The contrast between fear inspired by lack of faith and faith that leads to dauntless courage has been a recurring theme in my spiritual growth thus far in 2016. In the last few months I’ve posted a couple times about it, and during one of our recent Threshingfloor community gatherings we spent a significant amount of time discussing John’s words in 1 John 4 about love casting out fear. Our discussion uncovered a truth in the Apostle John’s words that I’d never seen before. He writes,
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 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. 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.
1 John 4:16-18
When you picture yourself coming before the judgment throne of God, how do you imagine you will feel in that moment? What will your expression, your posture be? My assumption, fed by various sermons and texts like Isaiah’s throne-room encounter or Israel’s experience on mount Sinai, is that my feelings before God on that day would be barely reigned-in fear, kept in check by the fact that I know Jesus has covered me (but just barely). In my imagination my posture was always one of kneeling, bowing, and trembling. Isaiah-style “woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips,” worried that at any moment I might be obliterated but clinging in faith to Jesus’ saving work. I’d leave the throne room feeling like I’d just survived an encounter with a hungry lion.
Judging by these verses that’s not what John expects, and it’s not what he wants Jesus’ people to expect either.
God is Love
John writes that God is love, perfect love, and that perfect love casts out fear. A verse or two earlier he states, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.”
If God is love and love casts out fear, why have I always assumed that my encounter in his throne room would be one of fear?
If we have God living in us and we are in God, why would coming before the throne of God be anything more than arriving for the first time at the home that we’ve always longed for?
If love has indeed been “perfected with us so that we may have confidence,” then maybe it’s time that we re-evaluate our assumptions about God, love, and fear.
We Have Confidence
According to John, “we may have confidence for the day of judgment”. The writer of Hebrews echoes this in Hebrews 10:19, saying “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,” and Paul declares, “In him [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)
The glorious truth about Christ’s saving work is that it doesn’t just get us through the judgment throne of God by the skin of our teeth, trembling lest we damned. Instead it so radically, deeply connects us with God the Father that when we come before the judgment throne we come with confidence and boldness. You won’t tremble on that day, you’ll rejoice. You won’t fear, you’ll be free.
For those who are in Christ the experience won’t be like being sent to the principle’s office. It will be more like coming home to a Father who is wildly excited to see them again.
When we grasp this it dramatically changes how we proclaim the Gospel, how we live, and how we think about our relationship with God. If our imagined experience of our first encounter with God the Father is one of fear rather than love, if our faith is driven more by expectation of judgment than anticipation of joy, no wonder it holds little appeal to the world around us. But if we grasp the radical, life-transforming love that is truly ours in Christ, those around us will be inexorably drawn to it.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment,” and in Christ all punishment has been done away with. Soak in God’s love. Believe it. You’ll be coming before the throne with boldness on that day. How much more bold and fearless ought you be today?!