Perfect Love In 1 John 4:18

Charles J. Aebi

Dear Aebi: “Please explain 1 John 4:18. If we are afraid, does it mean we don’t love God?” 

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” –1 John 4:18, NKJV

No, being afraid is not an indication that we do not love God. First, notice that the fear he speaks of is not being afraid of some earthly danger like a snake, drowning, or a plane crash. Fear in this passage refers to lack of confidence in the day of judgment (v. 17). Boldness here means that we are confident that we will be accepted and not condemned by Christ when He comes again to judge everyone – to reward His faithful servants and to punish those who have rejected Him (John 12:48). John speaks of this confidence or boldness in 1 John 2:28, 3:21 and 4:17, but he also refers in many other places to the faithful Christian’s being assured of receiving God's approval (having eternal life). The blood of Jesus cleanses all our sins (1 John 1:7); God will forgive and cleanse us (1:9); he that does the will of God lives forever (2:17); He has promised us eternal life (2:25); when Jesus returns, we will be like Him (3:2); God sent Jesus so we might live (4:9); our faith overcomes the world (5:4); if we have Christ, we have eternal life (5:11-13). These are expressions of confidence that Christ will welcome us into eternal life if we believe in Him, love Him, and serve Him. He will do this by virtue of the atonement He made for us (1 John 2:2), the propitiation for our sins that He accomplished on the cross.

Notice that it is perfect love that casts out fear. Perfect love is defined in 1 John 2:5 as keeping God's commandments and, in 4:12, as loving our brothers in Christ. J.W. Roberts says perfect love "likely means that love has reached its true end or purpose in our lives: it has come to its desired development or maturity when we have full faith in the love of God. The result is that we may have confidence for the day of judgment" (The Letters of John, pp. 120-121).

When we mature in our faith in Christ, in His grace, in His atonement, we are His faithful servants, and we need not go around fearing lest He will condemn us. We know He will condemn us if we reject Him and embrace the world and its idols, but we also know He will (by his grace and by the blood of the cross) accept us if we serve Him. Therefore, we serve Him, for we love Him, and we believe in Him. We believe His promises, and we trust His grace; therefore we do not shudder in fear of being judged and rejected. –2660 Layman Rd., Vincent OH 45784.

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