1 John 4:18 (ESV) … “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.”
Two brand-new words come into John’s vocabulary here: fear and torment. And this is written to believers! Is it possible that Christians can actually live in fear and torment? Yes, unfortunately, many professed believers experience both fear and torment day after day. And the reason is that they are not growing in the love of God.
The word boldness can mean “confidence” or “freedom of speech.” It does not mean brazenness or brashness. A believer who experiences perfecting love grows in his confidence toward God. He has a reverential fear of God, not a tormenting fear. He is a son who respects his Father, not a prisoner who cringes before a judge.
We have adopted the Greek word for fearinto our English vocabulary: phobia. All sorts of phobias are listed in psychology books; for instance, acrophobia—“fear of heights,” and hydrophobia—“fear of water.” John is writing about krisisphobia—“fear of judgment.” John has already mentioned this solemn truth in 1 John 2:28; and now he deals with it again.
If people are afraid, it is because of something in the past that haunts them, or something in the present that upsets them, or something in the future that they feel threatens them. Or it may be a combination of all three. A believer in Jesus Christ does not have to fear the past, present, or future, for he has experienced the love of God and this love is being perfected in him day by day.
“It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). But a Christian does not fear future judgment, because Christ has suffered his judgment for him on the cross. “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, nasb). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1, nasb). For a Christian, judgment is not future; it is past. His sins have been judged already at the cross, and they will never be brought against him again.
The secret of our boldness is, “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). We know that “we shall be like Him” when He returns (1 John 3:1–2), but that statement refers primarily to the glorified bodies believers will receive (Phil. 3:20–21). Positionally, we are right now “as He is.” We are so closely identified with Christ, as members of His body, that our position in this world is like His exalted position in heaven.
This means that the Father deals with us as He deals with His own beloved Son. How, then, can we ever be afraid?
We do not have to be afraid of the future, because our sins were judged in Christ when He died on the cross. The Father cannot judge our sins again without judging His Son, for “as He is, so are we in this world.”
We do not have to be afraid of the past, because “He first loved us.” From the very first, our relationship to God was one of love. It was not that we loved Him, but that He loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10). “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10, nasb). If God loved us when we were outside the family, disobeying Him, how much more does He love us now that we are His children!
We do not need to fear the present because “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). As we grow in the love of God, we cease to be fearful of what He will do.
Of course there is a proper “fear of God,” but it is not the kind of fear that produces torment. “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Rom. 8:15, nasb) “For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
Fear is actually the beginning of torment. We torment ourselves as we contemplate what lies ahead. Many people suffer acutely when they contemplate a visit to the dentist. Think of how an unsaved person must suffer as he contemplates the day of judgment. But since a Christian has boldness in the day of judgment, he can have boldness as he faces life today, for there is no situation of life today that begins to compare with the terrible severity of the day of judgment.
God wants His children to live in an atmosphere of love and confidence, not fear and torment. We need not fear life or death, for we are being perfected in the love of God. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 37–39, nasb).
Imagine! Nothing in all creation—present or future—can come between us and God’s love!
The perfecting of God’s love in our lives is usually a matter of several stages. When we were lost, we lived in fear and knew nothing of God’s love. After we trusted Christ, we found a perplexing mixture of both fear and love in our hearts. But as we grew in fellowship with the Father, gradually the fear vanished and our hearts were controlled by His love alone. An immature Christian is tossed between fear and love; a mature Christian rests in God’s love.
A growing confidence in the presence of God is one of the first evidences that our love for God is maturing. But confidence never stands alone; it always leads to other moral results.