“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
John 3:18 is actually more damaging to the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement than John 3:16. Here’s why. The concept of a Limited Atonement means that Jesus didn’t die for everyone, but only for a limited group, namely Calvinism’s “elect.” Conversely, the alleged “non-elect” wouldn’t have a Savior who died for them, and if they didn’t have a Savior, then how could they be held accountable for rejecting a Savior that they never had? So a Calvinist would then have to say that they are not judged for rejecting the grace of Calvary, or judged for rejecting Jesus, but according to their sin. However, that’s not at all what Jesus said:
Clearly, their judgment is according to their disbelief in a Savior’s atonement that they did have, which Calvinism’s Limited Atonement otherwise insists that they never had.
Adrian Rogers comments: “There are some people who will tell you that Jesus only died for the elect. But that’s not what the Gospel of John says. It says that the only reason men are not saved is not because Jesus did not die for them, but because they didn’t believe in Him.” (Faith: What it is and how to have it: Romans 10:17-21, emphasis mine)
Otherwise, how could they be “judged already” for rejecting a Savior that they never had? Limited Atonement just doesn’t work here.
John Calvin comments: “This means that there is no other way by which any human being can escape death. So in other words, everyone who rejects the life Christ offers remains in death, since life is nothing other than faith. The past tense, ‘stands condemned already,’ is used emphatically to express more strongly the idea that all unbelievers are completely ruined.” (John: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.79, emphasis mine)
But the alleged “non-elect” never had any part in Calvary, or the “life Christ offers.” So this is part-one of the reason why John 3:18 doesn’t work with Calvinism.
Here’s part-two of the reason why John 3:18 is troublesome for Calvinism:
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “If it is true that Christ died to redeem a specific number of people, namely those whom the Father had given him, it follows that all believers were redeemed at the cross two thousand years ago. They were cleared of all charges then, for God accepted the ransom payment. The certificate of our canceled debt was then given to us when we trusted Christ.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.185, emphasis mine)
So they were secretly cleared of all charges while as yet unbelievers? And then upon conversion, they receive a certificate? In reality, what Jesus did 2,000 years ago at Calvary becomes applicable to the individual only upon looking to Christ (compare with John 3:14 as it relates to Numbers 21:6-9), in a positive response to the gospel, apart from which, they remain “judged already.”
If a person does not become redeemed until he is in Christ, and if you do not become sealed in Christ until you first believe in the Gospel, then how can you be redeemed before you believe in the Gospel? Such a thought is not only inconsistent with Ephesians 1:13, but is also inconsistent with John 3:18 which says that unbelievers are not secretly redeemed, but openly condemned. Thus as Jesus says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” There is no secret path to the Father. Until you believe in Jesus, you remain condemned.
Calvinists are stuck on the fact that Jesus is said to have died for the Church (and this is true, because that is the purpose for Calvary, since Jesus didn’t endure Calvary just for the sake of it, but in order that people would benefit from it, and even if no one else had believed in Him, there were still all of those Old Testament saints in Abraham’s Bosom, as per Luke 16:19-31, and all of the disciples, and all of the people who believed in Him during His time here on earth), but the point to consider is that Jesus died for the Church because that’s where its purpose is achieved, and having died for the world, is what makes it possible for whosoever-will to believe and become part of His Church, and God, for His part, is indeed willing that all become saved and become part of His Son’s body, and in fact, the more who do, the more justified that God is, in having paid so high of a cost to secure our salvation. So God receives more glory, by more people becoming saved, rather than less.