Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
1 John 4:13-21
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for 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. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he 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: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Love Casts Out Fear
Today, I want to look at what the Apostle John means when he says in verse 17, “we may have confidence for the day of judgment." And I want to look at what he means in verse 18 when he says, "perfect love casts out fear." Putting those two verses together, my aim is that you have a kind of fearlessness and a God-given confidence for the day of God’s judgment.
There is a Day of God’s Judgment
Our text refers in verse 17 to the fact that the Bible clearly teaches that there is a time of divine judgment for all people. It is often called the “Day of Judgment.” There are eight things to observe about this coming day.
1. It is a certainty. After our lives on earth are finished we will all be judged. You have heard the saying, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” More trustworthy than that little quip is Hebrews 9:27, which says what is certain is death…and judgment, "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
2. It will accord with the reality of your life. The actions of our lives are being recorded, written down in books, for this Day of Judgment. Revelation 20:12 says, “And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.”
3. It will include everything you have done, even every secret thing. Ecclesiastes 12:14, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
4. It will include your words. In Matthew 12:36-37, Jesus says, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
5. This Day of Judgment awaits all of us—believers and unbelievers alike. 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
6. Christ himself will be the judge on that day. Jesus says, in John 5:26-27, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”
7. Apart from Christ, we ought to be terrified about the judgment of God. In judgment, we will be found lacking apart from Christ. We have all “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). At the judgment, we will be found lacking, condemned for not honoring, loving, trusting or glorifying our Creator God. Jesus explicitly tells us to be afraid. He says to “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Likewise, Hebrews 10:31 also says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Jonathan Edwards tells us to fear the judgment of God. Few preachers have preached the realities of God’s judgment more tangibly than Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” He speaks with vivid imagery of the nearness of God’s judgment and the power of God’s anger toward us apart from Christ. You can read it in its entirety online. He says,
The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose.
It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the mean time is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward.
If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.
8. In Christ, we ought not be terrified about the judgment of God. This is the gospel, the good news: In love, God sent his son Jesus to save us (John 3:16). Christ didn’t come into the world to die for sinners in order to condemn us, but rather, that we might be saved from God’s wrath and judgment through him (John 3:17). By his death, he suffered the condemnation that belonged to us. Whoever believes in him is not condemned (John 3:18), he will not perish but have everlasting life. So in Christ, we know that when it comes to God's judgment, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
A Pastoral Problem: Fear of Condemnation
Now, here is the pastoral problem, Christians ought not fear God’s judgment, but we do. In 1 John 4, the Apostle John has been calling believers to love one another. Within this flow, he sees an opportunity to address this spiritual problem: fear of the day of God's judgment. John says that we who are abiding in God as described in chapter four (i.e., filled with the Spirit, v.14; trusting in Christ, v.15; abiding in the love of God, v.16; and loving others, vv.19-20) ought not fear but should be confident as we anticipate the Day of Judgment.
The fear may arise when we reflect on God’s judgment, the brevity of life, our own mortality, our sins, or our sense of guilt, real or imagined. Some Christians feel guilty all the time and therefore feel fear of God’s judgment all the time. Kevin DeYoung, in a recent article lists some reasons we feel guilty:
- We could pray more.
- We aren’t bold enough in evangelism.
- We like sports too much.
- We watch movies and television too often.
- Our quiet times are too short or too sporadic.
- We don’t give enough.
- We bought a new couch.
- We don’t read to our kids enough.
- Our kids eat Cheetos and French fries.
- We don’t recycle enough.
- We need to lose 20 pounds.
- We could use our time better.
- We could live some place harder or in something smaller.
But yet, I don’t believe God redeemed us through the blood of his Son that we might feel like constant failures.
…Here’s the tricky part: we should feel guilty sometimes, because sometimes we are guilty of sin. Moreover, complacency as Christians is a real danger, especially in America.
A Biblical Solution: Perfected Love Yields Confidence on the Day of Judgment
With all that as set up, lets look in verses 17 and 18 of 1 John 4. Remember my aim is to give you an appropriate fearlessness and confidence for the day of God’s judgment. Toward that end, let me summarize the flow of thought in verses 17-18 in four statements.
1. When we love one another, God's love is perfected in us. When we love one another, God’s love is perfected in us. Verse 17, “By this is love perfected with us.” What does “by this” refer to? It refers to what we saw last week. Last week from this text, we observed that we know we abide in God, and he in us, because God has given us his Spirit (v.13), we have heard the gospel and confessed faith in Jesus Christ (vv.14-15), we know and believe God’s love for us in Christ (v.16), and therefore, we love one another (vv.19-21).
Love for one another is the evidence and fruit of God’s saving presence—the presence of the Spirit and saving faith—in our lives. That is why we can say one of the key ways to know we abide in God and he in us is that we love one another. That is what John says back in verse 12, “If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” What John is clearly saying in verse 17, then, is that the love of God is “perfected” in us when we love one another.
What does “perfected” mean? Does it mean that our love for one another perfectly matches the love of God? Of course not! The sense is not that the love of God reaches perfection in us but completion. When we love one another, God's love in us is reaching its intended goal. Perfectly? Of course not, but it is real. When we love one another, the love of God in us is flowing through us as God designed it to.
For instance, when Jesus says to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), he does not mean that all the omnipotent power of God is perfectly displayed in his weakness. Rather, he means that his power reaches the goal for which it was sent. For instance, if Paul’s legs are weak in his missionary journey, Christ’s power comes and strengthens his legs, fulfilling the aim of Christ’s grace.
By the Spirit of God and the work of Christ, we have come to know and abide in the love of God. When that love of God shows itself in this world in love for other people, it is said to be “perfected." The love of God is perfected in us when it is achieving God’s intended aims by breaking out in one-another love.
2. As a result of God's love perfected in us, we have confidence for the Day of Judgment. Look at verse 17, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.”
3. If God's love is not perfected in us, we will have fear of punishment on the Day of Judgment. Verse 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 been perfected in love.” Verse 18 says, in other words, the result of love not being perfected in us is fear—fear of God’s punishment. The point is not simply that God loved us perfectly, though that is true. The point is that when his love is perfected in us, then we will love one another. And when that happens, we will not fear punishment on the Day of Judgment.
4. The reason for our fearless confidence on the Day of Judgment is that we will be like Christ. Verse 17, “…because as he is so also are we in this world.” The last thing you would expect is for anyone to be confident or bold at the thought of standing before Christ for judgment. But the last phrase in verse 17 says the reason for our confidence is “…because as he is so also are we in this world.” On that day, since the love of God is perfected in us and we love others, Christ will see his likeness in our love for one another.
Two-Fold Confidence on the Day of Judgment
How do I have a sense of confidence and am not overwhelmed by fear as we await the Day of Judgment? Turn to the description of the judgment in Revelation 20:11. The text begins with a description of Jesus reigning, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.” There are two things that happen next.
1. The books of your life are opened. First, the books of your life are opened. Starting in verse 12, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened…And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.”
2. The book of life is opened. After the books are opened, verse 12 says, “Then another book was opened, which is the book of life.” This other book (singular) in verse 12, is the “book of life.” In Revelation 13:18 it’s also called “the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.” This book is named such because it contains the names of all of the people throughout human history that purchased for God by Christ's blood from every tongue and tribe and nation.
The names of all believers in Christ were recorded in this book before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). The names in this book will never be erased (Rev. 3:5). This is the book of our eternal destiny. Verse 15 of Revelation 20 tells, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” If you are apart from Christ, tremble and receive Christ. Receive God’s amnesty in Jesus.
Confidence #1: The Promise of God in Gospel
When you anticipate the moment at the Day of Judgment when Christ the judge reaches for the Book of Life, rest in the gospel promises of the Bible that are yours in Christ. Stand in these firm promises for you, Christian. In Christ, your objective confidence as you approach the day when “the book of life of the Lamb that was slain” will be opened is found in the Word of God.
John 3:16—For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 10:28—I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
1Thessalonians 5:9—For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:1—There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:31-34—What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Confidence #2: The Presence of Love by the Spirit
But what about when the books are opened at the judgment? How you do you not be terrified? In our text, the Apostle John aims to give us confidence for that very moment at the judgment when the books, the record of our lives, are opened and reviewed.
When you anticipate the moment when the record of your life—the books—are opened, anticipate that what Christ will see in your life is the love of God transforming you into a person who loves others. His love perfected in you and made visible in your love for others is reason for confidence when the books are opened. When Christ looks at your live, he will see his love.
A friend came up to me after the service and said, “Observing the love of God causing our love for others might give you confidence, but it makes me feel like a failure. And makes me more afraid of the judgment.” I think if we asked the Apostle John, he would say, “Okay, well then, verse 20, 'If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar.'" At that point, my friend might respond to the apostle, “No, no. I don’t hate others. I love them in all kinds of ways. I just fail in loving all the time.” The apostle might respond, “So you do love others, and perhaps it is your love for others that causes you to yearn to love them more than you do.” John aims that we enjoy a confidence that is ours for the Day of Judgment by observing the fruit of God's love at work in our lives. He would not want our failures to obscure the reality of the fruit of love in our lives.
May we have both kinds of confidence for the Day of Judgment, a resting by faith in the gospel promises and a confidence that comes from God filling the pages of our lives with stories of his love flowing through us.
May God grant us both a settled confidence of his promises to us in Christ of sins forgiven, of no condemnation, and the promised future of being with the Lord forever. And may God grant that his love be perfected in us and by the power of his Spirit within us empower us to real, concrete actions of love for one another. In that way, when the books are opened, Jesus will see a reflection of himself.