“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:18-23)
“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4: 17-18)
“Perfect love casts out fear.” This is a Bible truth that we have all turned to, been turned to, or turned others to at different times and points of need in our walk with God. If certain scriptures are familiar “meeting rooms” that we all know and visit on many occasions, this has to be one of them. But I think that there is an aspect of this room, a décor, that maybe we don’t often see, and that I would like to spend a bit of time looking at and appreciating here, and it’s this: the perfect love that casts out fear is not just the love that has been poured in, but the love that we pour out in obedience to God’s command. It’s the love that we walk in. Output, as well as input. And not only does it have implications for our emotional and spiritual well-being, but also for the effectiveness of our faith. We know that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom 5:5), but we have to walk in love for it to be manifested: it is only when that love is manifested that we do actually love “in deed and in truth” and not just in word and tongue, as John so succinctly puts it. That is when “As He is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)
Walking in Love
God’s desire is for His love to be manifested on earth as it is in heaven. We love the Lord and His love is revealed in us when we obey His commands; and John tells us clearly that when we obey Him we know that we abide in Him: “Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him.“ (1 John 3:24) Moreover, “Whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” (1 John 2:5) When we keep God’s word His love is perfected in us, and so we have no fear of condemnation, because perfect love casts out fear. John tells us that fear involves punishment ( “kolasis:” correction, punishment, penalty. NKJV above: “torment”), so to put this simply we know we aren’t going to get punished because we know we are being obedient. While it’s the input of God’s grace through the cross that brings us to salvation, it’s what comes out of us when we express that love in obedience to His word that casts out fear. And when we walk in the manifestation of this love, we will receive whatever we ask, because we are asking in the full assurance that we know we are walking in His purpose. “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.” (1 John 5: 14-15)
Much of 1 John is a reprise of what Jesus taught and John recorded towards the end of his gospel (see John 15): we love Jesus and remain in Him when we keep His word; when we do this we will do even “greater things” than what He accomplished during His earthly ministry; when we remain in Him we will “bear much fruit,” but without Him we can do nothing.
All the time we walk along the path of love, we walk in ‘the works which are prepared for us beforehand’ (Ephesians 2:10), and we will receive whatever we request to accomplish them because we won’t be asking for anything that is not on our path. If there is a tree in front of me and I need the fruit that hangs from a branch that I can’t reach, God will give me a ladder by the power of His Spirit, because I am keeping His commandment and abiding in His purpose. “Now he who keeps his commandments abides in Him and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.“ (1 John 3: 24). However if there is another tree, or even a whole orchard, beckoning from somewhere over the fields and off my path, God will not give me the means to reach it. And if I do, stubbornly, manage to beat a path there myself I will find that the fruit is either under-ripe, inaccessible, or rotten.
The Lie of Condemnation
The devil is always working to thwart the purposes of God in Christ, and we are called to achieve them by walking in faith and love. We are fighting a war, and these are the battle lines. The devil will use the world and the flesh to try and tempt us away from the path because these are the domains under his sway; and he will undermine our faith by telling us that we are not walking in love, because if our hearts are under condemnation we will not have the assurance of faith that God will answer our prayers. Faith only works through love, so if he can weaken our resolve to love and convince us that our love isn’t perfect enough, our faith is undermined and our prayers ineffective. Bringing us under the lie of condemnation is one of the enemy’s main strategies.
But “God is greater than our hearts”: He knows that we love Him, and He knows that He has called us according to His purpose. Even though the heart of the old man is “deceitful above all things” (Jer 17:9), the heart of the new man – the new, soft heart of flesh – has God’s law written upon it (Jer 31:33) and is therefore always directed towards fulfilling His purposes. And when we miss this direction because we fall into the ways of the old heart, we know, and God knows, that if anyone sins “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1).
The commandment that we are given, which as John says “is not burdensome” (1 John 5:3), is to love one another and to believe in Jesus. These two are like the twin poles of an electric current: out of our born-again, righteous heart we walk “after the Spirit and not after the flesh,” (Gal 5:16) loving one another with the resources that the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts. And when we fail to obey this part of God’s commandment – which we will do, regularly – we obey the other part, which is to believe in the power of the blood of Jesus and the Grace of God to forgive our sin. So perfect love – the love that is perfected in us by our obedience to God’s commandments – casts out fear, because “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1) Free of condemnation, we can walk in faith that our prayers will be answered.
Come Boldly to the Throne of Grace
To complete the picture of the electric current, there is (in the UK anyway) a third pin on an electric plug, and that is the earth. We can neither hear what Jesus is asking us to do, nor receive His forgiveness for not doing it, unless we stay close to Him all the time. So we need to always be earthed in the presence of God for the twin poles of our obedience and His forgiveness to be active in our lives. When they are, God’s current flows and the power of the Holy Spirit moves among us, and those “greater things” become possible.
So brothers and sisters, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Heb 4:16) knowing that in this place the devil ‘has nothing in us’ (see John 14:30). When we can ask, free of fear and in full assurance of faith, for whatever it is that we need to see His Kingdom furthered, His love will be manifested among us and the name of Jesus will be glorified on the earth.