“By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in 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, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us” (I John 4:17-19).
God’s perfect love in us gives us confidence because God sees us in this world just as He sees Himself; beyond reproach, holy, and righteous (Colossians 1:22). Does that sound too good to be true? God said it so we can believe it no matter how it “sounds”. It is a spiritual reality; you are as God is in this world.
One of the effects of God’s perfect love in us is that it drives out fear. Why? Because fear involves punishment and there is no fear in God’s love because we have confidence in the day of judgment that we will face NO punishment. When we fear, we are not putting into practice that which is true about us; we are perfected in God’s love and have nothing to fear.
This freedom from fear of punishment was promised long ago as part of the new covenant. ” ‘Just as I swore in the time of Noah that I would never again let a flood cover the earth, so now I swear that I will never again be angry and punish you. For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken,’ says the LORD, who has mercy on you” (Isaiah 54:9-10 NLT).
God’s love casts out fear because fear involves punishment, something God has promised to never send our way.
Finally, “we love, because He first loved us” takes us back to the true source of the love we display. God is love in His essence. As His children, love is our essence as well. We love, because He first loved us.
“We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the 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. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (I John 4:14-16).
Here we find the apostle John coming back to the same promises as if to really drive home the point. And what are his points?
- “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son.” This echoes the requirement Jesus gave to join His family, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’ “ (John 6:29). Your faith in Christ is based on something that John was an eyewitness to; the fact that God has sent the Son.
- “To be the Savior of the world.” This agrees with the testimony of the Samaritans in John chapter 4. “We have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
- “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him.” Can the apostle make God’s abiding in us more clear? God abides in us through His Holy Spirit because we believed. It really is that straightforward.
- “And he in God.” Likewise, we abide in God on the same basis; our belief in Jesus. Let this complete phrase sink in. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides IN him, and he IN God.” There is no behavior or love requirement to abide in God. He is IN us and we are IN Him, completely secure based on Christ’s finished work on the cross and our belief in Him.
- “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.” John has emphasized before that we who are God’s children “know God”. Knowing God means that we also know, believe in, and experience His great love.
- “God is love.” Love is God’s very essence.
- “And the one who abides in love abides in God.” Since God is love in His very essence, the one who abides in God (all of us who believe) is also abiding in His love.
- “And God abides in him.” And just to be sure we don’t miss it, John reminds us for the umpteenth time, God lives in us. I have no problem with the repetition, because I can never get enough of this beautiful and powerful truth; the God of the universe in every way available to Him lives in you and me!
“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (I John 4:12-13).
Because John’s “if” statements can appear to add some requirements on our part to remain in Christ, it is helpful to always remember the order of what happened to you when you believed. Over and over in this letter, John comes back to the idea that we can know that we are in God’s family; we can know that by virtue of our new birth, we are abiding in God.
So in keeping with the proper order of how things happened to us, let’s start with the last verse in this passage, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” How do we know that we abide in God and He abides in us? Because we do certain things? Because we love others well? No, our abiding in God and He in us is 100% because He has given us the Holy Spirit as a seal. We have the Spirit from day one of our salvation. So we are always abiding in God and He in us.
Now let’s go back to verse 12. No one has seen this God of whom love is His essence. But this God of love abides in us. Therefore the world will “see” God when they see us loving one another. Jesus made a similar point in the gospel of John, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Again, using the language of verse 12, “no one has seen God.” But when “we love one another”, folks will see that we love well because “God abides in us and His love is perfected (played out) in us.”
Loving well does not “cause” God to abide in us. Loving well shows what we already have; God and His love abiding in us.
“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [sacrifice] for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (I John 4:9-11).
God demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son, Jesus, into the world. Twice in this passage, God “sent His Son”. We are very familiar with “God sent His Son to be the sacrifice”. But are you as familiar with “God sent His Son that we might live through Him”? (vs 9).
Jesus came, not just to take away our sins (Praise the Lord, He did!!!), but also to impart life to us. As I have written many times, Jesus did not come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive. He gave us His life so that we “might live through Him.”
“Living through Christ” is not in some distant future. “Living through Christ” is not just the description of our one-time entry into eternal life. Living through Him is our present reality as Jesus lives His life through us by His indwelling Spirit.
The continuing topic of love is woven throughout these verses. Love’s origin was in God, not in us. Love only arrived in us “through Him”. And we demonstrate His love living in us when we “love one another”.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)
We have learned previously that there is one requirement to become born of God, to become a child of God, to become part of God’s family. And the requirement is this: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (I John 5:1).
Jesus reiterated this invitation to believe in Him many times in the gospels, including with a laser focus in the gospel of John. “He who believes is born again, is born to eternal life, is born of God” … is the gospel message of Jesus Christ.
So how do we look at our opening passage that seems to add another requirement. Does “everyone who loves is born of God” add loving others as a requirement to joining God’s family? The short answer is no.
The order of events and our connection to God as our Father are critical to understanding the flow of these verses.
Look at the last phrase of our passage. “God is love” is the most succinct description of God’s essence. Love is not one of God’s attributes. It is His identity. Love is God’s essence. Love describes who God is.
So with “God is love” as our starting point, let’s think through these verses in this order:
- Love is God’s essence.
- Because you are “born of God” (not by how well you love, but by your faith in Jesus), love is now your essence.
- When you express your essence, express the love of God to others, you are living out what is already true about you; that you know God and are born of God.
- Believers have the choice to NOT express their essence. When we do not love, we are not removed from God’s family. We are merely not showing in practice what is true about us in reality; that we know God and are born of God.
- The one who does not know God (i.e. is not born of God) does not have the essence of love to express.
- The highest practice of the essence of God’s love in us is to “love one another”.
Therefore, let us love one another. And the incredible beauty of it all is that by virtue of your new nature, your new Spirit, your new heart, your new power, and so much more, you have what it takes to love as God loves!