In spite of the sin and fallenness of the world, God has continued to love His creation, and in His love, He has sent His only begotten Son into the world to save sinners (John 3:16). Expanding on this point, John has told us that salvation, not condemnation, was the primary aim of our Creator in sending His Son, although condemnation is the inevitable secondary result of the Son’s mission. When the Son is revealed and sinners refuse Him, their condemnation increases; they add to their already extensive record of sin the grievous sin of rejecting the one way of salvation God has graciously provided (vv. 17–18). In fact, this increase of condemnation is extensive because people have preferred the darkness of sin to the light of the gospel (v. 19). Many people remain in sin, refusing to come into the light lest their works be exposed (v. 20).
Yet, this is not true of all people. Some, today’s passage reveals, come to the light because they do the truth and are not afraid to have their works exposed, for the exposure will prove that their works have been done in God (v. 21). John Calvin writes, “Those works are said to be done in God or according to God, which are approved by Him, and which are good according to His rule.” John 3:21 refers to people who, in Christ, fulfill the law of God through love (Rom. 13:8–10).
We must be careful here not to read John as teaching works-righteousness. John 3:21 does not describe how a person goes from darkness to light. That has already been presented in verses 1–15, where we see that the only way we can come into the kingdom is to be reborn spiritually from above through God’s sovereign work of regeneration. Upon regeneration, we believe and are saved (v. 16). Our good deeds do not avail for redemption; faith alone saves us (see also Eph. 2:8–9). John 3:21 simply presents a contrast with the wicked person of verse 20 in order to arouse people from their complacency and encourage them to come to Christ for salvation. It is easy for us to think we love the truth and are doing what is right when in fact we are lost in sin, but lest we fool ourselves, John tells us that those who love the light and truth are only those who trust in Jesus. They believe in Him and long for Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Calvin comments, “Those who act sincerely desire nothing more earnestly than light, that their works may be tried; because, when such a trial has been made, it becomes more evident that, in the sight of God, they speak the truth and are free from all deceit.”