God’s love for fearful people

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.

What are we waiting for?

Trusting God’s promises isn’t always easy. It takes us into new territory. And we need to grow in faith. However, none of the difficulties involved need to tarnish our faith. 

God has opened his heart up to us. He’s calling us to discover his faithful love. And he wants us to live in this hope while we wait for his time of fulfilment. By promising us a future, God is enabling us to live in his eternal plan—now. But we need some perseverance.

Many of us have lived through very pleasant times. This has made us think God’s promises only relate to having more nice times. But God wants us to live in what the future will be—even while the present is proving to be difficult.

The letter of Hebrews has much to say about living by God’s promises—particularly towards its end (Hebrews 10:32—12:3). You may find it helpful to read this passage first. There’s five points that it makes clear. This makes my article longer than usual—but I hope, worthwhile.

First, our fathers in the faith faced the same difficulties that we do in living by God’s promises.

There are enemies opposing those who first get this letter (Hebrews 10:36-39). They have an option to live comfortably, but at the risk of giving up their faith in Christ. They need some help to live by what is unseen rather than what would be culturally safe. They, and we, are warned not to ‘shrink back’ from waiting for what God promises.

Israel’s founding father, Abraham, and his wife Sarah, wait for decades for the child God promises to them. Then, they live among enemies in the land God has promised (11:12-13). And there’s delay for everyone in the Old Testament, waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled (11:39-40).

God is painting on a large canvas and he needs us to step back—with him—and appreciate that more is going on than we may understand while we wait. 

Second, hoping for things we can’t see (or control) is no problem to faith.

In fact, faith is being assured and persuaded that what we hope for and cannot see is substantial (11:1). God himself gives us this faith and when he does, we can ‘see’ what is invisible and experience what can’t be measured.

We need to think about the world we can see. Why is there something and not nothing? Why do we have consciousness and not just instincts? The world can’t answer these questions. But the answer is that everything we see and experience has come from something unseen—from God speaking (11:3, 27). 

It’s always God’s word that makes things happen. And faith is being assured and persuaded that this is why there is a world, and a universe, and us. 

If we insist that there’s no God to make everything, we exist without ever having started. We try to proceed without understanding who we are or what we are for. And we certainly have nothing to give us hope. We lack assurance and persuasion.

On the other hand, understanding that God creates everything by his word speaks to us deeply because we are made by God, and for him. 

This sets the pattern for all that the writer then tells us.

Noah builds an ark in the light of things not yet visible—a flood (11:7). Then, Abraham leaves his cosy life for one promised by God. He is looking for something God builds. Something solid (11:8-10).

Paul says that seen things pass away. It’s the unseen things that are durable (2 Cor. 4:18). This idea is strange to someone who doesn’t know God. But it’s natural to faith. Everything God does starts from what we can’t see.

Third, God is setting up a world where everything will be as he intends it to be. Hebrews calls it ‘a better country’, ‘a heavenly one’ (11:16). It’s a kingdom that can’t be shaken (12:26-28).

If we believe God can’t make anything better than what we see at the moment, he wouldn’t want to be known as our God—expecting so little of him. Do we think he is satisfied with injustice, suffering and death? Are we happy for everything—including ourselves—to be no better than they are at the moment? Is a shaky world good enough? 

God’s promises point to something amazing, complete, without danger or pollution.

We said earlier that all God’s promises find their ‘Yes’ in Christ. And this ‘Yes’ includes what he has done in his first coming and what he will complete in his second coming. 

That’s why people who please God with their faith are people who are looking for a city that has foundations (11:10)—not like the shaky things we tend to trust at the moment.

Scoffers think the promise of Christ’s return is a fiction. But Peter tells us the reason for his delay is not incompetence or carelessness but patience with our race (2 Pet. 3:2-4, 8-13). As we noted before, God paints on a large canvas. And he longs for us to be in the picture!

Fourth, all the people who are waiting are, in fact, busy.

The catalogue of accomplishments attributed to faith is impressive. Abraham didn’t sit and meditate. He leaves everything to take up what God is going to do with him and his family. Moses prefers trouble with God’s people to safety as a celebrity in Egypt. 

Sometimes, God’s people seem to succeed, and other times, seem to fail. But it’s God who knows what will last. Being assured there will be a good outcome gives us energy, and a readiness to endure hardship.

If God’s promises are ringing in our ears and warming our hearts, we’ll do things that fit God’s eternal plan. We’re headed for a new creation, but we are already a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—part of the future God is making. 

Everything we now do through faith and love is eternal.  Nothing is lost. Think of Jesus commending someone on judgement day for giving a cup of water to one of his servants (Matthew 10:42). Think of the clothes we’ll wear when the church is married to Christ. What we do now is what we’ll wear then (Revelation 19:8).

If you are a politician, you have to do things that fit the immediate situation. But if you are building what is eternal, you’ll make sure you’re doing something that Jesus will acknowledge. 

In fact, what is eternal is what is best for the world now. It’s just that the world doesn’t see it that way.

Fifth, we look to Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith (12:2). 

Jesus believed God’s promise, that he would have many brothers and sisters to share with him in knowing his Father’s love. Because he believed this promise, he endured the sufferings of death—for us. That’s where we need to be looking if we are going to carry on, and then receive what God has promised.

It’s love—his love—that keeps hope alive. The Holy Spirit comes as an outpouring of God’s love to us, and in us. This is why we don’t get disappointed or ashamed (Romans 5:5). 

God takes pleasure in faith like this (11:2, 4, 5, 39)! And his pleasure is not about us being good but us discovering that he is good! We discover he can be trusted. And he says, ‘You’re mine!’

So, we have seen that when God makes promises, he takes the initiative in what goes on in his world. And he opens up his plans so we can share with him in building and enjoying what is eternal. More particularly, we discover him!

This takes us well out of our depth! We’ll need to swim. But then, sharing with God is what we are made for! Our thinking and affections need more to feed on than what we can see. 

We are to live by every word that God speaks. And a lot of what he has said has said hasn’t happened yet. So, we need to hear his promises, and persist. And then, when Christ returns, we will see that everything God promised has happened.

If it’s not God, you can’t be sure

John writes a letter to Christians—people who trust in Jesus as God’s Son. He wants them to know they have eternal life (5:13). He wants us, not just to believe, but to be sure.

He needs to do this because other mischievous ideas are being promoted that will not have the power to sustain their faith, hope and love. The gospel is a ‘word of life’—a message that creates what it says. It’s not just information or advice. We need to hear God’s Son speak, and live (John 5:25).

John gets straight to the point in this first section (1 John 1:1-4). He’s knows what he is talking about. He’s seen and heard it for himself. And he’s been appointed to tell us.

We need to hear this word because it’s impossible to work up a Christian confidence from where we are. John starts by giving us four basic certainties.

First, if something is true, it must always have been true. This message comes ‘from the beginning’. It’s always been this way and it’s eternal.

The similarity of this statement with the beginning of John’s Gospel shows he is referring to when the world is made. Jesus is God’s Word, bringing the world into existence. He is with God and is God. We are alive because we’ve been created. So now, if we are going to be sure of eternal life, it will have to be because God makes it happen.

Second, this ‘word of life’ has come among us. It’s actually Jesus—the person. John remembers the sound of his voice. He remembers seeing and touching him. He may be remembering the day when Jesus asks his disciples to touch him and give him some food. He has been raised from the dead and wants to assure them he is not a ghost. Our faith is based on physical evidence.

John has written a whole Gospel to make this point (John 20:21). Here, he is just saying that it is so. So, we can be sure God is speaking to us through Jesus—God the Son—as a human being. We don’t ‘hear’ like the apostles did. We were not present to see Jesus raised from the dead. But we are blessed by hearing what the apostles pass on to us (John 20:29).

Third, God is calling us to share life with him. He exists and lives as a fellowship of persons—Father and Son, and what happens between them is important for us. (Later, John will talk about the Spirit as well.). By speaking to us, he is bringing us into that relationship.

We actually know God the Father, and we know his Son (John 14:21-23). We know the love between them. We know we are included in this fellowship of the Father with the Son—if you like, in the same way that children know they are secure when their father and mother love each other.

We are created to be ready for this relationship. Any ideology or doctrine that doesn’t do this can’t be true. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son (John 17:3). We don’t just need reliable facts or ideas. We need to come home!

Fourth, sharing this word with others brings a lot of joy. And why not. God himself is our confidence. We’re not asking others to think the same as us but to share what we’re in. Our confidence is an overspill of this joy. And it brings joy to others. Uncertainty may have been the great spoiler of life, but now we’ve got something to offer.

In this way, we become part of God’s family where the relationships are real because we all hear the same Father speaking to us through his Son. We have discovered true community—something eternal and authentic.

We need this message deeply. The alternative is trying to suck life out of what has been made. And this is where confusions arise. God’s gifts in this world are good, but he hasn’t put everything we need there. We need him.

There’s much more John wants to share with us about being sure of God. The next section tells us how to be sure we are walking with God.