(15) Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
(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.
(20) 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.
(21) And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
In my last post, we looked at how Psalm 56 encourages us in our ongoing battle with fear. Today, let's consider John's wonderful meditation on love and how it aids us in the battle.
Fear-killing love begins with true salvation (v15). Based upon the inner work of the Spirit (v13) and the believable testimony of eyewitnesses (v14), we are able to believe sincerely and profess openly that Jesus is the Son of God. And whoever makes this confession truly has become the tabneracle, the dwelling place of God himself.
It is experiencing the abiding presence of God which convinces us of God's love (v16). John says the one who confesses Christ both "knows" and "believes" God's love. With this point, he makes a simple and powerful argument:
(1) God dwells in us by faith.
(2) God is love.
(3) Love is therefore a defining mark of those indwelt by God.
Before he moves on to showing how the indwelling love of God moves us to love those around us, John focuses on a more surprising result of that indwelling love: "perfect love casts out fear." (v18) What, then, does love have to do with fear?
God's love gives us confidence for the day of judgment
Whether considered Biblically, spiritually, or rationally, could anything be more frightful than the day of God's judgment apart from God's love? For unbelievers, the day of judgment will be the one event which redefines fear as God shines his holy light on their life and pours out the fury of an eternal death. But for believers, the day of judgment is something entirely different. It will be the day of our vindication, reward, victory, joy, and glory. The most even-handed analysis of eternal realities would lead to the conclusion: the only thing we have to fear is the wrath of God (Mt. 10:28). But for believers, the one thing truly fearful has become the day of our crowning (2 Tim. 4:7)!
God's people are to live without fear of punishment
"Fear has to do with punishment," John argues. If one has been freed from punishment by the perfect love of God in Jesus Christ, then that person has been freed from the greatest reason for fear.
From a negative standpoint, Christians living in the grip of fear is denial of everything we believe: to trust in Jesus yet still fear God's punishment denies the gospel, denies the work of the Spirit in our lives, the power of Christ's atonement, the truth of his promises, and the power and grace and faithfulness of God.
From a positive standpoint, reminding ourselves often of the truths of the gospel is the greatest antidote to fear. At the cross of Jesus we are forced to confess God's love, forgiveness, faithfulness, power, promises and adoptive care. The cross constantly tells us, "Your greatest problem, your only true terror, has already been solved!" If you struggle with fear, you need to be "perfected in love"--which happens first when the gospel is our daily companion.
God's people live lives of love to fully defeat fear
Love begets love. To have the love of God abiding within us is to be an open faucet through which that love will pour continually to those around us. The tie between God's indwelling love and loving our neighbors is so strong that John says those without love for their brothers are simply lying if they say they have the love of God (v20).
This means that one of the best ways we can defeat fear in our lives is to love others with the love of God. By loving others with Christ's love, we will experience his love in an even deeper way, being convinced all-the-way-down of his love for us. In other words, God's love through us proves God's love in us, which marks us as free from all need to fear.
So when you struggle with fear, the plan is clear: meditate upon the gospel and go love other people. In this way, fear is cast out by perfect love.