We continue with this study of 1 John where we stopped in Part 1. We are ready to discuss 1 John 4:7-19.
If you like my teaching on the topic of righteousness, holiness, and victory over sin, I recommend getting a copy of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ." It is available on my website (Google to Karl Kemp Teaching) and at amazon.com.
1 JOHN 4:7-19. I haven't discussed these important verses hardly at all in previous writings, so I will get into more detail here. We are discussing these verses here because they speak of God's love being perfected in us (see above regarding 1 John 2:5), but the interpretation of these verses is quite important for other reasons too.
1 JOHN 4:7, 8. "Beloved, let us love one another [[The apostle John is exhorting all true Christians (but especially those to whom this epistle was originally sent) with the need for us to love one another.]], for love is from God [God is the only source for true love, life, truth, righteousness, holiness, divine order, peace, etc.]; and everyone who loves is born of God [cf. 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 5:1, 4, and 16] and knows God. (8) The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love." Since God is the only source for true love, we must be born of Him to have this love in our hearts (by the indwelling Holy Spirit) so we can manifest it. So too for His righteousness, for example (see 1 John 2:29: "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices [who is doing] righteousness is born of Him."). The Gnostics, against whom the apostle wrote this epistle, claimed that they knew God, but John demonstrates that they didn't know Him (cf., e.g., 1 John 2:3-6; 3:8-12; 4:4-6); their "gospel" must be totally rejected.
This viewpoint that we walk in the love of God, or we don't (or that we walk in the light of God, which includes His truth and righteousness, or we walk in the darkness, etc.) is so typical of the New Testament. The New Testament doesn't have much to say about walking in the grey area, with a mixture of light and darkness, righteousness and sin. We are not supposed to live in the grey area.
We must not misunderstand the apostle John here when He says that "God is love." The Bible (very much including the writings of the apostle John) has much to say about the wrath of God, very much including hell. God's wrath is not incompatible with His love. Those who persist in rebellion against God, without repenting and submitting to Him (in faith), which destroys divine order and hurts people who God loves, will ultimately be confronted with His wrath. John mentions the "day of judgment" and "punishment" in 1 John 4:17, 18, and John's Gospel and Book of Revelation have a lot to say about the wrath of God against those who persist in rebellion without repentance. It is clear that those who continue in rebellion cannot have a place in heaven.
1 JOHN 4:9. "By this the love of God was manifested in us [[The KJV and NKJV translate the last two words "toward us"; the NIV has "among us." These same two Greek words (a prepositional phrase), which are also used in 1 John 4:12 and 17, are not easy to translate, but I believe the meaning is clear enough. We have to understand that John is including two (glorious) ideas here and in verses 12 and 17. The love that is manifested "in us" is the very special love that God has "for," "toward," His born-again children, each one of us. And this really gets exciting when we incorporate what Jesus said in John 17:23 about the Father loving us with the love He has for His beloved Son.]], that God has sent His only begotten [[In the margin the NASB says, "or, 'unique,' only one of His kind." I would translate "unique," or the equivalent. Angels are called sons of God in the Bible, and so are we, but Jesus is The Unique Son of God. See under John 1:14 in my paper that includes John 1:1-18.]] Son [[His Son who was with Him in the beginning, before any creating had taken place, through whom all things that were created were created (John 1:1-3)]] into the world [through the virgin birth] so that we might live [starting with the new birth] through Him." One reason the apostle John emphasized the unique Son of God and His all-important atoning death was that the Gnostic heretics were denying both essential doctrines. God the Father's sending His unique Son into the world and His atoning death were part of the outworking of His salvation plan that manifested His love for us. His salvation plan included making us alive spiritually (starting with the new birth; formerly we were spiritually dead [cf. 1 John 3:14]) and giving us the fullness of eternal life at the end of this age, when we will be glorified and begin to reign with Christ.
1 JOHN 4:10. "In this is love, not that we loved God [[It is clear that God took the initiative in love (cf., e.g., Rom. 5:6, 8, 10; 1 John 4:19)]], but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." The NIV translates "atoning sacrifice for our sins"; the Amplified Bible has, "the propitiation (the atoning sacrifice) for our sins." In 1 John 2:2 the apostle John speaks of Christ's atoning death being "the propitiation for our sins [the atoning sacrifice for our sins], and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." The Greek noun "hilasmos" that is translated "propitiation" here and in 2:2 could be translated "the means of propitiation."
A big part of what new-covenant salvation is all about is God's releasing us from our sins with the guilt and the penalties (including releasing us from the major penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin that started with the transgression of Adam) through the all-important atoning sacrifice (atoning death) of the Lamb of God. As 1 John 2:2 shows, it is Christ's atoning blood that also enables Christians who have sinned to be restored when they repent. Christ died for all (as 1 John 2:2 shows; cf. 1 Tim. 2:4-6), but we must repent and submit to the gospel of grace in faith, and continue by grace through faith, to partake of new-covenant salvation.
1 JOHN 4:11. "Beloved [This is the last of the six uses of this word in 1 John.], if [or, since] God so loved us, we also ought [or, "must," "are (enabled and) obligated] to love one another." We are enabled, and required, to love the other members of the born-again family of God. There is a strong emphasis on the need for Christians to love one another in this epistle (for one thing, the lack of love among the Gnostic heretics demonstrated that they were not true Christians), but it was understood that we must love God first and foremost. The more we understand, and participate in, what God the Father has done for us in the sacrifice of His Son, the more we will be motivated to love the Father, His Son, and the other members of the born-again family of God, and we are commanded to love the brethren (with the love of God that dwells in our hearts).
1 JOHN 4:12. "No one has seen God [God the Father] at any time [[cf., e.g., John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16; but we will see Him after we are glorified (cf., e.g., 1 John 3:2; 1 Cor. 13:12; and Rev. 22:3-5)]]; if we love one another [[The apostle John was speaking of loving other Christians in this context.]], God abides in us [[God abides in all true Christians; His love is manifested in our hearts and lives as we walk by the Spirit and in accordance with the Word of God (which we are called, and required, to do on a continuous basis) by faith.]], and HIS LOVE IS PERFECTED IN [Greek preposition "en"] US [my emphasis]." To speak of God's love being perfected in us is a very strong way (rather shocking way) to speak of Christians walking in love (it is God's love being manifested in us in a relatively perfect/complete way), but the apostle John says it this way in 2:5; 4:12, and he says essentially the same thing in 4:17 and 18.
As I mentioned under 1 John 2:5, God's love has always been perfect, but it is not perfected in us until we walk in His love on a continuous basis. We are enabled to love one another because God's Spirit dwells in us and because of our personal relationship with God the (our) Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, enabling us to manifest the very love of God, as we walk by the Spirit and in accordance with the Word of God by faith. True love and everything else that is good comes from God (including life, truth, righteousness, holiness, goodness, divine order, peace, health, etc.).
The emphasis here is on God's imparted, indwelling love enabling us to love the brethren; but we need to understand (as I mentioned) that HIS LOVE WHICH IS IN US IS HIS LOVE FOR US: GOD LOVES - WITH A VERY SPECIAL FAMILY LOVE - THE ONES THAT WE ARE BEING EXHORTED TO LOVE WITH THE LOVE OF GOD. His very special love for those in the family of God includes His love for us as individuals. If we don't experience God's love for us as individuals, we will never be able to adequately manifest the love of God for the other members of the family of God (or others), and our knowing that God has a special love for the other Christians will definitely help motivate us to yield to, and walk in, His love toward the other Christians. It is very important to understand that the love of God in us by God's abiding in us (especially through the indwelling Holy Spirit) very much includes His very special love for those in His born-again family.
Romans 5:5 (with verses 6-8) is an important cross-reference which demonstrates that the love of God, which has been poured out into our hearts through the love-gift of the Holy Spirit, enables us to experience God's love, not just to walk in love. (See under Rom. 5:5-8 in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" on page 90.)
If we are truly manifesting God's (supernatural) love for God, for the other members of the body of Christ, and for those outside the body of Christ on a continuous basis, there is no room for sin (cf., e.g., Matt. 7:12; 22:36-40; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; 6:2). Galatians 6:10 (and a large number of other verses in the New Testament) show that we have a special responsibility to love other Christians.
For God's love to be perfected in us yields the same result as our being righteous as the Lord Jesus is righteous, which includes our being doers of righteousness (1 John 3:7); and of our walking in the same manner that Jesus walked (1 John 2:6); and of our being pure as the Lord Jesus is pure (1 John 3:3). All of these glorious expressions certainly communicate the idea that we are called, and enabled, to live as God requires us to live with the victory over all sin.
1 JOHN 4:13. "By this we know that we abide in Him and He in [Greek preposition "en"] us [the born-again Christians], because He has given us of His Spirit." 1 John 3:24b says, "We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us." Knowing that the Spirit of God dwells in us (and every Christian must know this), we know that we have an abiding experiential (Person to person and person to Person) relationship with God. For one thing, Rom. 8:16 says, "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God." Romans 8:15 shows that the indwelling Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:9) enables us to cry out "Abba! [an intimate Aramaic (which was the primary language spoken in Israel in those days) word for Father] Father!"
We see the Trinity in verses 13 and 14, for example. The Gnostics totally denied the Trinity. On the Trinity, see my articles/papers "Who Do We Worship?"; "Who Do We Pray To?"; "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son"; and "More on the Trinity."
1 JOHN 4:14, 15. "We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. [["We" here refers to the apostle John and the others who had been chosen to testify of the Lord Jesus and lay the foundation for Christianity (cf. 1 John 1:1-4; 4:6).]] (15) Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him, and he in God." The apostle John emphasized the Persons of God the Father and God the Son in this epistle because the Gnostic heretics were denying what the Bible teaches about God the Father and God the Son (see, for example, 1 John 1:3, 7; 2:22-24 [especially 2:22b-24: "This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. (23) Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. (24) As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you will abide in the Son and in the Father."]; 3:8, 23; 4:9, 10, 15; 5:5, 9-13, 20). The Gnostics believed that the god of the Old Testament (who created the world and gave the commandments) wasn't God the Father (God the Father who sent His Son into the world through the all-important incarnation), but an inferior being. We must believe all that the Bible teaches about God the Father and God the Son.
Cerinthus, who was a Gnostic who lived at the same time as the apostle John, denied that Jesus was/is the Christ (cf. 1 John 2:22a). His view was that Jesus was born of Joseph and Mary (no virgin birth), and after the Christ descended upon him at his baptism, he had a powerful ministry, but the Christ left Him before he died (no atoning death of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God). The Gnostics were not at all unified in what they believed, but they all departed in very serious ways from the true gospel. It isn't all that important for us to know all the details regarding the various views of the Gnostics. We know enough from this epistle to understand the seriousness of their departures from true Christianity.
1 JOHN 4:16. "We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for [Greek preposition "en"] us. [[We could translate "the love which God has in us," which I prefer. The Greek here is the same as the Greek translated "in us" in 4:12 and 13 ("en hemin"). However we translate these words here in verse 16, we must understand (as I mentioned) that God's love in us is God's love for us.]] God is love [see 1 John 4:8], and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him." It is also true that the one who abides in God abides in God's love, which includes our being loved by God and our loving the members of His family that He loves with His very special love. Is also true that we must love God Himself first and foremost with His supernatural love. And it is also true that those who abide in God (or we could say those who walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis) will abide in the righteousness and holiness of God. There isn't any substantial difference between our abiding in God and His love, and His abiding in us, and His love being perfected in us.
Regarding the words "abides in love" of 4:16, see John 15:9, 10: "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; ABIDE IN MY LOVE. (10) IF YOU KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS, YOU WILL ABIDE IN MY LOVE [my emphasis]; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love."
It is significant that 1 John 4:9 shows that God manifested His love for us by sending the Lord Jesus (the eternal Son of God [cf., e.g., John 1:1-4]) into the world to save us from spiritual death (and the attendant bondage to sin). What Jesus said in John 17:23 is rather shocking: "I in them [the true Christians] and You [God the Father] in Me, THAT THEY MAY BE PERFECTED IN UNITY, so that the world may know that you sent Me, and LOVED THEM EVEN AS YOU HAVE LOVED ME [my emphasis]." Through new-covenant salvation, we are enabled to share in the very love that God the Father has for His unique Son. We are discussing some super-special, rather-shocking, glorious truths from the Word of God in this paper, are we not? These things seem too good to be true, but they are true! This is God's Word we are discussing! The heretics had no part in any of this.
1 JOHN 4:17. "By this [[by our abiding in God and in His love and His abiding in us, which was just mentioned in 1 John 4:16b, which very much includes our walking in love on a continuous basis]], LOVE IS PERFECTED WITH US [[my emphasis. See above under 1 John 2:5; 4:12; compare "perfect love" in 4:18. I don't believe there is any substantial difference between God's love being perfected IN US (as in 2:5; 4:12) and being perfected WITH US here in 4:17. As I have mentioned, God's love is perfected in us (and with us) when (in the ideal case) we walk by the Spirit in accordance with God's Word, by grace through faith, on a continuous basis, which includes the victory over all sin. There is no room for sin when we are walking in God's supernatural love toward God and people.
It is clear to me that the apostle John clearly taught the victory over all sin throughout this epistle. He did, however, make it clear that the victory over all sin is not automatic, and that, although Christians are called, enabled, required, and privileged to walk with the victory over all sin on a continuous basis, Christians can sin. In 1 John 2:1, 2 he said that IF Christians should sin, they will be restored through the shed blood of the Lamb of God (when they repent).]], so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment [[(This double bracket goes into the third paragraph.) We will have confidence in the day of judgment (and NOW as we look forward to the day of judgment, when all people will be judged according to their works) if we are believing, thinking in our hearts, and living in line with the truth of God in His righteousness and holiness. (Our good works are produced by the grace of God through faith; our righteous lives demonstrate that our faith is real.) Or, as John says it here, "if God's love is perfected with us."
The apostle John clearly expected Christians to live this way on a continuous basis, by God's sufficient grace through faith, based on the will of God presented in the Word of God. I'll quote 1 John 2:28, "Now little children, abide in Him [which includes abiding in His love, truth, righteousness, and holiness], so that when He appears, WE MAY HAVE CONFIDENCE AND NOT SHRINK AWAY FROM HIM IN SHAME AT HIS COMING [my emphasis]." On having confidence before God, see 1 John 3:11-22, especially verses 18-21.
Even if we haven't fully walked in that ideal sense, we still can have confidence regarding the day of judgment if we are making it top priority to live for God, in accordance with His Word and by His Spirit, on a continuous basis, and have repented of our sins and been forgiven. God has promised to forgive our sins through the blood of Christ when we repent (1 John 2:1, 2).]]; because AS HE [[The Greek word ("ekeinos") translated "He" here is not the word that would typically be translated "He." "Ekeinos" could be translated "that One." This helps show that Jesus is being referred to here, not God the Father. This same Greek word is also used for the Lord Jesus in 1 John 2:6; 3:3, 5, 7, 16. There is widespread agreement, including the BAGD Greek Lexicon, that "ekeinos" in all of these verses refers to the Lord Jesus (God the Son).]] IS, SO ALSO ARE WE IN THIS WORLD [my emphasis]." Compare John 17:22; 1 John 2:6, for example. These last words fit the rather shocking pattern of the verses from 1 John that we are highlighting in this paper. I trust we can agree that if we are as the Lord Jesus is in this world, we will be living as we are required to live, in the love, truth, righteousness, and holiness of God, by grace through faith, and there won't be any sin. In the ideal case, we are as the Lord Jesus is because we are walking in God's love, His Spirit, His truth, His righteousness, His holiness, His salvation, etc.
This doesn't mean that we won't keep growing more like God all of the time - we are being changed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18) - and our glorification is still future (e.g., Rom. 8:17, 18; 1 John 3:2), but we are called, enabled, required, and privileged to walk with the victory over all sin NOW, even though this idea is rejected by most Christians in our day. We will never walk with the victory over sin until we see (from God's Word) that we are called to such a walk, by God's sufficient grace through faith. WE MUST AIM AT THAT TARGET!
I'll quote part of what Adam Clark, who was an associate of John Wesley, said under this verse in "Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible," abridged by Ralph Earle (Beacon Hill Press, 1967), page 1324. " 'As he is - pure, holy, and loving. 'So are we in this world,' being saved from our sins, and made like to himself in righteousness and true holiness. No man can contemplate the day of judgment with any comfort or satisfaction but on this ground, that the blood of Christ hath cleansed him from all sin [including being cleansed from sinning]; and that he is kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation. This will give him boldness in the day of judgment."
1 JOHN 4:18. "THERE IS NO FEAR IN LOVE; BUT PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUR FEAR [[(my emphasis; this double bracket continues into the fifth paragraph) In this context it is clear (I believe) what the apostle John means here. "Fear" here is the opposite of "confidence" in verse 17. I'll quote 1 John 2:28, "Now, little children, abide in Him [which includes abiding in His love, truth, righteousness, and holiness], so that when He appears, WE MAY HAVE CONFIDENCE AND NOT SHRINK AWAY FROM HIM IN SHAME AT HIS COMING [my emphasis; shrinking away from Him in shame goes with fearing to stand before Him when He judges]." Those who are walking in the love of God (with the emphasis on loving the brethren in Christ) have nothing to fear when they think of standing before God on judgment day, or when they finally stand before Him, because they have been living as God enables, and requires, them to live, in His love, truth, righteousness, and holiness, by grace through faith. The "perfect love" (which equals "God's love being perfected in [and with] them" of 1 John 2:5; 4:12, and 17) casts out (does away with) any need to fear standing before God in judgment.
The apostle John is not dealing with a situation where Christians are fearing to stand before God because they have been accepting lying accusations of the devil. The only answer for that problem is to reject the lies of the devil and submit to the truth of God's Word. For one thing, we must believe that we are forgiven when we repent. What about Christians who have not been living as God enables, and requires, them to live? The only satisfactory answer is repentance and submission to God and His enabling grace with a top priority, based on what the New Testament teaches. God knows our hearts; He knows if we are making it top priority to live for Him by grace through faith.
I would estimate that I have heard ministers teach on these words from 1 John 4:18 some thirty times, and that they misinterpreted what the apostle John said about twenty-seven times out of the thirty. And there is a popular song that misinterprets this verse. For one thing, they typically take the words out of the context in which John wrote them. The scholars who write the commentaries rightly interpret this verse more often than not. They see the necessary connection between Christians walking in love (living in the righteousness of God, by grace through faith), and their having confidence to stand before God in judgment.
A typical wrong interpretation goes something like this: If we can convince ourselves, one way, or another, and really believe that God has accepted us into His family AND LOVES US with the special, unconditional love He has for His born-again children - even if we are living in sin, without making it a top priority to repent and begin to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God by grace through faith (We are all sinners aren't we? God understands our sin doesn't He? We are saved by faith and what we do doesn't really matter that much does it? God didn't really provide the grace for us to walk in His righteousness and holiness with the victory over all sin did He?) - WE CAN GET RID OF (CAST OUT) ALL FEAR.
Misinterpretations like this are very common in our day. Rather than putting the priority on making sure that we are rightly dividing God's Word; repenting, as required; and walking in the love, truth, righteousness, and holiness of God, BY HIS ENABLING GRACE IN CHRIST, WHICH INCLUDES ALL THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WHO INDWELLS ALL TRUE CHRISTIANS, in accordance with God's Word, the emphasis is put on things like forgiveness and positional, legal righteousness and trying to convince ourselves that God loves us and that we are saved (assurance of salvation). Assurance of salvation is a major problem in our day.]], BECAUSE FEAR INVOLVES PUNISHMENT [[(my emphasis) "fear has to do with punishment" (taken from the "Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament" in the back of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament) under "kolasis, eos"; the only other use of this Greek noun in the New Testament is Matt. 25:46, where the goats go away to eternal "punishment."]], AND THE ONE WHO FEARS IS NOT PERFECTED IN LOVE [my emphasis. On being perfected in love, see 1 John 2:5: 4:12, 17.]. (19) We love [[In this context John is concerned with our loving the other members of God's born-again family (see under 1 John 2:5 above), but it is understood that our love for God Himself must always be our top priority, and the Bible shows that we are required to love all people (to desire the ultimate good and well being for all people).]], because He first loved us. [[The apostle John emphasizes the point that we are able to love because God loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:10); He sent His Son to save us; we have been born again of God the Father, and the Spirit of God indwells us; God's love for us has been poured into our hearts, and as we walk by the Spirit of God and in line with the Word of God, by grace through faith, the love of God (and His righteousness and holiness) is manifested in our hearts and lives. God must be given all the glory for our salvation, including His enabling us to walk in His love (even as He enables us to walk in His truth, righteousness, and holiness).]] (20) If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar, for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (21) And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also." These last two verses fit the strong emphasis in this epistle on the need for Christians to love one another (with the very love of God that indwells all true Christians). They were undoubtedly directed against the heretics.
We will continue with this study of 1 John in Part 3, starting with 1 John 3:3.