Chapter 4:13-21 (ESV) - By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 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. 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. 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. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Question to consider: How can our fear of God be a good thing?
Today John wraps up his argument that someone who abides in Christ loves his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (the church), for God loves the church. Testifying to this truth is the Spirit of God living in us and John and the other apostles who have seen the risen Christ and can affirm Him to be the Savior of the world. Unlike the confession of some of the Charismatic movements today, the Holy Spirit is not living in us in order to give us a faith experience at a worship gathering or to help us predict future events like some kind of fortune teller. Jesus called the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and said of His coming, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” (John 16:9)
Chapter 4 has been a commentary on Jesus’ discourse with the disciples in John 15-16 so it does not surprise me that John speaks of the Spirit of God living in us and perfecting God’s love in us. Because of this, we can face the day of judgment with confidence instead of fear. Modern cinema likes to portray the end of the world as a dystopic and fearful thing, but in Christ we have hope that one day there will be no more sin and death.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Our relationship with the Lord begins with fear of punishment. This is not a popular position because we’ve been taught to think that anything that inspires fear in someone is evil. A parent, however, can’t explain the complexities of a hot stove to a toddler. The sharp “NO!” that comes out of a parent may instill fear in the toddler at the time, but it rescues the toddler from a bad burn. Fear is actually only a bad thing if it is used to enslave a person or cause them harm. God desires to set us free from sin and death and cause us to receive new life in Christ.
As we come to know Christ, and the Spirit of God abides in us, our fear turns into a perfect love that actually casts out fear and helps us to love the things that please the Lord. In this context, if we say we hate the church, we are lying about the love of God being in us because God’s love fills our heart so that it overflows to those around us.
Dear Lord, thank You for saving us from death even if it means that we experience the fear of punishment as we are being molded by Your Spirit into the image of Christ. Though we still struggle with sin and to truly love our brothers and sisters the way we should, we thank You for Your mercy as Your perfect love continues to grow in us. Amen.