I John 4 :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 reached perfection in love.”
There is a problem with this verse. First of all, the message I hear coming from some churches contradicts this. That is to say that they put conditions on God’s love. Their preaching says that we receive the amazing love of God when we do something. They put God’s love on hold.
You can have it – if –
The message of the gospel is the opposite. “For God so loved the world.” God acts first. God gives his love. We don’t earn it, it is God’s gift to us. You can ask, “What do I need to do to gain God’s love?” There is nothing you can do to earn it or gain it. It is given to you by God.
God wants our love in return, but the order is critical – God loves, we respond. (Check out I John 4:19 – “We love because he first loved us.”) Not - we do something - then God loves us. The difference is crucial.
Which brings us to the problem with the verse from 1 John. It says “perfect love” casts out fear. Uh oh. Perfect love?
Nothing about me is perfect. (Far from it!) Paul expressed this so well in First Corinthians, “…for our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect.)
Do you see why fear sometimes bites us and won’t let go? It shouldn’t. We have the perfect love of God. But we are still soiled by sin and are imperfect and so must await the coming of God’s kingdom for fear to vanish.
Having said that, we know there is nothing of which to be afraid. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (check out Romans 8)
We are afraid because of our sin. We deserve punishment and we know it. We just cannot, without the help of God, grasp the idea that Jesus has paid for all our sin. All of it. If there is to be a punishment, Jesus bore it for us on the cross. That is grace.
(In his sermon yesterday in Copake, NY, Warren Seibert started with the words of the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” He pointed out in the sermon that there is nothing “amazing” about grace if you think you deserve it. It didn’t save the “nice guy me”, it saved “a wretch like me.”)
So maybe it will help us if we recognize that when we are afraid, we are pushing out of mind the cross and what Jesus did there for us. We have nothing to fear, and God wants us to live fearless Christian lives. Remember what Jesus said? They should reverence God but have no fear of man “Never be afraid of those who can kill the body but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction! (J. B. Phillips)
Jesus exhorts his followers to be not afraid. He has come to bring us holy peace of mind. Paul wrote, “And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7).
But please note here too this is not something you or I can achieve. The peace is in God, in Christ Jesus and there only. You can read a gazillion self-help books and you will not find the peace. It is bestowed by the Holy Spirit, a gift of God.
Let’s put it another way, God does not want us walking around crippled by fear. He sets us free. God does not want us carrying heavy burdens of guilt. God wants to lift them from our shoulders. Said Jesus, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:29)
You have perfect love if Jesus is in your heart. (Trust me that he is). Till he comes again, God is squeezing out the fear. What a blessed relief it will be when he is finished!
You are not perfect? God is perfecting you in his Son Jesus. You can count on it.
Please join me in prayer. “Helpless we are, O Lord. Perfect love casts out fear, but our love is corrupt and fear is entrenched. Help us to grab hold of your promises and incorporate them into our lives. Help us to believe you, trust you, love you. Help us to know the perfect love of which you speak you will give us. And please, oh please, help us to remember that it does not depend upon us, but is a gift from you and graciously to receive the gift. For the sake of Jesus. Amen.”