Does John 3:16 teach that anyone can be saved?

RC Sproul often spoke in defense of the Doctrines of Grace when someone challenged them by quoting John 3:16. Here is one of his responses over the years to that challenge:

By RC Sproul
From "Knowing Scripture"

"The principle of literal interpretation gives us another rule, namely that the Bible in one sense is to be read like any other book. Though the Bible is not like any other book in that it carries with it the authority of divine inspiration, nevertheless, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit over a written text does not turn verbs into nouns or nouns into verbs. No special, secret, arcane, esoteric meaning is poured into a text simply because it’s divinely inspired. Nor is there any such mystical ability we call "Holy Ghost Greek." No, the Bible is to be interpreted according to the ordinary rules of language."

"Closely related to this point is the principle that the implicit must be interpreted by the explicit, rather than the explicit interpreted by the implicit. This particular rule of interpretation is violated constantly. For example, we read in John 3:16 that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” and many of us conclude that since the Bible teaches that anyone who believes shall be saved, it therefore implies that anyone can, without the prior regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, exercise belief. That is, since the call to believe is given to everyone, it implies that everyone has the natural ability to fulfill the call. Yet the same gospel writer has Jesus explaining to us three chapters later that no one can come to Jesus unless it is given to him of the Father (6:65). That is, our moral ability to come to Christ is explicitly and specifically taught to be lacking apart from the sovereign grace of God. Therefore, all of the implications that suggest otherwise must be subsumed under the explicit teaching, rather than forcing the explicit teaching into conformity to implications that we draw from the text."


  1. So. Now I am confused.

    How does one know then, if one is in fact truly saved?

    I pray I am included with the saved. But could it be possible that I am somehow one of the many "deceived" who are doomed?

    It makes me feel better, somehow, if I write it out...

    I understand and acknowledge and believe that it really happened that Jesus was born of a virgin on earth, that he came to be a sacrifice for my sins, that he was tortured and died on the cross, and that 3 days later he rose from the dead. So my sins have been washed away by his blood. And then He went back to heaven. To prepare a place for those of us who are saved, because Jesus is coming back for those of us who are saved. And therefore, I am saved. I pray.

    It seems that one who is deceived wouldn't know that he is deceived. Right?

    I know there must be resources which address this question, but could you please provide a short list of articles/books which you think are good?

    I have been reading your blog for several years now. Your writing and knowledge of the bible has truly been enlightening. I really look forward to reading your posts. Very interesting. I am interested to know more of your views on this subject.

    Thank you for your work.


  2. Hi David,

    I have found these resources to be sound:

    Is it Real? 11 Biblical Tests of Genuine Salvation, by John MacArthur. It's an article

    How Can I Be Sure of My Salvation? A Q&A with John MacArthur, an article

    True and False Assurance, by Iain Campbell at Ligonier. It's an article


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