"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18a)

All of us, at one time or another, have experienced fear. We fear test results. We fear being alone. We fear growing old, getting sick, or becoming a burden to others. We fear death. Truth be told, for most of us, the list of our fears is quite extensive indeed. And in many cases our fears are unfounded and irrational.

Cheryl Strayed, in her book Wild, which chronicles her long-distanced hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, wrote of her struggle with fear. Being a woman, hiking alone in bear country, she would lie awake at night in her tent listening to every sound outside - listening for the footsteps of a bear or 'Bigfoot'. Finally, however, she was able to get on top of her fears by telling herself the following: "Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story". Might I suggest that this is precisely what the Apostle John is suggesting - that you and I, as believers, begin to listen to a different story - the gospel story - and stop listening to our fears.

In the previous verse (v.17) John speaks of the perfecting of love within the believer and suggests that it is this perfecting or completing that breeds confidence within us. But we must look back a bit further still for verse 17 begins with the phrase "In this way" suggesting that a prior foundation for his statement has already been laid. This we find in verse 16 where he wrote: "God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." By telling us that God is love, John wants us to understand that God is the origin and the source of love. It was by His love that we were saved and it is in His love that we are kept. So it is this abiding, loving Presence - this comforting reassurance - which calms our hearts and minds. And to the degree that we grow more and more to understand the infinite length and width and height and depth of that love, all fear of divine reprisal truly is cast out.

That's really the specific fear that John has in mind here - the fear of facing God on the Day of Judgment (v.17) and of being forced to render an accounting of our lives before Him (Rom 14:10). John suggests that there exists no rational reason for the believer to live out his or her days in dread and apprehension of that Day. To the contrary, there rests within us, as believers, a quiet confidence knowing that all punishment for every sin already has been meted out to a Savior who died in our place. Therefore, as a blood-bought people, we no longer cringe before God as fearful slaves, but rest before Him as redeemed children. This is the story we are to tell ourselves and do so often - the story of God's love which, as Simon Kistemaker wrote: "tranquilizes the heart" and quiets all doubts and negative thoughts within. In other words, it is the story of a love which has set us free.

But let's return for a moment to John's thought of this "perfecting love". What else is implied in this perfection or completion? Well, in the following verses, the Apostle goes on to discuss additional fruit of that love as it is perfected within us, namely, by enabling us not only to love God in return, but to show love one for each other. In fact, verse 21 is a direct reference to the statement of Jesus found in John's Gospel (13:34) where the disciples are given a new commandment (which wasn't really all that new) to love one another. Thus we see the end of that indwelling love. Its purpose is to create such a response within us that we -- (sinners that we are) -- become endowed with the capacity and desire to love God and to love our neighbor. And all this, as we are told, because God first loved us (v.19).

So you see, in this way, all fear of God -- and by that I mean all alarm and cringing dread -- is cast out. And even when we sin - (and we all do sin) - there is no need to feel that we must hide ourselves from God. While it is most natural for us to experience shame over our transgressions, fear of divine reprisal is unjustified. Rather, we are encouraged to run back into the arms of our loving Heavenly Father in faith and repentance, confessing our sin, and taking joy in His eternal forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

The reason many professing believers yet acknowledge an existing fear or alarm concerning God is that they are confused about the foundation upon which their faith rests. And if indeed their faith rests upon a foundation of their own works, their own sacrifices - even their own confessions - then it sits upon a shaky footing indeed. But that should not be the case for the Christian whose life and faith rests on Christ. Jesus is the very love of God who was "manifested" -- "the only begotten Son which was sent of God into the world that we might live through Him" - the one who gave himself "to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10). Therein is John's argument against the existence of cringing fear in the life of the believer - the propitiatory -- (which points to the deflecting away of God's anger) -- work of Jesus. Because of Him, our sins are covered. Atoned for! Our transgression of the Law has been nailed to the cross of Christ. Therefore, we do not look to the Day of standing before God with terrifying apprehension, but with eager anticipation, as that Day will be a revealed as a Day of ultimate victory for us in Christ.