17 By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in 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, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
19 We love, because He first loved us.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one 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, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
(1 John 4:17-21, NASB).
John the Apostle on Assurance
John raises the question of confidence and the day of judgment. Christians are always raising this question. We are constantly wondering about our assurance one way or the other, and here the flipping apostle John weighs in! You want to know about assurance, you want to know how we can be confident in the end? Maybe we should examine what JOHN the stinking APOSTLE says.
He says that by “this” love is perfected in us. What does he mean by this? Let’s take a quick peek at the context. He has just finished, in the last paragraph, seconds ago in a normal reading, that in this is love, not that we love God, but that God loved and sent His Son as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). He has said that God is love, and that the love of God is manifested in us, that Jesus was sent into the world. He has said, mainly, that we have come to know and have believed the love which God for us (1 John 4:16).
Love is perfected with us, in that we come to believe that His love persists beyond our imperfection. We believe that He loves us, even when we don’t love Him, and died for our sins as the ultimate expression of that love. So love is perfected in us because we believe in His perfect love. His perfect love cleanses us, but more importantly, His perfect love loves us while we are yet unclean. We are cleansed when He reaches past our uncleanness and touches us to heal us anyway. Otherwise, he would say, “In this is love, that we love God, and Christ died for the godly.” But it doesn’t say that. The love of God isn’t manifested in that kind of thing. That’s the love of man manifesting, and it is insufficient.
So, it is this perfect love for imperfect sinners, this love which far transcends us but reaches down to us and loves us first without condition, which is the love that is perfected in us. This is love which is born of belief, love which walks around as one convinced that the love which God has for us is real. We believe in the sufficiency and the power of Christ’s blood for each other. Love is perfected with us when we begin to walk in belief that Christ’s blood is sufficient for each other.
Give me that Mumbo Jumbo Assurance
All of this is the “mumbo-jumbo” that people seem to want to skip over when talking about assurance. They want to look at fruits. They want to know there is sanctification and obedience. They want to measure your success in the faith. Frankly, they want to gloss over the details of this passage when they pull out-of-context verses to prove their own points. They want to make sure there is no obvious sin in your life. However, the apostle John is saying something far different. I could say, you shouldn’t tie your assurance to your success in ministry or Christian living, because such things are shifting sand and amount to trusting in yourself. However, no one cares what I say, and few people read what I write anyway. I am not your savior, it doesn’t matter what my opinion is. We are examining what JOHN THE APOSTLE says. He stood at the foot of the cross and watched Jesus say “it is finished” as He breathed His last. Take it up with him.
John the apostle says, belief in the love which God has for us – in Christ as the propitiation for our sins – is our confidence in the day of judgment. It is our CONFIDENCE. In our most fearful hour, our faith in Christ is our confidence.
If you do not think that raw belief in Christ and Him crucified as your only solace and hope is enough, you will not have confidence in the day of judgment. In your conscience, you know it can’t be your confidence. The real question is, is your confidence in yourself and your fruits, or is your confidence in Christ? Is your confidence in your flawed and practically non-existent love for God, or is it in God’s love for you? Are you going to the throne of judgment thinking that your fruits are enough, that you have done enough for God? Here are some others who thought that way:
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.
22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
(Matthew 7:21-23, NASB).
Have you performed many miracles? Notice that Jesus does not dispute that they performed many miracles in His name. He says they practice lawlessness. ALL sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). So, even if you have such fruits that you are performing many miracles in His name, you do not want to base your confidence on that. I bet it is heady and empowering and quite a rush to perform many miracles, and would be very tempting to base your confidence on that. But the amount of miracles in your life is a shifting sand. Maybe I did a lot of miracles last month, but not so many this month. On my death bed, will it be enough that I performed many miracles in His name 5 years ago, but not since in my death I’m not getting the miracle power? Is my confidence then reduced? Reduced confidence is an oxymoron – you either have full confidence or you have no confidence. So if I am justified by miracles, I have to keep doing more miracles to be assured! Whose stinking miracles are they anyway? Where was Jesus’ miracle as He died on the cross? Paul the apostle performed many miracles, but clearly his confidence was in Christ and Him crucified. Even if you are a miracle performing prophesying wonder-girl, you are going to approach the throne of judgment with doubt, with a lack of confidence if that is your hope. The fact is, if you think your ability to control God’s opinion of you through your success in ministry is going to carry you, you are living in lawlessness right there. You are making yourself out to be God’s God, able by your deeds to control God’s standards of acceptance. You are playing up your success and playing down Christ’s blood. How do you really think that a confidence in your fruits is going to play out at that time? Ask Cain how that worked out!
We have Confidence
Here is the amazing truth: we actually can have confidence in the day of judgment. It doesn’t say that we won’t! We can actually have CONFIDENCE. Let’s look at the dictionary definition of confidence:
1. The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust: “we had every confidence in the staff”.
2. The state of feeling certain about the truth of something.
I am certain that I do not love God, but that He loved me, and that Christ’s death for me is sufficient justice for all of my sins. I am certain that I cannot rely on myself, but that I can rely on God. I am completely convinced and assured that it is true that justice has been completely satisfied on my behalf in Christ. I have 100% no strings attached no-holds-barred confidence that I am going to be just fine at the judgment seat, because I trust in Christ and Him crucified and not in myself. I don’t trust myself at all, I don’t care how many miracles I perform or resurrections I preside over or how many awesome prophecies I announce that all come true. I trust in JESUS, I don’t trust those things.
Everyone who professes Christ would say that we should have confidence in Christ, not self-confidence. However, in many minds, this ends up meaning that you have confidence that Christ will somehow browbeat you or trick you or otherwise coerce you into righteous lawful behaviors, and that these behaviors are your confidence. It is self-confidence which has the veneer of the good theology which one ought to have. It is, however, quite bankrupt when one is confronted with the fact that he or she is still a sinner, and still needs to confess the power of the blood of Christ over their lives in specific ways. Our behavioral change and personal transformation makes for a bad confidence, because it is self confidence, confidence in a flawed sinner who will continue to fail. Only confidence in Christ’s one-way love for us will produce the true assurance that leads to genuine hope when facing the future.
By way of observation, let’s note that however this all works out, Christian believers and non-believers will equally stand at the same day of judgment. It all depends on what you place your confidence in. There is a day, a specific time in the future, when there will be judgment. It will not be skirted by any human who has ever lived. As a believer in Christ, in the love that God has for us and has expressed so completely in Christ, we can face that coming day with joy and peace and even confidence. Our dependence is on Christ, and we have it here in scripture that this is more than enough.
Feeling vs. Having
I notice that it doesn’t say that we will feel confident. It says that we will have confidence. There is a world of difference. If we only feel confident, we may be wrong about it. It is an emotion, not based necessarily on logic or truth. But, because of the incredibly tight inner logic of grace, that the death sentence is sufficiently harsh for any transgression, and that justice must be met or our conscience could never be satisfied, we know that we have confidence.
Now, a lot of 1 John has been about present tense existential assurance in the here and now. Walking in the light, confessing our sins, knowing Him, abiding in Him, believing the love He has for us, these are all present tense experiences. Even 1 John 3:3, where he talks about hope, is really talking about how our hope in the now causes us to purify ourselves. Faith and hope will pass away, but are a very important part of our present experience (1 Corinthians 13:13), but perfect love endures on to eternity (John 3:16). This verse addresses not just the current veracity and plausibility of our belief, but the future confidence we will have at the day of judgment.
Notice also, there is a day, a specific time and place, in the future, which is appointed for judgment. He clearly implies in this verse that we all, Christian believers included, will face it. He says that in believing the love which God has for us in Christ, we can face that day now and at that time in the future with confidence.
He is, so also are we
This has always seemed an obscure turn of phrase to me: “because as He is, so also are we in this world.” Based on some of my musings on the surrounding verses, I am going to take a shot at interpreting this.
The defining thing about the way that He is is that He is love. He is perfect love, meaning that His perfect love persists and endures through our imperfection right through to eternity. He never stops loving us even though we murder Him. This is the kind of love that He is. John has gone on at length hammering home this point, that He is love.
So, He is. However, He was in the world, walking around and talking and teaching and loving. He is no longer present in that sense, but we are, in the world. We are interacting with people. We can have this persistent love, this love that sees imperfection and shortcoming and non-love and persists in love anyway. It doesn’t mean that we are perfect. It means we see people from the perspective of Christ’s love for us. We see their sin, and we are not shocked. We declare it all evil and worthy of death and hell, but we are not shocked. Like Christ, we separate the sin and the person, and we see the person as someone worth dying for, someone greatly and recklessly loved. We see ourselves that way, we see other siblings in Christ that way, and we see those in the world that way. They are eaten up with lusts and the boastful pride fo life, but we see straight through it and see them as sinful and evil people who are nevertheless of immense beauty and worth dying for by Jesus Christ. So, as He was, so also are we in the world.
Because we walk with this knowledge and belief, we face the future together with confidence and a positive hope. It changes how we walk in the world to have this confidence. What can ultimately defeat us? Nothing! We are His beloved, and even death doesn’t defeat Him. Were our confidence in ourselves or our quality of sanctification or righteous fruits, we would look with fear at the coming day of judgment, but we have believed that God of His own initiative has loved us with a complete love. We are safe and adored by Him, and so we walk in the world through its problems and detritus with a hope and with a joy and with a pep in our step.