1 John 4:16-18 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
One of the things the Apostle John is seeking to get across to his readers is the importance of distinguishing between genuine Christian faith and counterfeit professions of it. Perhaps he was reflecting back on something he had heard Jesus say during his earthly ministry: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. … Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:15-16a, 20-23).
One test is our attitude to death. Although death is something none of us can avoid, the ‘mystery’ of what might happen beyond the grave is something that puts fear in us. We have many different ways of getting around this problem: we might manage to convince ourselves that because it is something that is inevitable there is no point in getting worried about it so we just stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality; or we might just cross our fingers and hope that if there is some form of ‘afterlife’ we will have been ‘good enough’ for it to be for us ‘heaven’ rather than ‘hell’; or we might hope that because ‘God’ is a god of love there will be no ‘hell’ and we will all be going to heaven; – whichever way it is, we have nothing to fear.
The trouble with all these escape mechanisms from the prison of fear is that they are ‘solutions’ derived from our own reasoning, and do not accord with the truth the God of heaven and earth has revealed to us clearly in his Word. Jesus himself spoke of eternal punishment for all those who have lived self-centred, self-gratifying, thoughtless lives (see Luke 16:19-31).
If the point Jesus is making in the parable of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’ is true, then we are all in big trouble, and ought to fear death. But, over against this, God has given us an escape mechanism that really does work: trusting in Jesus, who has come to bear all the punishment we deserve by dying in our place on the cross.
This was the ultimate expression of God’s love (John 3:16-18). So John is telling us in his letter that if we have really understood this, and genuinely taken hold of it for ourselves, it (and only it) takes away any fear that might have gripped us. And how can we be sure we have genuinely availed ourselves of this gracious provision God has made for us? We will see clear evidence of God’s love so ‘infecting’ us that it will automatically flow out of us in the love we show to one another and to all those around us. It’s a fairly counterfeit-proof test! Satan is an expert counterfeiter (see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15), but he cannot counterfeit genuine Cross-inspired love.
– Bruce Christian