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16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:16-19
In 1 John 4:7-11, John explained that we must love one another because God is love and he has displayed his love by sending Jesus as the propitiation for our sins. And now in 1 John 4:16, John will go on to explain that we can be assured that God abides in us if we see his Spirit producing love in our hearts for our fellow believers, as well as a true confession of Jesus Christ. But what else does love accomplish? Does our ability to love merely serve as a sign of salvation? Or does love produce something even deeper within our hearts?
“We can be sure that God abides in us if we see his Spirit producing love in our hearts.”
PERFECTED BY LOVE
Verse 16 of our text says this: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Therefore, it is crucial that each of us be able to personally apply God’s love in Christ. This is exactly what the apostle Paul was doing when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). This is what it means to have a true confession of Christ. Our confession of Christ must be “biblical” and in accordance with the apostolic witness of the New Testament. However, our confession of Christ must also be “personal.” If we are to be Christian, we must be able to say along with the Apostle Paul that “[Christ] loved me and gave himself up for me.”
“A saving confession of Christ must be both biblical and personal.”
In verses 17 of our text, John says, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” When John talks about God’s love being perfected in us, he is speaking of God's love having reached its intended goal in us. God’s love is put into action, and so reaches its appointed goal, when we find ourselves truly loving his people. The Apostle John is patiently warning us that our love must not remain at the imperfect stage of mere talk, but reach the perfected stage of action.
“Biblical love does not remain at the imperfect stage of mere talk, but culminates in the perfected stage of action.”
So when we see God’s love flowing through us in practical good deeds to others, this becomes a basis for confidence for the day of judgment. However, all of this necessitates that we are involved in close relationships with other believers in a biblically faithful local church, where we are committed to work through our misunderstandings and hurt feelings. The presence of this kind of love increasing in our hearts provides confidence that we truly have been granted right standing with God.
LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR
The apostle now goes one step further in verse 18 of our text, where he writes, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” John is not saying that mature Christians should not possess a proper fear of the Lord. Rather, John is specifically speaking of fearing God's punishment and judgment.
“Christians should fear God, not God's judgment.”
In regards to unbelievers, the Apostle Paul states, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). Unbelievers have neither fear of God nor fear of God's judgment. This lack of fear stems from their rebellion and ignorance. Only the incredibly foolish are fearless in the face of real danger. This does not reflect courage, but ignorance and stupidity. So in salvation, God graciously causes unbelievers to become aware of the danger of his wrath by providing conviction of sin and proper fear of his judgment. God uses this fear of judgment to drive us to the cross of Christ, where are fears are finally relieved by God' grace of salvation. Then, as we begin to see God's love flowing through us toward others, we become even more assured of God's grace for us. Therefore, John’s point is that as God’s love grows in our hearts, it casts out the fear of judgment that existed before, while a proper fear of God himself remains.
THE REASON WHY WE LOVE
In verse 19 of our text we find one of the most beautiful verses in all of the Bible: “We love because [God] first loved us.” John's point is simply that if we love God or others to any extent with genuine biblical love, we must remember that such love did not originate with us. This love exclusively comes from God, who loved us in Christ even while we were yet sinners. This is a marvelous comfort because it means that the presence of biblical love in our lives is an undeniable evidence that we have truly experienced the love of God in a saving way.
“The presence of biblical love in our lives is an undeniable evidence that we have truly experienced the love of God in a saving way.”
Some of us who truly do trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior may still be painfully aware that our love for others is often weak. Many of us truly do seek to be used as an instrument of God's love, but we cannot help but think of how often we fall short of this noble endeavor. So how can we have assurance that we truly abide in God and that God truly abides in us? As we have seen throughout this letter, the heart of the matter is not “perfection,” but “direction.”
1) When our faith wavers, are we regularly coming before the Lord in confession? Do we regularly ask God to strengthen our faith?
2) Do we grieve over our lack of love and plead with God to make us more compassionate towards others?
3) Are we growing in godly hatred for our sin and a deepening desire for his holiness?
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