God's Love, the World, the Extent of the Atonement and John 3:16
The following is a question I received from a brother visiting the site ...



Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

I hope this e-mail finds you well and in good health. I have one question that I would like to ask you about. Firstly I will explain the theory of why I am asking it. I read your articles about "In Light of John 3:16, How can Election be True." I am a Calvinist and a firm believer in the doctrines of grace. However I am finding myself torn over the interpretation of "world" in John 3:16. It all started when I heard a message by John MacArthur entitled "The love of God". He states that "world" has the widest possible meaning when we look at the surrounding verses. It started me on a journey in to God's word that has been enriching beyond compare.

After reading your above quoted article I thought I had found someone who also believed in the all inclusive "world" view as well. But you had a link Limited Atonement in light of John 3:16 by Ra McLaughlin that offered several views but not the one I fall in to. What do I believe in total you may ask, well here goes.......

I believe the scriptures show that God gave his Son to the whole of humanity, ie, an honest offer of salvation, and all are commanded to believe in him. BUT no one, not even one would come and believe! SO, God goes and chooses those he has favor on and passes by the rest. Leaving them in their unbelieving state. Just because I am given something does not mean I have to accept it. 3:16 does not refer directly to the actions on the cross but to Christ's coming in to the world. This is confirmed by verse 19. The light came in to the world but men loved the darkness more. That's all of us. 3:16 is a sincere offer to all" to come to Christ. Now this relieves God of any culpability for mans sin. We are now responsible because of our loving darkness instead. Now God knowing from before the beginning who he would redeem, accomplishes this by sending His Son to the cross to accomplish exactly that and only that, for the elect only. He who believes (by God's enabling) will be saved and those who do not are condemned already (left in their state of Sin.)

I see no contradiction with the premises set forth by the T.U.L.I.P. in what I state above. I feel the only difference is that the above view makes man totally accountable for his sin.

... Does my view seem on point to you?
... I had this discussion with my associate pastor and he says I am on good ground. My head pastor however often states
from the pulpit, that "world" means all types of people not all people.


My Response


I am in general agreement with your understanding. Your view would seem to be in line with the overall teaching of Scripture, perhaps with some minor qualifications. Let me see if I can fill out some areas you may not have considered for what I believe to be a more full-orbed grasp of the concept. Outlining what is to follow: first, lets discuss what Christ's redemption actually accomplishes both for believers and unbelievers, then cover the John 3:16 concept "whosoever believes", and lastly, point to some scholarly exegesis on the term "world" as it is used in Johannine theology.

What are Some Benefits of the Redemption?

All benefits of mercy we receive on earth have their basis in the cross. God withholds judgment on the world right now because of Christ. So in this sense one could say that some of the benefits of Christ's work, for a time, extends to unbelievers. In this way He withholds wrath we all justly deserve for Jesus' sake. The free offer of the gospel is another benefit to unbelievers .... Yet it is equally clear that Jesus died for the elect in a way that He DID NOT for the non-elect. The REDEMPTIVE benefits of the atonement are only for those whom God intended to save (John 6:37, 39). Its redemptive application is for His people only ("I lay down my life for the sheep" John 10:15).

This becomes even clearer when we more closely have a look at the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration. Since man cannot save himself, the Spirit sovereignly dispenses grace upon those whom God has chosen, to open their blind eyes and circumcise their deaf ears. The grace of regeneration itself is one of Christ's redemptive benefits, but since it is only given to the elect, this benefit is clearly withheld from the non-elect. The following passage forcefully explains this truth...

1 Pet 1:3 3 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable..." [emphasis mine]

In other words, it is the resurrection of Christ that has caused His people to be born again unto a living hope. We are elected and regenerated unto faith. Our hope in Christ comes as a result of the work of Christ in His life, death and resurrection. These benefits, obviously, are for the elect only because, according to this passage (and others), regeneration precedes and gives rise to our faith (1 John 5:1; John 1:13). Because of these redemptive benefits of Christ's death and resurrection, we are "born again TO A LIVING HOPE...." All spiritual blessings we receive in Christ have their basis in His finished work which includes His fulfilling of the law, His death and His resurrection. Too often people tend to separate the benefits of redemption (regeneration for one) from the work of Christ, which is really where so much of the confusion comes in over the extent of the atonement. The Scripture teaches that regeneration is a redemptive benefit accomplished for us by Christ, apart from which no one would willingly agree to the humbling terms of the gospel. Therefore the elect receive this redemptive blessing of quickening or new birth, which finds its direct origin in the death and resurrection of Christ, while the non-elect are clearly not given this benefit. But they do receive some benefit from the cross, but it is not redemptive. As Christians we call them to faith and repentance and explain that forgiveness of sins is available through the work of Christ to all who would believe, and them only. They are responsible to believe but because their greatest desire and affection is for sin they will not come to Christ. They love sin more than Christ, so no one is coercing them in their unbelief. They reject Christ by choice and that is why they are responsible.

Does the phrase "Whosoever Believes" Derail Particular Redemption or Confirm It?

But lets go back to John 3:16 for a moment. This passage does not invalidate particular redemption (limited atonement) but actually confirms it. Why is that? Lets look at the passage closely:

"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

Clearly the text DOES NOT say that Christ has died for ALL MEN. Rather, it says that Christ died for ALL WHO WOULD BELIEVE. It is only those who believe who have eternal life. This has significant implications for our gospel.

The biblical way to herald the gospel to unbelievers, therefore, is not that "Christ died for you" or "Christ died for all men". Instead we simply say what the Bible does: That Christ died for ALL WHO WOULD BELIEVE. Hypercalvinists and Arminians both err in imposing upon the unbeliever the need to embrace a full knowledge of the extent of the atonement. But nowhere in Scripture does it teach this. Arminians say we must say "He died for all men" ... Hypercalvinists say, "preach the gospel to the elect only, that Christ died only for them". While I would agree with them that the redemption is for the elect only but a full knowledge of the implications of limited atonement is not needed for salvation. The Scriptures simply say, "Whosoever believes has eternal life."

This is why Reformed Christianity has no trouble with the phrase "whosoever believes" because that is the gospel truth. But of course, as you correctly stated in your letter, only those to whom God regenerates will actually come to faith in Christ since none desire to come on God's terms, apart from the action of His grace. The apostle likewise said, "...no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Holy Spirit."

So to answer one part of your question, Jesus died for the elect in a way that He DID NOT for the non-elect. But you really need to qualify what you mean when you say that "He laid down His life for all of humanity." Such a statement is unnecessary and may be misunderstood. I could say, "so why aren't they all saved then?" "If he already paid for their sins then there should be no condemnation." But unbelief is one of the sins He died for. We have established, however, that He does not regenerate all persons, so we know this redemptive benefit is not given to all men. I believe it is actually more biblical to explain that the redemptive benefits of the atonement are only available for ALL WHO WOULD BELIEVE. Why impose words the Bible does not use? If we are going to be Biblical we need to recognize that the benefits of the atonement are only for would be believers. Faith gives glory to God as evidence that one is born again and is one of God's people.

Would you agree then that Christ died for the elect in a way that He did not for the non-elect?

What About the Term "World" in John 3:16?

Scholar D.A. Carson explains some of the different ways the BIBLE speaks of the love of GOD , which may help ...
(I have a link to the whole chapter at the end of the quote...)

"God's salvific stance toward his fallen world. God so loved the world
that he gave his Son (John 3:16). I know that some try to take kosmos
("world") here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the
evidence of the usage of the word in John's Gospel is against the
suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to
badness. In John's vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in
willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God's love in
sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so
big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as
to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of "the whole
world" (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More
importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged
to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis,
God's love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect.

The same lesson is learned from many passages and themes in Scripture.
However much God stands in judgment over the world, he also presents
himself as the God who invites and commands all human beings to repent. He
orders his people to carry the Gospel to the farthest corner of the world,
proclaiming it to men and women everywhere. To rebels the sovereign Lord
calls out,

As surely as I live ... I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but
rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil
ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? - Ezek. 33:11

[What About God's Particular Love for His elect?]

God's particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect. The elect may be the entire nation of Israel or the church as a body or individuals. In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way in which he does not set his affection on others. The people of Israel are told,

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh King of Egypt.
| Deut. 7:7-8; cf. 4:37 |


To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today.
| Deut. 10:14-15 |

The striking thing about these passages is that when Israel is contrasted with the universe or with other nations, the distinguishing feature has nothing of personal or national merit; it is nothing other than the love of God. In the very nature of the case, then, God's love is directed toward Israel in these passages in a way in which it is not directed toward other nations.

Obviously, this way of speaking of the love of God is unlike the other three ways of speaking of God's love that we have looked at so far. This discriminating feature of God's love surfaces frequently.

I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.
| Mal. 1:2-3 |

God declares it. Allow all the room you like for the Semitic nature of this contrast, observing that the absolute form can be a way of articulating absolute preference; yet the fact is that God's love in such passages is peculiarly directed toward the elect.

Similarly in the New Testament: Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Repeatedly the New Testament texts tell us that the love of God or the love of Christ is directed toward those who constitute the church.

Here is a link to the whole article by DA Carson exegeting "God's love""...

Hope this helps,
John Hendryx


Michael's Response

Peace be with you!

This is a further statement regarding my question. In your posting of God's Love, the World, the Extent of the Atonement and John 3:16 .

You wrote,
( But you really need to qualify what you mean when you say that "He laid
down His life for all of humanity." Such a statement is unnecessary and may
be misunderstood. I could say, "so why aren't they all saved then?" )

I absolutely agree, but what I'm saying is that 3:16, in "not about the atonement", but about the person. He came in to the world, is the free offer of the person of Jesus Christ to all of humanity. I qualify that by 3:19 that says "The light came in to the world but men loved the darkness more."

My statement is not "He laid down His life for all of humanity." but rather, "The laying down of His life is "offered" to all of humanity." I believe that 3:16 is the free "offer" to everyone. Followed by the clear "rejection" of everyone. This is the jist of all I am asking. I say every other verse that qualifies as the free offer has to be viewed through John 3:16.

From that point I would move on to how the Spirit goes forth and secures the elect. The overall purpose to the free offer I feel is to make mankind culpable for their own state. Why will we die? Because we wont believe. But praise be to God that He moved on me and made me believe . While Christ is offered to "all", faith is clearly not .

The exegesis of "world" from scholar DA Carson to me seems right on track with what I say above. I do not mean to say any more or any less than what he states in his posting. In the posting you gave me from him, it confirms all I was asking. I guess the only difference is word play. I do have to be careful not to express that Christ died for all. He is only "offered" to all.

Grace and Peace!


My Response

Yes, your explanation would appear to me to be right on track. We are in close agreement on the meaning of the text and seem to understand it in the same way. When we herald the gospel to the world, we declare to ALL HUMANITY that Jesus laid down his life for the forgiveness of sins to ALL who would believe. But then, as you say, no one is willing to accept the humbling terms of the gospel ... yet our Lord mercifully quickens His elect that they might believe. We must remember, however, that this quickening is itself a benefit secured by Christ in his atoning work. And in this way, Christ died for the elect in a way that he did not for the non-elect (since the non-elect do not experience this quickening).

One thing which makes me scratch my head is when people claim that John 3:16 refutes election. Aside from the fact that Calvinists teach to unbelievers that Christ died for all who would believe, it seems that Arminians become myopic here and forget the context of the text which follows. Following John 3:16 which holds out life to all who would believe it says but "men loved the darkness rather than the Light" and... "will not come to the Light..."(.vs 19, 20) The intent of Christ could not be more plain in saying this. Yes, he says, whosoever believes has eternal life, but men love darkness and will not believe. No one, apart from the grace of God, will submit to the humbling terms of the gospel. Then the text goes on to say "...But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God." (.vs 21) Wrought in God means worked by God. It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:30). No room for boasting here. Salvation is of the Lord.

Michael, you said, "the purpose of the free offer is to make mankind culpable." I might further qualify that by saying "more culpable" since a significant percentage of humanity will die in their sins without ever hearing the the gospel in their lifetime. Romans chapter 1 says they still know God through creation and yet suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness. This alone is enough to make them culpable and to condemn them.

''The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." - Rom 1:18-20 (emphasis mine)




Michael's Response

"more culpable" Awesome! Yes absolutely! Praise Him!


Note: In reality all parties believe the atonement is limited in some ways since some persons end up receiving God's wrath in hell. The question is not, therefore, is the atonement limited? but rather who or what limits it? Does man's fallen will determine it OR Does God from all eternity know and determine to whom He will apply the benefits of the atonement? Remember, our ability (or willingness) to believe and our new affections for God are a spiritual benefit we receive from the work of Christ. Christ purchases us out of our unregenerate state (1 Pet 1:3) which is not something someone who ultimately dies in their sins can claim.

Sometimes the term "all" in Scripture refers not to "all without exception" but rather to "all without distinction". An example would be Mark 1:5: "And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem." Obviously, in this context, all refers not too every single individual in these regions and cities went to be with Jesus. It simply means that great numbers of people went out to Him.

Related Articles
Dispensational Soteriological Innovations by John Hendryx A challenge to Dallas Theological Seminary's view of the atonement.
Is it Possible to Deny Limited Atonement and Still Believe in Unconditional Election? by John Hendryx
Why Many Christians Overlook The Context When Reading John 3:16? by John Hendryx
For Whom Did Jesus Taste Death? by John Piper
The Nature of the Atonement Why and For Whom Did Christ Die? by Phil Johnson
In Light of John 3:16, How can Election be True by John Hendryx