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Last week we saw what many people believe is God’s only attribute – that God is love. While it is true that God is love, that’s not His only attribute. God’s incredible love was demonstrated for us through His one and only Son Jesus Christ. That’s how much God loved you. He was willing to send Jesus to be our sacrifice, willing to die for us. That’s real love. This morning, John doesn’t start any new topic, he simply adds to what he has already talked about.
Take a gander at 1 John 4:11-21.
What is our obligation? The “if” in v. 11 really should be translated as because. Because God loved us. This is the fact as demonstrated by what He did for us in His Son. Loving God and loving others can’t be separated. You can’t have one without the other. The love of God is present tense and our love should be present tense. Back in the day, Jesus was asked the question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40) Luke 6:36 tells us to, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 1 Pet. 1:15 says, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior.” We’re merciful because God is merciful. We are to be holy, because God is holy. We love because He loved. God is love, but He is so much more.
At first glance, v. 12 seems to be misplaced in this passage and contrary to other passages. John declares that, “No one has seen God at any time.” That is one sweeping claim. Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jo. 14:9) Remember Moses saw God’s back in Ex. 33:23. Isaiah, “Saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.” (Is. 6:1) These examples are not contrary to what John is saying. The word, “see” that John uses means to closely observe or a careful scrutiny. We get our English word theater from this word. When you consider this, John is saying no one has ever carefully scrutinized God in His unveiled glory and majesty. “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” No one may ever have seen God, but people can see God in you. His love is complete when we love one another. When talking about heavenly matters, many people will answer your questions with statements like, “I hope to go to heaven.” “I’d like to think so.” Can we really know such things? John is emphatic: “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” We have a personal knowledge; we have an intimate communion with God. Our lives are a demonstration of how God is changing us. Remember, “The children of God are obvious.” Yes you can know: Rom. 8:16, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.”
It’s personal for John. Look at vs. 14-16. Don’t miss the significance of the word testify. It means bear witness to. In other words, John and his colleagues have seen the historic Jesus and their lives bear testimony to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Col. 1:13-14, “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” You cannot have the truth without love. They are inclusive. The confession of salvation is outward, but the conviction is inside. This is another way to identify the imposter. Jesus is not only the Savior of the world, but He is my Savior. I trust in God’s finished work in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.
For John, the proof of Jesus is born out in his life. An authentic confession of who Jesus is results in a changed life. How can you explain away a life that is drastically changed from what it was? There’s the rub for some people. The life prior to Christ and the life after Christ are the same. There is no change. Does that mean Christ is ineffective? Absolutely not. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” When the confession is made, God takes up residence in your life. It is a fact. When you invite someone to share your life there are going to be changes. Some will be quite significant. One of these significant changes is the ability to love. “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 Jo. 4:16) Notice there is knowledge then belief. We must have an understanding – even if it is limited – before we can jump the bridge to faith. The understanding leads to a trust. When you abide or remain in God’s love, the more you love Him, the knowledge you have about God grows. The more your knowledge, the more your faith grows, the more your faith grows, the more you trust. Love and faith are both fruits of the Spirit and evidence of God’s indwelling. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22-23) It is the indwelling that makes the fruit possible. We love because God abides or lives in us. Did you notice that John includes himself? God is the One that gives us the capacity to love. You cannot dismiss the importance of love in our lives. This is proof that God really does live in us. The only way we can love is because God is characterized by love.
Love leads to confidence. The love we have because of God’s indwelling leads to confidence. Look at v. 17. Remember love and faith go hand in hand and has an effect on the future. It is the mutual relationship that gives us the ability to stand in confidence at the judgment day. Our confidence is in what Jesus did for us on the cross. There is no, “I hope I’ll go to heaven,” there is no, “I’d like to think I’ll make it into heaven.” We have a confidence in Christ. We can know we have a relationship with Christ. “By this love is perfected with us.” The “by this” is the abiding presence of God in our lives. Since God loves perfectly, will He be satisfied with less than perfection from us? Paul was, “Confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6) In v. 11, just a few verses earlier, John emphasized that God’s love is seen in us because of our great love for the brethren. Here the love looks forward with confidence to the day of judgment. When you put this all together, as we are conformed to Christ, the more God’s love is perfected or completed in us, “Because as He is, so also are we in this world.” That’s a pretty tough phrase to understand so let’s look at it. We’re on earth and Jesus is in heaven. Remember that God has, “Blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” (Eph. 1:3) Christ is our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption according to 1 Cor. 1:30. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:16-17) “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God.” (1 Jo. 3:1) God has the same love for us as He does for His only Son. This is ours right now so there is no need to fear the judgment day.
John goes on to say, “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.” Fear and love are mutually exclusive. We get our picture of God from our parents, good or bad, that’s the model. If our parents punished or disciplined us and never said, “I love you” we’d get the idea that our parents don’t love us. If the only interaction a child has with their parent is punishment, they’ll walk in fear. When a child knows without a shadow of a doubt that his parents love him, that knowledge will be the overriding factor in their thinking. The child has the security of his parents love, he has confidence. In that same way, we have Christians that live in fear of God. They live in fear that God is going to crush them the second they mess up. They’re waiting for some tragedy to occur as a result of what they have done. They live in fear of not be pleasing enough for God, not being holy or righteous enough for God. They’re scared to death of doing the wrong thing so they typically do nothing. Satan with all his devious schemes whispers in our ears, “See, you’re not good enough, God has no use for you.” This is a person that does not understand God’s love. “We love because He first loved us.” Don’t be afraid that God will not love you. His love is first. God’s love gives us the capacity to love.
John brings the whole section to a conclusion in vs. 20-21. This is similar to what he said in 4:7-8. Love is the biggest indicator of a person’s relationship with Christ. Again, John points out that if you say you love God, but hate your brother, you’re a liar. Plain and simple, no middle ground, no gray area. Don’t let that “should” confuse you. This is a commandment.
Once again John talks about love as an indicator of an authentic relationship with God. We can have confidence at judgment because of God’s love. So the question is, do you walk in fear or confidence?