Uncertainty is part of life, but there’s some things God wants us to be sure of. In this chapter of John’s letter (1 John 4:14-21), there are two that he mentions. First, we can be sure we are loved by God (v. 16). And because of this, we can be confident to stand before God on judgement day (v. 17).
Being confident about what will happen to us when we die gives us confidence about life generally. And its God’s love working in us that will make the difference.
It is fashionable in our communities to ridicule the idea of life after death and a judgement to come. Some think it’s a cruel fiction to keep people under control. Many treat it as a joke.
But a judgement day is coming. Jesus speaks about it often. And the apostles are clear about it. God has raised Jesus from the dead to give us clear evidence that there is life after death. And Jesus is the one to whom we will have to answer (Acts 17:31).
Whatever we think about this, we can’t escape the reality of being responsible to God. He’s made us so that we are always aware that we should be doing good things and turning away from what is bad—even if our definition of this is different to God’s. We have a conscience. We are incurably moral!
Having a bad conscience is painful. Some people spend years ‘making up’ for what they have done. And keeping a good conscience is hard work. We have to have reasons why our critics are wrong.
Conscience is like an early warning system—an alarm to tell us that danger is coming. If we do wrong, we fear we will get what we deserve.
Conscience is also like a shadow. If we are in the light, it’s there. God shines on us—his creatures. And his light casts a shadow we can’t avoid. We know we’re responsible to someone.
Many try to deaden this sense, but it turns up anyway. The fear of there being a God to whom we must answer one day won’t go away (Heb. 2:14-15).
That is, unless we discover that we are loved by God. Here’s some points that John makes. They all begin with ‘c’ to help keep them in mind.
First, Christ has come. God Son has come into this world to be its Saviour (v. 14). John has seen him. He’s telling us what he’s heard and touched. And there’s no-one else who can promise us eternal life (John 6:68)—that is, life beyond judgement.
Sending his Son is a very personal act for God to take and he means us to take notice (Luke 20:13).
He sent him among us to make propitiation, or be a sacrifice for our sins (v. 10). Propitiation is Jesus preventing God’s anger from reaching us.
God feels very deeply about our sins. We try to be a small target and make little of what we do wrong. But God is offended by our ignoring him. If he wasn’t, he would be saying that we don’t matter. But we do matter to God—and what we do matters. That’s why our conscience tells us our sinning is not OK. The ‘shadow’ is there.
And Jesus sees this is the trouble we’ve got. He wants us to know his Father like he does and is willing to bear God’s offence with us—instead of it reaching us. Everything here is very personal.
Second, we confess that Jesus is the Saviour of the world (v. 15).
Confessing something like this is more than just doing some history or theology. We’ve discovered God loves us and is speaking to us. We know Jesus is his Son. We know he’s laid down his life for us. From now on, God is very close and personal.
We sometimes talk about people bouncing off each other like billiard balls. But the gospel penetrates our exterior toughness. We were being stalked by our ‘shadow’. But then, a Saviour is announced. He comes closer to us than this shadow. And we find ourselves confessing, gratefully, that Jesus is God’s Son.
Third, we are being courted (vv. 15-16). This may not the best word to use but it does start with ‘c’!
When we confess that Jesus is God’s Son, we have come to live in God and God has come to live in us. This is the language of love—personal giving to one another. We have come to know the love God has for us. This is what happens in a courtship.
In fact, we are in a covenant with God—like a marriage. And the bond is validated by Christ’s blood. That’s more than courting, but in fact, we are discovering love. God is giving to us what is precious to him and what we deeply need. God is living for us and we are now living for God.
Fourth, all this leads to confidence.
John tells us two things that will give us confidence.
We—on earth, are like Jesus—in heaven. Think about this. Jesus is in God’s presence—magnificent in holy victory. He’s made an end of the offence we caused God. And God loves his Son for what he has done. And the Son is delighting in that!
And we are like that—now, in this world! That is, God’s love for us and delight in us is the same as it is for his Son. We are accepted ‘in the Beloved’ Son (Ephesians 1:6).
Then, this amazing love of God is ‘made complete among us.’ What starts in heaven is now operating among us. We know God is true, we know what he has done, and we love. Love has changed our whole situation. Bitterness, suspicion, anger and envy are gone.
And so has fear! Love throws fear out of the picture. We are ready for judgement day (v. 17)—happy to meet God.
God’s love has landed, not just on our planet but right here. He lives in us so that his love is formed in us and among us. And we live in him, dependently and gratefully.
And the result of all this is confidence for judgement day! People with confidence like this are also ready for life here and now.
We all have fears to face—of what happens in our world, of what the doctor might say, of what our family is doing or how the bills will be paid. But none of this comes as accusation and blame. That’s been settled. We know where we stand—with God. And we have access to his grace.
We are ready to serve God and our neighbour. We’ve heard the early warning of judgement and run to Christ. We know that the shadow we make is created by a Light we now know as our Saviour.