These studies look at the overwhelming goodness of the Triune God. Depicted by Andrei Rublev's icon of The Holy Trinity.
 

1 John 4:13-21

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he is us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as 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 know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so 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 he who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because he first loved us. 20 If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother who he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

John begins by reminding his readers again why they can have assurance that they do indeed abide in God and He in them. In an earlier passage, John had stated that they could consider the loving deeds they did when their hearts were condemning them (3:18 and 19). In the verse that just precedes this section, John tells his readers that "No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us..."(4:12) There is evidence in our lives that God is at work in us and we truly belong to Him. Those situations or experiences where we see that we are indeed new people in Him can quiet our hearts in times of doubt about who we are.

But these are only signs and they are not always consistent. There are times when our anger or hate for another, or our indulging in sinful behavior make it very hard for us to feel assured that God does indeed still abide in us. So John now turns again to the deepest evidence of God's presence in our lives. "By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit." (v. 13) Notice John does not say that it is our experience of the Spirit, but the objective reality of the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Also notice that John says Jesus "has given us of his own Spirit". Jesus does not give us an impersonal force, or another spirit like His. He gives us a share in His very own Spirit. We belong to Him because we share in His spirit--the very same Spirit that He has. So our assurance comes from who God is and what He has done, not from what we do or have done.

But then, what assurance do we have that we share in Christ's Spirit? John now reminds his readers that he and others have been witnesses of the fact that "the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world"(v.14) This is where John began his letter, proclaiming that his message involves that "which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands..."(1:1) John's message is about an objective reality and he is even an eyewitness to it! And what is he an eyewitness to?--"that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world." This is a mouthful and John has been unpacking the truth of this phrase throughout his letter. In the great love between the Father and the Son, the Father sends His Son to rescue us, heal us, and make us His sons and daughters, sharing in this very love of God.

This is the truth, that the Father has sent His Son. And the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has changed everything. So it is our part to recognize, acknowledge, confess this truth, this reality. We do not make this true, God is the One who acts towards us. And, John assures his readers that God abides in whoever confesses this truth.(v.15) It is the Son who brings the Spirit. So when John testifies that Jesus was sent by the Father to save the world, this involves the Spirit that led Jesus, the very Spirit He leaves for us when He ascends back to the Father. Where do we look then when we are unsure of the presence of the Spirit in our lives? We look to the Son, we see His life in the Spirit and trusting in what is revealed of Him, we count on that very same Spirit to operate in our lives. In fact, our very confession of Jesus being the Son is only possible by the work of His Spirit in our lives, opening our eyes and hearts to the truth.

John concludes this thought in the next few sentences.(v.16) "So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." In our believing in and trusting in Jesus, we have come to know or experience God's love for us and to trust in His love. It is in Christ and by His Spirit that we know God's love, not just for the whole world but for us personally. We know it and are coming to know it. We do not yet fully know and experience this love moment by moment as we will when He appears and we "see Him as He is." (3:2) But His love is ours to know for He has given us a share in His Spirit. And we now can count on His love, live as if we are His beloved--because we are!

Here in v. 16, John repeats what He said in the preceding passage, "God is love." I was thinking about this amazing statement today while in church. It is incredible and wonderful to realize that the heart of the universe is not cold, dead space, or chaos, or even just order and meaning--it is love! So as we abide in real love, the love that existed before us, we abide in God.

Now I want to point out an idea that John has repeated three times in these 4 verses we have just been looking at. John is emphasizing the truth here that God abides in us and we abide in Him. I was wondering why He makes this point 3 times. I think it is to emphasize the intimacy and the sharing that exists in our relationship with our heavenly Father. There is a true, deep sharing between us and the very heart of God. He now lives in us, dwells in us forever. We have His very Spirit in us, making us new people, never to be the same as before. And we now live, dwell, play, love, rest in Him--not just nearby or with Him. There is truly an deep sharing between us and our heavenly Father.

Let's look at the next verse (17): "In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence on the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world." It is in this indwelling of God is us, and our abiding in Him that our love grows to perfection. Perfect love will be our ability to perfectly receive and give love to God and all others around us. And in the perfecting of our love, John says we have confidence in the day of judgment. This echoes an earlier statement, "...abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming."(2:28) Our confidence comes from our trusting in His love and His work, receiving from Him and abiding in Him and not counting on ourselves to love perfectly by sheer will. The last part of v. 17 seems to refer back to our having a share in Christ's Spirit. Our lives on this earth now are like His because we live in Him.

The opposite of confidence and love is fear. John now deals with fear in v. 18, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love." God is love, John has told us twice. Speaking of perfect love, he says that perfected love casts out fear. Love and fear cannot exist together. John says the reason fear is cast out by love is because fear "has to do with punishment." What John is dealing with here is the character of God. God is love. That is who He is. And God desires to see His love perfected in His children--that is what He is up to. But when we are fearing God, we think that He is double minded about us. The fear that John speaks of has to do with punishment. If we think we might get punished, at best we will approach Him with fear. Perhaps we will rather want to flee. Think of when you were a child, and your parents called you to come. You would approach them with fear if you thought they were going to punish you.

Fear is a paralyzing emotion. We often find ourselves fearing. When we fear God's punishment, it it could very well be because we despair of a recurring sin we cannot seem to get rid of, or we can't imagine He can forgive and heal some of the things we have done. We fear because we do not trust that God can really be that loving, or that willing and able to transform us. We fear He is putting us to a test and that we will fail. We fear He will grow tired of us, become impatient, give up on us. And this fear affects then how we approach Him, and stunts our ability to recognize and receive His deep love for us.

Look carefully at this verse. John says that the reason perfect love casts out fear is that fear has to do with punishment. So that means that punishment is not what God is up to at all! God, who is love, casts out all fear that has to do with punishment. God is love, not just "kind of" love, or sometimes love. As I said in the last study, love is not just something God does, it is who He is. Can God really be this good? YES! God is not interested in punishing the sinner, only in condemning the sin. God is against sin and He will see it destroyed. But it is just because of His passionate love for us that He is so adamantly opposed to sin. Sin is against us, sin twists, distorts, and destroys the life God created and gives to us and all our relationships. God will get rid of it by separating us from our sin, condemning it to hell and by perfecting our love for Him--all in Christ. He will have us filled with His life, with Himself. It is hard to wrap our minds around such love. This is the love the Father shows us in sending Jesus to takes our sins and goes through the death and separation from God that sin brings, then conquers death and destroys sin, so we can live new lives in Him.

What John is saying here takes us back to the beginning of this letter. John says that the message he is proclaiming to his readers and to us is "that God is light and in him is no darkness at all."(1:5b) God is love, through and through. We do not need to fear a "God behind God" and He is committed to perfecting His love in us in such a way that all our fear is cast out.

In the last three verses of this section, John deals again with our loving one another. The first point he makes, which echoes what he said in the preceding section (3:10), is that we love because "he first loved us." We could not know love or participate in loving except that God loved us. All of our loving is a response in the power of the Spirit to the great love with which He loves us. We cannot take pride in being already loving. It is as we know and experience through His Spirit this love which is for the whole world that we are able to see how strange it is for us to hate our sister or brother. We are all receivers of this love of God--we are all created in His love, redeemed in His love. We are all in need of knowing this love and being made more and more able to receive it. When we hate others, we are not yet able to see them as those, like us, who are in need of God's transforming grace.

John ends this section with the commandment that "he who loves God should love his brother also." How are we to do this? The truth is that all of us still experience times of anger, dislike, and yes, even hate towards others, even our sisters and brothers in Christ. Is John telling his readers just to buck up and by sheer will love those they currently do not? Not at all. If he were saying that, he could just give the commandment and leave it at that. John wants to enable his readers to more readily participate in the sanctifying work God is doing in their lives. He wants them to know that God is love, that this means He is loving them and making them His children. He wants them to see that God's intention is for us to fully participate in the giving and receiving of loving God and others. Out of hope in God's character and work, seen in Jesus and from time to time in their lives, John encourages them to abide in Him, to confess their sins, and live in His love and forgiveness. So we hand God our hate and anger, confessing our need for forgiveness and for His Spirit to transform our feelings and perfect our love. He is the one who will change us, so we hand over each day all that we are, our fears and frustrations as well as our faith, allowing Him to do His loving will in us.

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