There Is No Condemnation Through Christmas

John 3:16-21 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.”


In the way of a reminder, during Advent we’re working our way through this passage in John’s Gospel, a few verses at a time. Last week was John 3:16, The Love of God Is Shown Through Christmas. This week is 3:17-18, There Is No Condemnation Through Christmas. And then next Sunday, the 18th, we’ll work through 3:19-21, The Light of the World Has Come Through Christmas.

Interestingly, each of these three passages explicitly speaks of Jesus’ incarnation. More interestingly still, each uses a different word to do so. Verse 16 says that God gave His Son. Christmas is the giving of Jesus. Verse 17 says God sent His Son. Christmas is the sending of Jesus. And verse 19 says Jesus came into the world. Christmas is the coming of Jesus.

The main thing for us to see is that each describe Christmas as an intentional work of God. As we lean into our text this morning, therefore, let’s not forget that Christmas was always God’s plan to rescue the world from sin. Let’s not miss the glory of the incarnation as the fulfillment of God’s promises over thousands of years—and in another sense, from eternity past (Ephesians 1:4). Grace, let’s not overlook the tremendous help John 3:16-21 is for understanding what it means that the Son of God took on flesh, why He did so, and what that has to do with us. In other words, these few verses are a tremendous help for celebrating Christmas in greater fullness.

Well, what is true of the whole of this passage is also true of the two verses we’re going to focus on this morning. The basic argument of our passage has three parts. First, God did not make Christmas to condemn the world. Second, God made Christmas to save the world. And third (once again), salvation comes through believing in Christmas. In other words, the good news of this passage, the good news of Christmas, is that (1) Jesus came to end condemnation, (2) not bring it, and (3) salvation comes through trusting in Jesus’ performance, not ours.

Do you want to truly honor God in the way you approach Advent and Christmas? (I know you do.) Then this passage is a gift of God to you. Let’s pray for God’s help to understand and properly apply all that He’s revealed to us in these few verses.


The basic idea of being condemned, as I’m sure you understand, is to be judged guilty. Have you ever been explicitly condemned for something? In the most literal sense, this would involve being found guilty in a court of law—condemned for tax fraud, assault, or reckless driving, for instance. In the more common sense, it happens every time someone decides you wronged them—condemned for talking trash or cheating in a game or lying about who broke the chair or not listening well or taking the last cookie out of the church freezer, this past week, when I was really looking forward to it.

Of course, whether formally or informally, we’ve all been condemned for something by someone. Try to remember the last time that happened to you. How did it feel? Unless you were condemned by someone for loving Jesus too much or being too humble it probably didn’t feel very good. If you’re wrongly condemned it feels terrible. But even if you’re rightly judged guilty, no one likes being condemned.

For those reasons, John’s opening words in v.17 probably sound like really good news, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world…” Jesus taught the same thing himself in John 12. (John 12:47) “I did not come to judge the world …”

Again, that sounds like really good news, right? If there’s anything worse than being condemned by your sister for being mean, it’s being condemned by a judge for speeding. And if there’s anything worse than being condemned by a judge for speeding, it’s most definitely being condemned by Jesus for anything. So the fact that God didn’t send Jesus to condemn us has to be a positive thing, doesn’t it? Is it that simple? Christmas is the good news that Jesus does not condemn the world?

Well, there are three main things to see here as we lean into the text for all the Christmas help it can bring.

Already Condemned

The first thing to see is that the “good news” of the beginning of v.17 isn’t what it might seem. God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn the world because the world was already condemned. Grace, please listen carefully as I say that again. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world. He came because the world was condemned. Divine judgment had already taken place and the world was found guilty. John made that clear in v.18, ” whoever does not believe is condemned already”.

If it’s not obvious to you already, that’s a big deal. You can’t truly celebrate Christmas if you don’t understand its relationship to the condemnation of the world. Of course, this is the opposite of what most people participating in “holiday celebrations” believe, but let the Word of God prove true and every man a liar. Christmas is about condemnation before it is about salvation.

Before moving on, it’s important to say a brief word on what probably seems like a contradictory message in John. If you’ve read John’s Gospel before, you might remember what Jesus said in chapters 5 and 9 about this.

John 5:27 And [the Father] has given [me] authority to execute judgment, because [I am] the Son of Man.

John 9:39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world…”

If John 3 says that Jesus did not come to judge/condemn the world, how are we to make sense of John 5 which says that the Father gave the Son authority to “execute judgment,” and John 9 says that Jesus came into the world “for judgment”?

I’ll answer that in more detail when we come to those passages. For right now I’ll simply say that Jesus did not come into the world to bring condemnation (as we read in our passage), but He did come to perfectly name the things the world stood condemned for. As we saw at the end of chapter 2, Jesus perfectly knows what’s in a man’s heart. He was able to look into the hearts of the Pharisees, Sadducees, prostitutes, tax collectors, disciples, Roman soldiers, you and me, and everyone else and know our every thought and intention. Jesus knows—better that we do ourselves—exactly what we are condemned for. In that way, when He encountered individuals and groups and named their offences, he wasn’t condemning them, but naming the judgment/condemnation that was already upon them. He didn’t come into the world to bring condemnation, but He did come to make clear that specifics of the condemnation the world was under.

It is often believed that God (especially in the OT) is angry, vengeful, wrathful, and cantankerous, while Jesus is kind, forgiving, and loving. God condemns and Jesus saves. Have you ever heard that? On the surface, it might sound like that’s what this passage is saying. On the contrary, however, Father, Son, and Spirit alike acknowledge and pronounce the condemnation that is already ours. Or condemnation is ultimately against them and by them. And each in their own way helps us to see that and participates in the remedy for that.

Grace, Christmas is about condemnation before it is about salvation. Indeed, understanding and accepting this is a prerequisite for salvation and God-honoring Christmas celebrations.

Condemned for What?

But that begs a question, which leads to the second key to the passage. The question it begs is, “Condemned for what?” Jesus didn’t come to bring condemnation because condemnation was already universal. But what was the world condemned for?

Romans 1 teaches that no one is condemned for what they don’t know. That is, condemnation doesn’t come because someone failed to keep a law they didn’t know existed or because they broke a rule they’d never heard of.

Likewise, no one is condemned because they fall outside of some ethnic community; that is, because they are not of the physical line of Abraham. One of the keys of this Gospel is that both Jew and Gentile alike can escape condemnation by believing in the only Son of God.

And, contrary to what v.18 might sound like, no one is condemned for not believing in Jesus. Not one person is or ever will be in hell because they’d never heard of Jesus. When John wrote, “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God,” his main point, as we’ll see in a bit, is that believing in Jesus is the only way out of the condemnation in which we stand. It is not that not believing in Jesus is what leads to condemnation.

If not those things, then what? What is it that caused the world to fall under the condemnation of God? Consider with me a handful of familiar verses. As I read them, ask the Spirit to help you hear them with fresh ears.

Genesis 2:15-17 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 3:6-7 [But] when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.

Or this, Paul wrote in Romans 5:12, Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…

Backing up, in Genesis 6:5 we read, The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Psalm 53:2-3 God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

Isaiah 53:6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

James 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

1 John 1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Anyone familiar with the Bible knows that there are dozens and dozens more passages just like these. The condemnation of the entire world comes from sin. Indeed, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and stand, therefore, condemned before God.

Grace, rightly understood, this means two critical things. First, it means that the love of Go in v.16 is not based on our loveliness. Christmas is not about your worthiness to be loved. It’s not about your specialness. Again, then, before Christmas is about anything else, it is about the condemnation that our sin has brought upon us.

And second, it means that genuine love, the kind God has for us and demonstrated in awesome ways at the first Christmas, does not demand that the person you love deserves it. This is, as John will later record Jesus teaching, world-changing. Loving the unlovely, the undeserving, those who might not love you back, your enemies, is at the heart of Christmas, and therefore, at the heart of celebrating well.

Condemned to What?

The third and final key to this first point is another question, “Condemned to what?” If we are all condemned and condemned for sin, it is natural to ask what we are condemned to.

John describes this in a number of different ways. He has already spoken of it as darkness (1:5), blindness (3:3), spiritual death (3:5), and perishing (3:16). He will speak of it as the wrath of God (3:36), eternal torment (Revelation 20:10), and a second death (Revelation 21:8), among other things.

The bottom line is that Jesus didn’t come into the world to bring condemnation, but to reveal it, its source, and its consequence. The whole world stands condemned, on account of sin, to hell.

Looking around, you’re unlikely to find many Christmas celebrations that have a weightiness stemming from an appropriate appreciation of its relationship to condemnation, fewer still to total depravity, and probably none to hell.

If you want your Christmas celebrations to be fuller than anything and everything the world has to offer, rooted in truth, and filled with fullness of joy, if you want to truly honor God this year, you must begin—not with a picture of cute baby Jesus or holiday cheer or nice decorations or thoughtful presents or good food or family plans or service projects—but with sin, death, and hell. It can’t end there, as we’re about to see, but it must begin there.

Again, it doesn’t get much more counterintuitive than that, but God isn’t overly concerned with being intuitive to the wisdom of the world. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we will see this, be convicted and crushed by this, we will recognize the infinite offense and eternal significance of our sins against God, we will know that we have no way out in our own strength, and then we will desperately, but effectively, turn to Jesus in faith to deliver on His promises. It is only once we settle on that, that the rest of John 3:17-18 will find its proper place. And it is only when the rest of John 3:17-18 finds its proper place that the rest of John, the rest of the Bible, and Christmas itself will as well.

Grace, for reasons I don’t totally understand, God has long-burdened me to wage a kind of war against those who have and would hijack Christmas. I invite you to join me. Let’s “rescue” Christmas from mere sentimentality, from a marketing ploy, from dead traditionalism, from an excuse to indulge in materialism, and from a hostageless rescue, from generic holiday spirit, and from everything else that finds its roots in something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. John 3:16-21 is among the God-given weapons for this war. With it (and the many other gospel-passages like it), we are able to offer something infinitely and eternally greater than any of those things have to offer.

It is only once God grants us the ability to settle on all of that, that we can truly appreciate what’s next. And what’s next, the second part of John’s argument in this passage, is the good news that even though the world stands condemned, Jesus was sent to rescue the world from that condemnation. Just like a diseaseless cure isn’t very good news, neither is a condemnationless salvation. But John helps us see that while our condemnation was real and complete, Jesus is more than sufficient to save us from it.


If Jesus did not come to bring condemnation, then why did He come? Again, the text couldn’t be any clearer on the matter.

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

As I said in the beginning, Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but because the world stood condemned. He was sent, then, to rescue the world from its condemnation.

In v.16 we saw that Jesus was given to rescue us from perishing, put an end to our condemnation, and give eternal life (3:16). Those things combined, v.17 says, is what it means to be saved. Jesus was sent that we “might be saved through Him.” Salvation, as we try to make clear every week in the exhortation, both cancels out our debt of sin, and fills our account with the perfect righteousness of Jesus. It both puts an end to our enmity with God, and restores us to perfect fellowship with Him.

If you want your Christmas to be super-charged with all God offers, you must spend time looking straight at Jesus as He is revealed in John (and the rest of the Bible). You must measure yourself against Him. Insodoing, you must acknowledge your staggering failure to measure up, the just consequences of failing to do so, and your inability to do anything about it on your own. And you must, as the third and final main point of the text highlights, trust wholly in Jesus to rescue you and restore you and keep you forever.


Finally, then, and to carry on a theme that already has and will continue to build in John’s Gospel, access to the salvation Jesus came to bring comes through believing in Him.

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Not believing in Jesus is not what condemns us. It’s what keeps us in our condemnation. And we do not escape condemnation by working really hard, by being good enough, by giving enough in the offering, by homeschooling enough, by coming to church enough, by helping the vulnerable enough, or by believing in something of our own concoction enough. God’s rescue plan, which is the only plan that works, is to save the world from our sin-wrought, hell-destined condemnation through believing in the name of the only Son of God.

And in the most basic terms, that means believing that Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, that He was sent to earth to be an example for all mankind, which He was perfectly, that He was crucified to atone for our sins and was resurrected from the dead to bring us life, and that through all of this He reconciles us to God, now and forever.

In other words, eternal life comes to those who believe that Jesus came at Christmas to rise on Easter for all who would receive His saving grace in faith.


Jesus didn’t come to bring condemnation. He came because we were already condemned. We were condemned by God to hell for our sin. But the love of God is such that He sent His only Son to provide the means of salvation—Jesus’ incarnation, perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection on our behalf. And we gain access to that by believing in Him.

Christmas, Grace, is the beginning of that plan of God unfolding on earth. If that’s not worth celebrating, nothing is! May we be given the eyes to see that and may that shape all we do for the glory of God and the good of the world.