There Is No Fear in Love

By Michael Brown Published on May 24, 2024

There is a fascinating verse in 1 John which states, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

What exactly does this mean?

We know that there is a fear of God that is healthy — a reverential, honoring fear. It is a fear that recognizes who He is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly holy, all light without any darkness. That kind of fear is an antidote to sin and folly.

If we really know Him, love Him, and honor Him, we won’t play games with the filth of the world. And we won’t play games with our own souls.

That’s why Proverbs says that “to fear the Lord is to hate evil” (8:13). That’s why it and other Old Testament books say the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (e.g., Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Job 28:28). And that’s why it tells us, “The fear of the LORD adds length to life” and that “the fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death” (10:27; 14:27).

This reverential fear is spoken of in the New Testament as well, with Paul writing,

Therefore, since we have these promises [of God being our Father and living among us], dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

But there is another fear that is unhealthy. It is paralyzing. It is debilitating. It is tormenting.

An Unhealthy, Paralyzing Fear

That is the fear that 1 John 4 is addressing, explaining that it “has to do with punishment.”

The Amplified Bible expounds on this point:

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect (complete, full-grown) love drives out fear, because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment, so the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love].

This is similar to the Living Bible’s paraphrase:

We need have no fear of someone who loves us perfectly; his perfect love for us eliminates all dread of what he might do to us. If we are afraid, it is for fear of what he might do to us and shows that we are not fully convinced that he really loves us.

Or, as paraphrased in The Message:

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love.

The Fullness of God’s Love

It was in that same spirit that Paul wrote that there is no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Jesus — meaning, no sentence of doom and damnation hanging over heads (see Romans 8:1).

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Those who live under that dread, under that paralyzing fear, are not walking in the fullness of God’s love. Conversely, those who are walking in that fullness revere and honor Him in a healthy way but are totally free from that paralyzing fear, the sense of “something bad is about to happen to me because I’m such a terrible sinner.”

As Matthew Henry wisely observed,

We must distinguish between the fear of God and being afraid of him; the fear of God imports high regard and veneration for God. Obedience and good works, done from the principle of love, are not like the servile toil of one who unwillingly labours from dread of a master’s anger. They are like that of a dutiful child, who does services to a beloved father, which benefit his brethren, and are done willingly. It is a sign that our love is far from perfect, when our doubts, fears, and apprehensions of God are many. Let heaven and earth stand amazed at his love. He sent his word to invite sinners to partake of this great salvation. Let them take the comfort of the happy change wrought in them, while they give him the glory. The love of God in Christ, in the hearts of Christians from the Spirit of adoption, is the great proof of conversion.

Where do you stand today?

You cannot beat yourself up over this, berating your lack of confidence in God, as if that would bring you a place of rest.

Instead, you must ask yourself if, in fact, you have received forgiveness of your sins and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. If you have, then you need to encourage your soul daily with this simple fact: If God wanted to destroy you, He would not have sent His Son to die for you when you were still in rebellion and sin.

May the love of the Father be revealed in full to you, driving out that fear that has to do with punishment.

There is no fear in God’s perfect love. You can rest in that.

 

Dr. Michael Brown is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He is the author of more than 40 books, including Can You be Gay and Christian?; Our Hands Are Stained With Blood; and Seize the Moment: How to Fuel the Fires of Revival. You can connect with him on Facebook, X, or YouTube.

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