In 1 John 4, John encourages believers that, because God has loved us, we should love one another (1 John 4:11). And “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).
If God lives in us, then His love also lives in and is perfected in us (1 John 4:12). But how can we know that God lives in us? We can be certain because His Holy Spirit dwells in us (1 John 4:13). So, if He lives in us and we in Him, and if His love lives in us, then we have the tools we need to live in His love and show that love to others (1 John 4:16).
John explains what he means when he says that God’s love is “perfected” or “made complete” in us in 1 John 4:17—that, even in this world, we are like Him because His love is in us. We don’t need to fear the coming judgment because we are in Him and He in us. As Paul put it in Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Because fear involves punishment, John says, the one who fears punishment is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18). If we recognize that we are in Christ and He in us, then we have no fear of future condemnation. We know we have His Spirit within us. His love is expressed perfectly in us—He has given Himself to us. Why would we fear His judgment in the future? We belong to Him. If we (rightly) fear punishment, then we are not in His love because those who are in Him have been saved from condemnation. As Jesus said, God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten, or unique, Son so that the one who believes in Jesus will not perish (i.e., die in condemnation) but have eternal life (John 3:16). Those who have believed in Jesus are in His love and have no reason to fear judgment and condemnation. But those who are not in Christ Jesus have reason to fear the judgment. The apostle John explains that, if we are in Christ, then we have no need to fear—“there is no fear in love.” If we are in Christ, we see His love expressed perfectly in His salvation, and we should demonstrate that love toward others.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God’s perfect love has cast out our fear of punishment and condemnation. In a sense, we should always fear God because He is the Creator who is sovereign over all (2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 14:7), but that is quite different from fearing judgment and condemnation. We don’t fear God because we are afraid He might violate His promises and throw us into condemnation—no, we fear God because of His greatness, worthiness, and awesomeness. It is because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10) that we can understand what a gift His love truly is. To be loved by One so incredible and great means that His love is stronger than anything we can imagine. If God is for us, then who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?