Mat. 23). And when we look at the immediate context of Jesus statement “Judge not,” we see this is what He is talking about.
Jesus says the judgment we use with others is the measure of judgment God will use with us (Mat. 7:2). This should give us pause. Are we as gracious with others as we would want God to be with us? If God holds us accountable with the measure we hold others accountable to, what would the result be? Be careful how you judge is the message of Jesus. He says this because we are so prone to hold others accountable for things we easily allow ourselves to do.
Jesus then speaks of perspective. Before we look to point out the speck of a flaw in someone else we should take care of the plank of a sin in our own lives (Mat. 7:3-4). Then He brings us to the board of correction saying, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Mat. 7:5). In other words be humble in judging others. Jesus is not therefore saying we should not judge, only that we should be careful not to judge hypocritically. This brings to mind what the Apostle Paul was inspired to write, “Be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Forgiveness, patience, understanding, grace and love should be our attitude in assessing those around us. That is the message of Jesus.
In John 3:17 Jesus says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, . . . .” Why did Jesus say this? Why is this the case? The word “condemn” is translated from krino, the same word translated “judge” by Jesus in Matthew 7:1. It speaks of a true and honest assessment. The truth of the matter is that God did not have to send His Son Jesus into the world “to condemn the world.” The world was and is already condemned! In Psalms it states, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. 4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear, 5 which will not heed the voice of charmers, charming ever so skillfully” (Psalm 58:3-5). Humanity is born in sin; born with an inclination to sin against God, rebel against His Holy Word, and live as an enemy against God (cf. Psalm 51:5). Humanity is, “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Our condemnation is already in place. Jesus says this later in John 3:18 – “he who does not believe is condemned already.”We all deserve to be eternally condemned. We did not have to learn how to sin; it comes natural to us! We deserve the righteous wrath of God. This is the condition of the entire world. But God is rich in mercy and sent forth His Son Jesus to save us (cf. Eph. 2:1-9).
Jesus continues in the second part of John 3:17, “but that the world through Him might be saved.” God does not want to condemn us for our sin. He wants to save the world. There are a number of important aspects of these nine words of Jesus. They are theologically as well as eternally significant.
First, God is inclusive and impartial. God wants to save not merely a select few, but “the world.” There is a doctrinal position that misinterprets Gods’ sovereignty in a way that requires God predetermine the eternal destiny of individuals. This doctrine teaches God enforce salvation separate from and independent of any free will decision on their part. In fact they deny there is any such thing as free will. They see humanities’ granted-by-God ability to choose not to receive Him as a breach or diminishing of God’s sovereignty. This is generally speaking what Calvinism or Reformed Theology holds to. I do not believe this is supported by scriptures. God in His sovereign determination has included free will to make decisions in His salvation equation.
Scripture states, “For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Just as we are all condemned, God offers all an opportunity in Christ to be saved. There is absolutely no indication here of any exclusivity by God. Scripture does not support the idea that God determines beforehand and created a particular group to be condemned and a particular group to be saved. God “predestines” salvation in terms of knowing or foreknowing the decisions of humanity (Rom. 8:29-30). But He is absolutely inclusive in that all of “the world” who are condemned are all of “the world” who are sought after by Jesus to be saved. The world is condemned in sin. God sent Jesus to save the condemned world. That is all of God’s grace. We need only receive the salvation offered in Christ by faith in Him. God makes this gracious offer. He holds us accountable to our decision in response to His offer. God remains sovereign throughout.
Second, God doesn’t desire us to be condemned. God has made every effort and has gone to the supreme extent to make a way for condemned sinners to avoid His righteous and just condemnation. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11; cf. also Ezek. 18:23, 32). God, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,” not just a few (Titus 2:11). “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And if God sovereignly has decided to offer salvation to “the world” or all people, then it implies there is a choice to be made toward this gracious offer of God to humanity.
Third, God counts the cost. Jesus often spoke of counting the cost (Luke 14:28; Mat. 20:22-23). God practices what He preaches. God sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty of our sin for us. He sent Jesus to be lifted up, just like the bronze serpent of Moses. The Psalmist is correct. We are like a “serpent . . . a deaf cobra” (Psalm 58:3). Jesus took on the poison of the serpent on the cross in our place for us. And when a person puts their faith in Jesus God wipes their sinful slate clean with the blood of His Son Jesus. He forgives our sin based on what Jesus has done on the cross for us. He does all of this based justly on the substitutionary atonement of Jesus on the cross. Jesus died in our place suffering our death penalty for sin for us (cf. Isaiah 53:1-7; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 2:9; 1 Peter 3:18).
God’s purpose in sending His only Son Jesus is “that the world through Him might be saved.” “Saved” (Greek sodzo) means to be brought to safety, delivered, protected, preserved, healed, made whole, as well as saved. This implies that those in “the world” were in danger beforehand. The Father sent Jesus His only Son to make available a complete and total healing from sin and sins’ affects. God’s objective is to save the world from the poison of sin. In Christ there is deliverance, protection, preservation, healing and wholeness. Salvation in Jesus is the greatest “holistic” medicine, not because it carries any New Agey mysticism but because it addresses all of humanities’ needs.
Fourth, God works through decision. That Jesus uses the phrase “might be saved” (i.e. the subjunctive case of “condemn” or judge) indicates the call for a willful decision from the sinner. God does not superimpose His salvation on us. He presents the good news of possible salvation through belief in Jesus. Then He awaits our decision to either accept or reject His salvation offer.
Fourth, God is the initiator. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to reach down to people drowning in sin and offer them a hand of salvation. Where do you stand with Jesus? Indecision is decision. If you put off making a decision to receive Jesus as Savior by faith, you remain in your state of condemnation. You must make a decision. You must respond in faith to be saved. You must receive God’s gracious provision in Christ. Otherwise you will be lost eternally forever to condemnation.
The gracious offer of salvation in Christ by God is like no other religious offer. The world is sinking deep in a morass immoral quicksand; the consequence of their living in sin. Confucius comes and says, “It is not good that humanity is in sin” and walks on by. Mohammed comes and says, “May Allah’s will be done!” and walks on by. Buddha comes and says, “Learn from this situation” and walks on by. Krishna says, “Better luck next time” and walks on by. Jesus comes, looks in compassion, reaches down to sinking humanity, and pulls them up and out of the quagmire of sin. Then He says, “Walk with Me for eternity.” Yes, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only redemptive reality for the sinner.
Religions tell people what they must do to be saved. And because religion is based on work people must do there is no assurance because we can never know how much work is enough work to justify us or work off our sin. Religion tells us what to do. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims, done! Jesus does the heavy lifting for us. Jesus works our salvation on the cross and then says to simply believe and receive what He has done on our behalf and you will be forgiven and saved from your sin. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Condemned? Or not condemned? The decision is up to you.