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).
Every time I see someone with one of those “No Fear” t-shirts, I think they are such a liar. I would imagine that if someone held a gun to their head or if they were in a car accident or if they saw a nuclear explosion off in the distance, they would have fear. What kind of a person has no fear? Cool movie star heroes have no fear; they don’t even look at explosions!
Even Cool Guys Fear This!
The truth is, there is a worse kind of fear than of these kinds of fear. As Jesus said,
28 “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
(Matthew 10:28, NASB).
I am assured that there is a kind of fear to which even cool guys are not immune. There is a much greater fear than fear of explosions or bullies or even cancer, as great as those are. There is the fear of judgment, and in context this is the fear we are talking about in 1 John. These other fears are fears of external afflictions which happen to us, but the fear of judgment is a fear of good justice being applied to our own chosen evil. The one is a fear which is applied to us undeservedly, but the other is a fear of a result which we deserve. The one is a fear of circumstances for which we can expect compassion and comfort afterwards, since we do not feel responsible. The other is a fear of justice for our own actions and choices, for which we can rightly expect derision and judgment afterwards. I think that no matter what we may claim to believe, somewhere in our conscience we all know that we will never get away with anything in the end. This knowledge is absolutely terrifying. The searing power of this fear is that through our conscience, we know as well as anyone that we actually deserve the derision and judgment. We know that the judgment isn’t arbitrary, it is true, and this makes it all the more frightening.
The amazing thing about the gospel is this very thing: it doesn’t just offer the normal comfort that you would deserve if you weren’t responsible for your harm, it offers comfort and hope in the face of the derision and judgment you deserve for your sin. It offers hope against hope. It offers a solution for this greater fear. It doesn’t just promise to help you stop needing any more derision, it removes all fear of derision.
Fear = Negative Hope
All fear is about a future event, if you think about it. If you are currently suffering a beating from a bully, you no longer fear it – you are in it. You pass from fear to suffering. Fear is like negative hope. Fear is the weapon the law wields to coerce obedience. Obedience is a very great good, but the law does not address the further issue: we have already transgressed it. The fear of reprisal, the dread of truthful and right judgment is already upon us. This is the mistake people make: they think the problem God is supposed to solve in the gospel is the problem of all evil. However, we remain in the world but not of it. However you want to slice it, there is still free will and bad things will still happen to us. We continue to live in a very imperfect world. Evil will happen, and we may well be a participant or instigator. The gospel solves the worse problem: our guilt and culpability. The gospel solves the problem of our looming punishment. That is why there is this huge thread in the NT of having joy in trials. The trials and tribulations may still come, but the greater and more pressing problem of our guilt is solved completely. We have a hopeful future ahead of these things, and our conscience is set at peace.
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
So we have this incredible statement, that perfect love casts out fear. The Greek word for “casts out” means “to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls”! Perfect love takes this fear of judgment and throws it out with gusto, not caring where it falls.
Perfect love has this energy and authority over our fear of judgment! We have already seen that John’s idea of perfect love is not a perfection of morals, since we are under an enduring need to walk in the light of Christ’s propitiating blood (1 John 1:7) and the need to confess our need of it all the time (1 John 1:8,9,10). It is perfect in the sense that it is initiated outside of our repentance (Romans 5:6,7,8,9), and persists beyond our imperfection (1 John 4:10). We become identified, not by our guilt, but by this persisting love. We live as people who are convinced that our guilt is not the final word about us, that the word of the law as concerns our guilt will end, but this great great love will persist. We have come to believe that our guilt is not the thing that will ultimately define us, but rather this very great love. Perfect love, in other words, has cast out this ultimate fear.
So if the fear of punishment remains, it is clear that that person has no foundational belief in the power of Christ’s propitiating blood. The fearful person does not see that the perfect love of Christ is perfect in the sense of persisting beyond their imperfection. Because of this, the fear of looming judgment remains; the conscience is not satisfied. The fantastic news is that we are perfected in love simply through belief that the blood of Christ is sufficient. We believe, not that we achieve a perfection of deserving love, but that His love is perfect in enduring right past our imperfection. We trust, not our moral success, but His everlasting and eternal love for us. So we walk no more in fear, but in the security of the enduring affection and care of God for our souls. In the end, we will be cherished and secure.