1 John 4:7-12 ESV
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
On a cursory read of 1 John, one might get the impression that we, as believers in Jesus Christ, have to be absolutely perfect, without failure, or we are not truly born again believers in Jesus Christ. For, at least the English translation of it sounds, at times, a bit “cut and dried,” or “black and white.” But, if we could be perfect in all ways, then Jesus would not have had to die.
Yet, we must guard against the other extreme which is to say that, because Jesus already paid the penalty for our sin, we can continue in sin without guilt, for God’s grace covers it all. For, neither extreme is correct theology.
Thus, a true understanding of the book of 1 John, as a whole, is that it is talking about our walks, our practices, how we live as the normal course of our lives, which is consistent with the rest of the New Testament writings.
So, a better rendering of this would be to say, “Whoever is loving has been born of God and knows God.” It is present tense, and it is active, but it also speaks of something that is continuing, ongoing, and remaining. It is not saying we will never fail at this, for none of us loves perfectly all the time, I believe. And, 1 John does acknowledge that we might sin, at times, too (1 Jn. 2:1-2). But, sin must not be what we practice, how we normally live.
And, 1 John (and other NT books) teach us that to love God is to obey his commandments. Again, this is not speaking of sinless perfection, but that we are walking (in practice, in lifestyle) in obedience to the teachings of Jesus and of his NT apostles. And, that disobedience to God is not our normal practice, i.e. our “go to” whenever things don’t go as we had hoped.
Also, love for others is to prefer what God prefers, which is what is holy, righteous, pure, honest, upright, and moral. So, loving others means we are not going to, in practice (in habit), lie to, cheat on, betray, be cruel to, be hateful, steal from, gossip about, slander, and take advantage of other people in order to fulfill the lusts and desires of our own flesh.
But, here is the clincher in all of this. If love for God and love for others, as God defines how we are to love him and others, are not what we practice, then we are not truly born of God, and we don’t know God. Again, this is not saying that we have to be absolutely perfect, but it is saying that we must walk in love, for God is love. And, the way in which he loved us was to give his life up for us that we might live through him.
1 John 4:13-18 ESV
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 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.
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.
Too many people take scriptures out of context and they build their theologies around them, and that is where we get a lot of false doctrines. For example, taken out of context, one could say that all he or she has to do is just to confess that Jesus is the Son of God and that God abides in him, and he in God. But, then, what about the verses before that which say that if we are not loving others, as a matter of course, that we don’t know God?
So, context is everything! If we don’t read scriptures in context, then we can easily fall into deception and into false teachings and be led astray. So, I encourage all my readers to always read scriptures in context, and also in the context of the New Testament teachings, especially beginning in Romans through Revelation. For, yes, we must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but we must also walk in love if we want to truly know God.
“By this is love perfected with us,” i.e. by us abiding (continuing, walking) in love, which is agape love, which prefers what God prefers, which is what is holy, righteous, just, moral, truthful and upright; and which walks in obedience to the Lord’s commands, as a matter of course.
Therefore, we have confidence on the day of judgment that we are in Christ and that he is in us, and that we have eternal life with God, because we walk in love, in the love of God, according to the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:1-17).
And, in context, I believe this “fear” is not talking about normal every day fear, but it is speaking of the fear of judgment. We don’t have to fear the judgment of God if we are walking by the Spirit, and in love, and we are no longer living (in practice) according to the lustful desires of our flesh.
But, we should fear the judgment of God if we are, as a matter of course, walking by our flesh, instead, to fulfill the lustful desires of our flesh (See: Lu. 9:23-25; Rom. 6:1-23; Rom. 8:1-17; 1 Jn. 1:5-9; Eph. 4:17-24; Gal. 5:19-21; Gal. 6:7-8).
1 John 4:19-21 ESV
We love because he first loved us. 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. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
And, this we must all know. Not one of us can generate this kind of love in our own flesh. It just isn’t there. For, we are born into this world as sinners, with flesh natures, apart from God. There is no one righteous, no not one. We have all gone astray. And, we can only be made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, by God’s grace, through his gift of salvation from sin.
So, being “good deed doers” is not going to gain us eternal life with God in heaven. Nothing we can do in our flesh is ever going to earn us eternal life with God. We can never be good enough. So, this is not about performance. This is not about trying to earn our way into heaven. This is not about being nice to people, either, and it is not about works-based salvation.
For, it is only because God loved us first that we can love him back, and that we can love others. So, all the glory belongs to God, and not to us! Yet, his salvation from sin is deliverance from slavery to sin, and it is empowerment to now live and to walk in obedience to our Lord’s commands and to love others with his love, in his power, and in his strength at work within us.
So, if we are truly in Christ, and Christ is living within us, his love is also abiding in us. We just have to let it flow out through us for the glory of God. We just have to yield to the Spirit’s control over our lives, resist Satan, flee temptation, and let the love of God and the power of his Spirit be what directs us in the way we should go, and in how we should behave.
But, again, if love for God and love for others is not what we practice, and if, instead, what we practice is hate for others, which is revealed in how we treat them, then we are lying when we say that we love God. For, love for God is not a feeling, but it is in action, and it is in truth.
Also, love for God is to do what he says to do as a matter of course, in practice, in lifestyle. And, love for others is to do what is beneficial (good) for them, not what will cause them harm. For, it is to love them as God loves us. And, that also means to forgive those who hate and mistreat us, too. We are to give all the hate and mistreatments we receive from others, and the haters, too, to Jesus, to cast them all at his feet and to leave them there.
Give Them All to Jesus
Phil Johnson / Bob Benson Sr. 1975
Give them all, give them all,
Give them all to Jesus –
Shattered dreams, wounded hearts, and broken toys.
Give them all, give them all,
Give them all to Jesus,
And He will turn your sorrows into joy.