Yesterday we saw that as we abide in love, we can be sure we abide in God (1 John 4:16). As we receive God’s love, as we love Him in return, and as we love one another we gain assurance of our faith in His promises. In today’s passage, John reminds us of one very important experiential reality that flows from abiding in love.
Verse 17 begins, “by this is love perfected with us.” This refers to verse 16 and simply reminds us that God’s love reaches its full effect in us as we dwell in His love by loving Him, enjoying His love for us, and loving others. This happens in our sanctification as we submit to the Spirit’s daily guidance and renewal (Gal. 5:16).
As a result of this love perfected in us over time, we gain “confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). As God’s love reaches its full effect in our lives we become increasingly like Christ, and like He was, we are in, but not of, the world. Though we will not be perfectly like Him before we die, our union with Jesus means His love will indeed be perfected in us over time (Rom. 8:29–30). As we see ourselves become more like Christ we will gain confidence that we will be vindicated on the day of judgment — just as He was in His resurrection.
First John 4:18 tells us we can be confident because perfect love casts out the fear of punishment. Apart from Christ, we have reason to fear the judgment seat of God, but when we are in Him, we have nothing to fear, for He has borne our punishment, and in turn we are seen by God as clothed with His righteousness (2 Cor.5:21).
The love that casts out such fear is perfect love. In asserting this, John is not teaching we will have such perfect love before death, for sin will be present with us throughout our lives (1:8–9). We will not abide in love perfectly until our glorification. Nevertheless, the end of the ages has already come upon us (1 Cor. 10:11); therefore, we already have a taste of this love and are empowered to strive toward it by the work of the Spirit. As we submit to Him, we are gradually perfected in love and grow more confident that in Christ we need not fear judgment.
In commenting on this verse, John Calvin writes, “though fear is not wholly shaken off, yet when we flee to God as to a quiet harbor, safe and free from all danger of shipwreck and of tempests, fear is really expelled for it gives way to faith.” If you are a believer yet fear punishment, you must not flee from the Lord but run to Him in repentance. Endeavor to perfect your love by turning from sin and turning toward Him so that you might be cleansed.