We wrestle with how to talk about the love of God with regard to all people. We especially find it difficult to talk about the cross and the love of God for all!
The truth about the love of God is truly delightful and decisive but also difficult. And one of the verses that has been debated in Church history is John 3:16. How does the love of God and the cross of Jesus Christ relate? How do we define the 'world' that God loves in the cross?
Two weeks ago, we argued from Matthew 5:43-48 that God does love all men with common grace.
This past week, we argued from John 3:1-21 that God loves all men with the free offer of the gospel because of the cross of Christ.
The primary use of 'world' in the gospel of John is the 'world as hostile to God.' It is used in contrast to believers in Jesus not as a way of identifying believers in Jesus. (see John 17)
The context of John 3:16 indicates that 'world' includes those who believe and those who love the darkness and reject the Light and will not believe. (John 3:16-21)
It is important to recognize the ways in which God has loved all men through the cross:
One testimony to this understanding is from John Calvin himself who defines 'world' as all mankind:
'For God so loved the world. Christ opens up the first cause, and, as it were, the source of our salvation, and he does so, that no doubt may remain; for our minds cannot find calm repose, until we arrive at the unmerited love of God. As the whole matter of our salvation must not be sought any where else than in Christ, so we must see whence Christ came to us, and why he was offered to be our Savior. Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish. … That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life. (John Calvin on John 3:16)
Another testimony to the cross as being, in some sense, for the whole world is seen in the articles of the Synod of Dordt which affirm that the cross was sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect:
The Infinite Value of Christ's Death
This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.
Reasons for This Infinite Value
This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is--as was necessary to be our Savior--not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God's anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.
You can hear more about this by going here and listening to The Love of God in 3-D - Part 5.