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.

Blood enough! Now peace

The Bible doesn’t leave us guessing as to why Jesus dies on a cross. Even as he is dying, Jesus says several things that help us know what is going on. Here’s two of them.

Two criminals are being crucified with Jesus. They have lived violently and selfishly. But one of them has second thoughts about the life he has lived. His restless life has taken peace from many others. Probably spilled their blood. But now, he asks to be ‘remembered’ when Jesus receives his kingdom (Luke 23:38-43).

He sees that Jesus is in charge—even from his cross. He admits he deserves what he’s getting. And he asks for a place in the kingdom Jesus is making.

This man has come a long way in a short time. Does he recall that Jesus has given help to many others? Has he noticed his unusual composure? And especially, what does he think about Jesus’ asking his Father to forgive his torturers?  

Whatever has changed this man, he asks to be ‘remembered’, a word used by God’s covenant people when they look for mercy. And his request is granted, in the most luxurious of terms: ‘Today, you will be with me in Paradise’.

This man, who has spilled the blood of others, loses his arrogance and finds peace with God.

But there is no peace for Christ. Before long, he is asking God why he has been forsaken. He is making peace for us, but it is by the blood of his cross.

Here’s how Paul explains this—first in his letter to the Colossians (1:19-22).

First, we don’t like God and avoid the things he wants us to do. We do the opposite actually. Perhaps not in the brazen way of the repenting criminal, but decidedly, and dangerously.

And then, we tend to ‘spill blood’. We ‘do evil deeds’.

Here’s a suggestion about what might be going on. We think God doesn’t matter. Or we think he’s against us. So, the world is all we’ve got, and our demands on what it can give keep increasing. We get restless, demanding, agitated, intolerant, bitter, and, if nothing stops it, violent.

Not everyone gets to the end of this sequence—fortunately. But the seeds of discontent are deep. They make us complain, take sides, look for someone to blame—and punish. They make us ‘spill blood’. It can happen in friendships, communities, or nations.

God goes to the heart of the issue. He knows we can’t live with the guilt of leaving him out of our thinking. He knows we’ll never find true peace (Isa. 48:22).

And God sees the weariness, and the uselessness of it all and sends his Son to make peace—by his blood.

God nails his complaint about us to the cross where Jesus is dying (Col. 2:13). This is what we need to see and embrace. Will we stand aloof and insist we are OK? Or will we receive God’s gracious gift?

‘Blood’ is a reference to Israel’s worship. They were taught to put their hands on a lamb’s head, confess their sins, and then sacrifice the lamb. This didn’t pay for their sins, but it showed what God had in mind. His Son is on the cross as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

If we receive this as God’s way of dealing with our rebellion, we are washed clean. He won’t count our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19-21). We are ready to share in God’s company. This is peace!

Until now, we’ve been fighting. But, what about the crucified Lord telling us we can be with him in Paradise? Does this not melt our resistance? Does this not take the puff out of our fighting?

God now calls us righteous. And this means being at peace with God (Rom. 5:1). If God does this reconciling while we are still fighting him, we can be sure there’s no anger left in God towards us, now that we are reconciled to him. We now take pleasure in God. This is where we want to be (Rom. 5:9-11).

Let’s return to the story of Jesus. When he rises from the dead, his first words to the disciples are, ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19, 21, 26). He’d promised to give them his peace (John 14:27) and now he’s giving it.

He’s picked up the arguments these disciples have had with each other, worn their pride, borne their failures, and taken them to his cross. He’s made peace by the blood of his cross. So now, their need to call down fire from heaven and their need to take up a sword against the soldiers who arrest Jesus is gone. And their need to compete with each other is gone too.

God has not only made peace by the blood of the cross, he’s provided a peace we can live in with others. We all come to God in the same way so the dividing walls we erect between ourselves and others can come down (Eph. 2:13-18). This peace of Christ needs to rule everything we are (Col 3:15).

Our ‘peacemaking’ often leads to more spilling of blood. The peace God makes through Christ heals our inner wounds. It brings us to God. And it returns us to each other.

5—Made ready by Christ’s peace

We’re exploring how to live in what God calls the real world. It’s all about whether we will relate to God or not. But there’s opposition to this everywhere.

So now, if we are in this battle, how can an announcement of peace help us? It not only helps but is effective because Christ has won a great victory. He has won the right to announce the peace. And Paul says having this peace and this message gets us ready to fight our real enemy.

The letter of Ephesians tells us how this is so. Here’s three things that are clear.

First, we were far from God. But then, we are brought near to him, by Christ’s blood (2:13-18). An offering has been made for our sins. We have peace with God.

The world assumes God is an enemy to be hated, or a delusion to destroy. But if God reveals himself and tells us he has no more quarrel with us, that our sins are forgiven, our whole being can operate properly. We can think. We can sing. We can love.

It has been noted that atheists often have a personal rather than a logical reason for their belief. Something has happened, or not happened, and they blame God for it. But what if we see that God is not against us but for us? What if we discover we are loved? This is peace with God.

When Jesus rises from the dead, his first words are, ‘Peace be with you’. This was a common greeting at the time, but coming from Jesus, and after what has just happened, it is an announcement of peace between Jesus and his followers. And this means, an announcement of peace with God.

So, Jesus comes announcing peace and declaring good news of happiness (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15). He does this through the preaching of his gospel.

Second, there’s one way of reconciliation for everyone.

This is important to Paul because he has thought you have to be a Jew to know God. Then, he hears the church announcing peace with God without the trappings of Judaism. Jesus has entered his space and says there is room for people of all nations to live before him in peace.

This makes Paul desperately angry. He begins to fight against the enemy he can see—the church. But then, Jesus speaks to him as a friend. ‘You’re having a hard time Saul. Why are you fighting me?’ Paul has come to God with war in his heart. Jesus comes to Paul with an announcement of peace. (XXX; James 3).

Paul now knows the way to have peace with God. And he knows this is the way of peace for the world—Jews and Gentiles (2:13-14).

Jesus has not only resolved the conflict between us and God. He has resolved the reason for our conflicts with one another. He spells this out in some detail (2:15-22).

Jewish worship had pointed to Christ. But now that Christ has come, its purpose is completed and everyone must embrace the reality—Jesus is our peace with God.

So, Jews and Gentiles can come to God in the same way. The reason for Paul to defend his ‘territory’ is gone. Jews and Gentiles can be in the same family. God himself comes to live with his people.

Christ’s peace has removed the need to defend our cultural space. For Paul, it has been religion. But now, he can relate freely—travelling with Christ into all the places God takes him.

The same principle applies to all the other ‘territories’ we create for ourselves. Paul speaks about it in numbers of his letters. With Christ as our peace, we don’t need to make a warring party out of our social status, or our race or our gender (Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; 5:6; Colossians 3:10-11). If we belong to Christ, we belong together.

Perhaps you can see how urgently we need this peace of Christ—bringing us to God—in the midst of what we call issues today. He puts to rest the seeds of our discontent. He frees us to love without necessarily agreeing, and discuss without being spiteful. We learn this, even if with some difficulty, as we relate to our fellow Christians. But then, this gives us ways to relate to others as we move out into the world.

Third, this announcement of peace is the preparation we all need if we are to engage in the battle ahead.

Paul is astonished that he has been entrusted with such good news for the world. He is ready to go anywhere and do anything that will enable others to know it is true. He is ready to live!

This new way of peace—peace with God—confronts the unseen powers we are fighting against (3:8-10). It names and shames this whole hostility thing and says, ‘You don’t need to be angry!’ That is, not selfishly angry.

If you can’t see the real battle, you have to maintain the rage. And we do! And we are! Even in countries that have no political oppressor, we find one thing after another to fight about.

But what if we can announce Jesus Christ as God’s way of peace! Many will scorn it of course. But then, some will find that the wars they are conducting are not the main game. They will discover that the currents of God’s loving are more powerful and persuasive than all the puff of the world and its Prince.

Paul is telling us to wear this announcement of peace like shoes! We shouldn’t go anywhere without God’s peace in our hearts. We shouldn’t say anything that merely defends our territory. And we should never be ashamed of the blood of Jesus by which this precious peace has been announced to us. This is the peace we have needed. And it is the peace that is needed in the world.

With Jesus, we may say to those who persecute us, ‘It is hard for you to kick against the peace Christ has established!’