Some Thoughts on John 3:20
By Curt Wildy
“20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (KJV)”
“20 For everyone practicing wickedness hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, that his works may not be exposed. 21 But the [one] doing the truth comes to the Light, that his works may be revealed, that they exist, having been worked in God. (Greene’s Literal Translation / LITV)”
What a rich passage we have above, one that is full of Truth and most “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” it is especially profitable for the refutation of the error so prominent in our day. Having read it many times before, only recently have I seen it in the light that I aim to discuss below. This passage speaks much on God’s sovereignty, man’s depravity and spiritual inability, and the effectual working of God in His people as He brings them to The Light.
Originally, my aim was to focus primarily on the second verse of the passage “21 but he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God;” wanting to focus less on the unbelievers and more on the Lord Jesus Christ and His spiritual body. However, I do not think one can rightly understand and appreciate the second half without first considering the former. Therefore, I hope to address the Person, nature, and character of Him “that doeth truth” and “cometh to the Light” in a follow-up post — as God wills and enables.
1. For every one that doeth evil:
“For every one that doeth evil… For everyone practicing wickedness…” I believe that these words sum up all of fallen mankind by nature. No man, save the Lord Jesus Christ in His perfect humanity, can claim to be exempt from doing evil and practicing wickedness. Man practices wickedness, doing evil, because man is by nature wicked and evil, even full of sin, thoroughly polluted by the filthiness of the flesh and spirit (2 Cor 7:1). There is a spirit within man (Job 32:8; Zech 12:1; 1 Cor 2:11), many think that this spirit is dead in the sense of being nonexistent; but this is not so. When God declares that unregenerate man is (spiritually) dead in sins (Col 2:13) or dead in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1) He is not stating that the human spirit is no more; instead, He is stating that the evil spirit in man is dead to God and dead to the things of God; that is, dead to anything right, just, holy, good. It is indeed an unholy spirit and all that it can do now is sin — for all that it is and knows is sin.
In addition to that spiritual sin in man, there is what is called the motions or passions of sins in him, that is, in his flesh (the body of death). The two go hand-in-hand, with the corrupt flesh and psyche of man working in tandem with that fallen spiritual self to follow after and conform to the sin of this cursed world. This totality of sin manifests itself both in the religious realm and in the brutish, beastly realm of vice and immorality. Cain in his spiritual sin offered the sacrifices of his own dead works and carnal labour (in accordance with his fallen will); when his sacrifice was rejected however, his spiritual sin was soon followed by that rabid, fleshly sin that manifested in the hatred towards, and violent murder of, his brother. Likewise, we see this also with the Pharisees who persecuted the Lord Jesus; their sin manifested itself primarily in the religious realm at first but was soon followed by a raging desire to stone, crucify, and otherwise kill our Lord. Where one is, you will usually have the other because man in his entirety (body, soul, and spirit) is carnal, sold under sin. As a result he conducts himself in the lusts of his flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind as we read in Ephesians 2:3 (with the mind often being a synonym for the spirit or, at the very least, a slave to it).
The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, addresses our pervading sin problem by stating (quoting from both Psalm 14 and Psalm 53) “….for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under SIN; 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13 Their throat [is] an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps [is] under their lips: 14 Whose mouth [is] full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet [are] swift to shed blood: 16 Destruction and misery [are] in their ways: 17 And the way of peace have they not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:9-18).”
Not even the regenerate saint is free from sin in this life. We read of this as well in Romans 7:14-20 “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not… then it is no more I that do it, but SIN that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth NO GOOD THING: for to will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but SIN that dwelleth IN me.” In 1 John 1:8, the Apostle John warns that we are deceiving ourselves and that Christ is not in us if we claim to be free from such indwelling sin (and the acts of sin that flow from it). Yet, despite this indwelling sin, God is Faithful and Just to forgive His people of their sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness if we confess them. Out of debt? Never; but our confession and associated repentance is the gift of the Father Himself, wrought by the Holy Spirit, and stemming from the life of our Lord Jesus Christ and from His finished work on the cross. Therefore, God is Faithful to Himself (and to His creation) and Just in accordance with His holy Person, will, and decrees so that whatever such things He works, He honours, and we inherit the benefit thereof.
Since we all have this indwelling sin, we all doeth evil and practice wickedness by nature. However, whereas the regenerate child of God has the Holy Spirit working in Him both to will and to do of the Triune Godhead’s good pleasure (thus warring against the influence of the carnal flesh), the unregenerate person is a united front (soul, body, and spirit) against God, His Christ, and His people. Thus, the passage primarily has in view the unregenerate in general, and the reprobate in particular, when it speaks of those that doeth evil and practice wickedness — but again, in a practical sense, we are all in view. This is why the saints of God must confess that we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our (self-wrought) righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags.
2. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light…
To far too many, God has made a mistake here; their religious thoughts, deeds, and sentiments betray the fact that they believe that what God should have said was “For every one that doeth evil hateth The Light UNLESS they have made a personal decision to love The Light and exercise their freewill to turn to it.” The Christian knows that such a thought is sheer and utter nonsense; nonetheless, it represents the dominant religious view of our age. God does not make mistakes; His word is sure, steadfast, and perfect. God declares that everyone that doeth evil, that practices wickedness, hateth the light. He leaves no room for exceptions here.
By hating the light, does that mean that mankind is some sort of mythical vampire, fleeing from and abhorring the sunlight? No, this has nothing to do with any created/physical light. This verse teaches what human religion utterly, but erroneously, denies — that all of the fallen sons and daughters of Adam hate the True Light. Said another way, all of fallen mankind by nature, completely abhors, rejects, and despises the Lord Jesus Christ (who is that True Light) — there are no exceptions to this precept. Though the Arminian, Arian, Semi-Pelagian, and Sacramentalist may beg to differ, their hearts, minds, and bodies, are in perfect enmity against God. If given the opportunity, each and every one of them (as with all of the natural children of Adam) would crucify the Lord Jesus Christ afresh if they had such an opportunity; this is how much unregenerate man abominates the Lord.
The question arises, “how can we know that the Lord Jesus is The Light that is in view?” We know that He is The Light because we read in John 1:1-8 that “In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in [the] beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and without Him not even one [thing] came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men; 5 and the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it… 9 He was The True Light; [He] enlightens every man coming into the world (LITV).” John 8:12 declares “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, I am the Light of the world. The [one] following Me will in no way walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life (LITV).” Likewise, knowing the deity of the Word and the fulness of the Godhead that indwells Christ Jesus bodily, the Apostle states in 1 John 1:5-7 (LITV) “GOD IS LIGHT, and no darkness is in Him, none! 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and we walk in darkness, we lie and are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of His Son Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” It is clear that in the books of the Bible that he penned, being borne along by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle John meant for us to fully understand that the Lord Jesus Christ is indeed The Light even as God (in His Triune Oneness) is The Light.
3. Neither cometh to the Light
Seeing that (1) the Triune God is Light, (2) the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Word made flesh, is Light, and that (3) mankind by nature hates the Light, can there be any doubt that man is both completely unwilling and completely incapable of turning to this Divine Light? Can one who hates God at the same time make a decision to love and follow Him? The answer is clearly, no! no one, through the exercises of their so-called freewill, can accept this Light because this Light is repugnant to them; this Light is painful, discovering, blinding, and (to the false hopes and refuges of men) it is a consuming, devouring Light. Like the light of a magnifying glass focused on a flammable target — this Light burns through men and their lies; thus, they hate Him, His word, and His people.
As further reinforcement, we read in John 6:44 that no man can come to the Light, except the Father which hath sent Him draw him. No man can come to the Light, except it were given unto him of the Father (John 6:65). No man is able to receive the Light unless it be given him from Heaven (John 3:7). Unless the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, reveals the Light unto His people, He will be hidden from them (Matthew 11:25). Unless a man be given eyes by God “to see the Light” (to see Him with love, admiration, and godly fear and reverence by Faith) and “ears to hear” the thunderous voice that accompanies, then He will never be illuminated and nourished by Him. Instead, he will be like the Jews in John 8:47 wherein the Lord declared “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear [them] not, because ye are not of God.”
Such spiritual blindness and darkness makes it utterly impossible for fallen men to ever “activate the Light” by their own “religious” or “spiritual” thoughts, words, deeds, and abstainings; if you belong to the Light (by God’s sovereign choice from eternity) then the Light will sovereignly shine on you. No man decides to come to the Light, but after the Light first lovingly shines upon you, then He will draw you irresistibly unto Himself. If you are His, rather than being burned by this Light, you will be guided, warmed, and comforted by it. It may not feel as such at first; most often, when the Light first shines into the heart of God-regenerated men, their filthiness and corruption becomes readily evident before them; they cannot escape it. This Light will indeed show His people that they are not just “sinners” or “sinful,” but that they are naturally full of sin. Nonetheless, when that glimpse of wintry Light (just enough for a sight of sin, eternal justice, and wrath) gives way to the bright summery Light of warmth, mercy, and eternal loving-kindness — O how the Christian’s heart is filled with joy. Though seasons change, and clouds obscure, nonetheless, the Light forever shines upon the objects of His eternal love. When the Light of our spiritual Sun of Righteousness breaks through, what a blessed breaking through it is.
4. lest his deeds should be reproved, or that his works may not be exposed.
Those that doeth evil and practice wickedness hate the light and instinctually withdraw from it because they do not want their drinking, cursing, smoking, womanising, stealing, lying, dancing, and card-playing to be seen of God. That’s how many see it, but that isn’t all that is meant. It is true that men do not want their immorality (whether real or contrived by the traditions of men) exposed and examined under the Light of God — but this is not all there is to it. The focus is on deeds and works; though immoral deeds and works are absolutely included in this — equally in view (if not more so) is the carnal religious deeds and works of men. Not just the deeds and works of the Mohammedans, Buddhists, Taoists, Animists, Talmudists, and the like (all of which are covered in the passage)– but the deeds and works of those also, who claim to promote Christ, the Gospel, grace, sovereignty, but who really only worship their own bellies and who really only promote their own carnal lusts, wills, and interests.
The truth is that all mankind wraps itself in the false refuge of man-made religion, thinking themselves to be safe, deluding themselves into believing that their deeds are good. They love their sin, love their supposed sovereignty, their fallen and depraved wills, and thus they do not love God. Yet they love to deem themselves religious and lovers of God. Even the ones claiming to be atheists and agnostics love their god, clothing themselves in the religion of secular humanism, and worshipping man as God.
These things evidence the fact that we have thoroughly emptied ourselves of any true desire whatsoever to expose ourselves to The Light that will detect and reveal the true character of our deeds. Intrinsically, we have a natural fear of that Light that “[is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” We fear it because we know that through the great shining of that Light, there is not any “creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things [are] naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:12-13).” Only God can work the work that would cause a man to cease to slavishly fear this Light, seek to enter into this Light, bathe in it, be washed clean by it. It is either all of God or it is nothing at all but a delusion.
Thus, when men say that they “accepted” the Light, “made a decision” for the Light, “chose to turn to” the Light, “got right” with the Light, brought themselves to “see the Light,” or any other such thing, you can rest assured that they are deceiving themselves. At no time did they decide to embrace the Light, come to the Light, seek the Light, believe the Light, find the Light — at no time. Instead, what they did was run from the True Light and generated a false light of their own. In so doing, in making that temporary strange fire light to comfort and fool themselves, they have heaped damnation upon their souls. They think all is well, but all is not well. Whatever light they think they have is nothing but abject darkness, and soon that darkness will bear down so thoroughly and heavily upon them that they will be crushed forever under the oppressive weight of it.
But thank God for the children of the Light, those whom He makes candles, lamps and bearers of the Light. Thank God for His electing love, His sovereign choice, that brought His people out of the dark abyss and into the Light of Life. May it be that one who has seen the Light is at least a little blessed by this study on the Light. If so, to God alone be the glory.