The most well known verse in the Bible is also one that can create some serious conversation about what God REALLY meant. Questions like, who is included in "world", does God love everyone, does He not give eternal life to some- to name a few. These are hard questions because we like God to be "fair" like we aren't, oh, did I say aren't? We generally only want things to be fully fair toward us and if others lack then we are not losing much sleep over that.
So let's take a look at this, and this will in no way be exhaustive and I am not a Bible scholar, so it should come out pretty simply.
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Let's take that at face value- God loved the world- whatever that means right now- that He gave His one and only Son, BTW I would never do that for you, especially knowing how they were going to treat Jesus, to die for sins He didn't commit so those who believe in Him might be saved from eternal wrath and live with God forever.
17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The purpose for God's sending His Son to live, die and be raised to life on earth was not to condemn but instead that the world would be saved through Him. This was the plan all along and there is no other way.
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.
Some are going to believe and those who do believe are not going to be condemned, but those who do not believe are already condemned bc they don't believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Ok- this is where it can poke you in the eye. There is judgment in Jesus coming into the world. God didn't send His Son into the world to condemn the world, maybe this was not the primary purpose, but in His sending of His Son He knew there would be those who would not believe and in not believing there is judgment. God sent His Son, the only way to Heaven, to earth as a free gift and there are many who will not accept the free gift and this brings judgment to them. People make a choice to love darkness rather than the light of Jesus' message and person and in making that choice they are rejecting the other option. They exchange darkness for light bc their works are evil and they like living there.
20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
This choice is evident by the works they do. They do wicked things; they can't help it bc they love doing the things they love to do. Previous to accepting the best gift we will ever be offered there is no way to actually do good things. Some things are seen as nice or kind, but the motives and intentions of the heart are not seen and truth says that we will always be selfish and proud w/o the Spirit working in our hearts and giving us a new heart. Before salvation our works are evil we choose to live in darkness so that those evil works are not exposed like they will be in the light.
21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God."
After salvation we have a desire, given by super natural indwelling, that enables us to love truth and light because we desire to have our true nature revealed so God can grow and change us and as we move along in this change the works we do will be seen as good works, carried out in the strength that God gives.
This is all a process and is the reason we were created, to do good works so that others may see those good works and glorify our Father who is in Heaven. Those who know should only be able to attribute this change as from God, if we are giving the glory back to Him.
These are hard things to wrap our finite minds around, but God can move us along in this understanding if we ask Him for wisdm to do so. I hope this is helpful.