SERIES: 1 John
TEXT: 1 John 4:13-21 (ESV)
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As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.
If you have your Bibles — please turn with me to First John chapter four — we’ll be looking at verses thirteen through twenty-one together today. And — while you’re finding First John chapter four — and as we near the end of our time in this letter — let me remind you that the apostle John wrote this letter so that Those who believe in God can know that they have eternal life.
In First John chapter five — verse thirteen — we read, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. - 1 John 5:13 (ESV)
And — in this letter — John gives us a variety of ways we can test whether or not we’ve really believed in Jesus. For — genuine faith in Christ — will produce evidence in your life that you are — in fact — a true believer.
And now let’s turn to the words found in First John chapter four — beginning in verse thirteen.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he 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: whoever loves God must also love his brother. - 1 John 4:13-21 (ESV)
What do you fear? And by fear — I mean — what terrifies your soul? Not just a good fright or a jump scare, but something that — if you had to face — would wreck you to your core.
For years I would read books to stay a step or two ahead of what was popular among my kids generation. And one of the series I read was the Divergent series. The premise of the first book is that there’s a problem with humanity — we’re broken and corrupt and will do evil things unless we’re controlled. And the solution — in the book — was for all of society to be split up into five factions — five groups — which were meant to keep each person focused on their greatest positive characteristic — so they won’t harm others by their bad characteristics.
One of the groups is known as the Dauntless. They’re known for their bravery but — in order to pass the Dauntless initiation — you have to face your biggest fears. A computer program reads your mind to discover your greatest fears — those situations that will wreck you to your core — and then you have to face them head on in order to pass the initiation test.
So — if you were taking the final initiation test for the Dauntless faction — and the computer read your mind — what would it reveal to be your greatest fears?
One fear — that’s more common than most — is the fear of death. Death has always been near the top of the list of what we humans fear the most. Now — if you ask me — I think that one reason so many of us fear death is because we instinctively know that we weren’t created to die. Regardless if a person’s religious or not — there’s something ingrained in all of us that tells us death is not the way things are supposed to be.
Now — we may deny the truth — that death is a result of our sin — but that doesn’t change the fact that death — particularly, our own death — is looming before us — and we don’t like to think about it because it scares us. Yet the mortality rate is one hundred percent and each of us are closer today than we were yesterday of our own death. “Geez, Josh. This isn't a very encouraging way to start a sermon” — I’m almost done — just one last thought — one day there will be a funeral and you’ll be the center of attention.
But — if there’s really nothing after we die — which is what some people believe — then why fear death? I mean, things weren’t so bad for you before you were born, right? I’m not trying to make light of tragic events, but World War two, the Korean War, Vietnam, the assassinations of JFK and MLK, Watergate, the sixties decade — all of that stuff — was a breeze for me.
Now — for some of us — those historical moments were hard — because you were alive — but if I went back a little farther — say to the Great Depression, or World War one, or the Civil War, or maybe the War of 1812 — for those of you who think you’re really old — I bet those event weren’t nearly as bad for you as it was for people who were alive then, right? So — if that’s how things were for you before you were born — why so much fear in death?
Here’s why we fear death — but we have to be really honest with ourselves: Our fear of death is connected to our fear of a final judgment. You see, no matter what we say we believe — most of us — Christian or not — know that time after our death won’t be like time before our birth. The truth is that your fear of death is directly related to a lingering fear that you know you will be judged for how you’ve lived. Which leads to the point of this sermon — a promise found in our verses — which is this.
Fear of God’s judgment is overcome by the assurance in knowing God loves you. Your fear of death and God’s judgment can be conquered — it can be defeated — but it’s overcome by truly believing in — and — by believing — I mean receiving, resting in, trusting in — God’s love for you.
Now — we’re going to examine this idea — first — by looking at a reason — or proof — that we know that we believe in God’s love. Then we’ll look at an expectation if we believe in God’s love. And — finally — the assurance we have if we believe in God’s love. A reason. An expectation. And assurance.
First, there’s a reason you know that you believe in God’s love — meaning there’s evidence you have if you’ve really believed in God’s love for you. Look with me beginning in verse thirteen. John writes, By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he (that’s God) has (so here’s part of the reason we know we believe in his love for us. God has done what? He’s…) given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 (Here’s another part of the reason we know we believe in God’s love) Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides (or lives) in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (the final part of the reason we know we believe) - 1 John 4:13-16 (ESV)
Earlier I mentioned that John’s whole point in writing this letter is so that we can know whether or not we really believe in Jesus. And John’s done this by way of tests — ways we can evaluate our life with what it means to really believe in Jesus. Think about how many times this has come up in our letter already.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. - 1 John 2:3 (ESV)
By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. - 1 John 2:5b-6 (ESV)
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. - 1 John 3:10 (ESV)
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. - 1 John 3:14 (ESV)
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him. - 1 John 3:19 (ESV)
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. - 1 John 3:24 (ESV)
By this you know the Spirit of God… - 1 John 4:2a (ESV)
We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. - 1 John 4:6 (ESV)
And — of course — the theme verse for our letter — John’s purpose in writing this letter. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. - 1 John 5:13 (ESV)
So John’s made this about as clear and easy to understand as I think he could. He wants believers to be sure of something — he wants Christians to be confident about something — he wants to help us get rid of our doubts about something — our doubts about what? What does John want us to be sure of — what is it that he’s trying to tell us over and over and over again that we can be confident about? John’s whole point in writing this letter is so that Those who believe in God can know that they have eternal life.
Meaning you can have absolute confidence — an unfailing assurance — in knowing that you have eternal life because you’ve believed in God’s love as displayed in sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to live, die, and rise from the dead for you and all of his people.
Back to our verses — part of the reason we have this assurance is because…God has given us his Spirit. God gives his people his Spirit — including you — if you believe in Jesus. In verse thirteen we read, By this we know that we abide (or live) in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. - 1 John 4:13 (ESV)
This verse begins with the words, “By this we know that we abide in him — ‘him’ meaning God — and he in us.” So — again — this is something we can know and know with certainty. Here’s a test that will prove to you that your belief in Jesus is legitimate. Do you have God’s Spirit living in you? This is evidence that you believe in Jesus: God has given you his Spirit.
“But Josh,” you may ask, “how do I know if God has given me his Spirit?” John tells us. You know God has given you his Spirit if…You’ve confessed that Jesus is the Son of God. God gives his Spirit to those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God. Look with me in verse fourteen. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. - 1 John 4:14-15 (ESV)
Notice the connection between verses fifteen and thirteen. “We know that we abide in him” — notice that phrase “abide in him and he in us” in verse thirteen — as it relates to God having given us his Spirit — and then — in verse fifteen — nearly the identical phrase is found again for those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God — God “abides in him and he in God.”
So — our confessing that Jesus is the Son of God — is connected with God giving us his Spirit. And — God giving us his Spirit — is proof that we’ve believed in Jesus and have eternal life — God’s Spirit living in us is evidence that we believe in God’s great love for us.
“But Josh,” you may wonder, “how do I know that I’ve truly confessed that Jesus is the Son of God and have believed in him? Is there any evidence that can give me certainty?” Yes there is! The reason you can be certain of your confession is because…You live in love. You live in love. Look with me in verse sixteen. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. - 1 John 4:16 (ESV)
There’s that phrase again — abiding in God and God abiding in us — showing us the integrity — the accuracy — the truthfulness of this reason we can know that we’ve believed. A person who’s confessed that Jesus is the Son of God is someone who’s been given God’s Spirit which results in them abiding in God’s love — meaning — they live in God’s love for them — which compels them to live a life of love for God and for other people.
You see — the current of who God is — is love. And God’s current of love is in those who’ve believed in his Son. And this current of love drastically changes them — God’s love in his people transforms them into men and women who live in love for the glory of their God.
And this selfless, unconditional “living in love for the glory of God” gives that man or woman — that believer in Christ regardless of their age — great assurance that they indeed believe and have received eternal life. The change is evident — their transformation is obvious to both themselves and others — for God’s love does an obvious work in the lives of those who believe in his Son. It’s not a subtle work — we’re talking about the love of the One who created everyone and everything — the love of the One who is eternal — whose power, and knowledge, and wisdom, have no limits — he who does no wrong — his love lives in those who believe in his Son and — surely you can see — this changes everything for those who believe.
Which leads us to the expectation — there’s an expectation of us who believe in God’s love. There’s an expectation of you — if you believe in God’s love for you. Look with me in verse nineteen.
We (who believe in God’s love for us do what? We …) love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he 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: whoever loves God must also love his brother. - 1 John 4:19-21 (ESV)
There’s an expectation of us who believe in God’s love. The expectation is that you…Love your fellow Christians. This is the point John keeps coming back to again and again, right? And I don’t know how John could’ve made his point any clearer. In verse twenty he writes, If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he 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: whoever loves God must also love his brother. - 1 John 4:20-21 (ESV)
When a person knows and believes in the love that God has for them — as displayed in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ — the very nature of the overwhelming experience of God’s love is such that — it can’t be known — without manifesting itself in love for God’s people. Let me say that again. The very nature of the overwhelming experience of God’s love is such that — you cannot know God’s love for you — without his love manifesting itself in your life with a love for God’s people. You simply can’t experience the amazing love God has for you and not love your fellow Christians — it’s an impossibility — John says.
And this is a test that’s meant to assure you that your belief in God’s love is genuine. This is how you can know if your belief in God’s love is real or pretend — if you’re truly a Christian or just faking it. This is how you can know if eternal life is your reward or if eternal destruction is your destiny.
Did you know that the reason why some of us have little or no assurance about our salvation is because your life — in response to God's great love for you — your life’s not being lived in love for the eternal good of other people? Instead of living a selfless, loving life — you’re living a selfish loving life — and you love yourself so well. You make sure that you’re as comfortable as you can be, as secure as you can afford, that you and your kids get to live the life you want to live — all while wondering why you have zero confidence in your eternity. You live with little assurance that believing in Jesus means much because there’s a gap between what you say you believe and how you live — and of course there’s a gap! For you’ve yet to truly believe in, to rest in, to trust in and know God’s love for you.
But for those who do know God’s love — there’s an expectation — there’s something demanded of us — a command that’s to be obeyed: love one another. Love your fellow Christians because you can’t love God — who you can’t see — if you don’t love your fellow Christians — who you can see.
Finally, the assurance for us who believe in God’s love. Here’s some good news: there’s assurance for those who believe in God’s love. Look with me in verse seventeen. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence (when?) for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. - 1 John 4:17-19 (ESV)
Friends, there’s a spectacular, soul-stirring assurance for we who believe in God’s love. And this assurance is accumulative — meaning it builds in our verses. Here’s John’s progression. First, those who believe in God’s love — as displayed in Jesus Christ — are assured that…You’ve been perfected in love. Look with me in verse seventeen. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. (And the last part of verse eighteen states that…) whoever fears has not been perfected in love. - 1 John 4:17, 18b (ESV)
Is this not a life changing, confidence-stirring, assurance-giving truth to we who believe? You have been perfected in God’s love!
Now — some of you — if not all of us — may be confused right now — because you know you’re not perfect — and — you definitely know the person sitting next to you is not perfect. So how can this truth — that you’ve been perfected in God’s love — how can this truth give you assurance that you’re a believer — what does this even mean?
The Greek word translated as “perfected” doesn’t usually mean to take something that’s flawed and make it flawless — which is what most of us think of when we think of perfecting something. Instead — in the New Testament — this Greek word generally means being “finished, completed, or accomplished.”
So — for instance — say you have a goal of losing ten pounds. Regardless if you cheat and eat more pizza and ice cream than you should — if you lose ten pounds — you’ve accomplished your goal, right? And John would say that you’ve perfected your goal even though you may have taken longer than you originally planned because of the pizza and ice cream.
Or say you’re going on a road trip and eight hours later you arrive at your destination. You accomplished your goal, right? Yup! Now what if I told you the trip was only supposed to take three hours, but you got lost, took a couple of detours, and maybe had some strong “discussions” about which turn you were supposed to take with your spouse. Did you accomplish your goal even though it wasn’t a flawless road trip? Yes you did. Perfect!
That’s what John means here when he says that we’ve been perfected in God’s love. It’s not that we flawlessly display God’s love — we all fail to do that — but John’s wanting us to see that us — being perfected in God’s love — means that God’s love for us has been put into action and will reach its appointed destination. The ten pounds will be lost — you will arrive at your destination — no matter how many detours you take to get there — if you believe in Jesus — you can be assured that God’s love is perfected in you.
And a result — of understanding that God’s love has perfected you — is that God’s…Love casts out all fear. God’s perfect love in us casts out all fear. Look with me in verse eighteen. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. - 1 John 4:18 (ESV)
Just so we’re clear — the type of fear this verse is addressing is the fear of punishment and — specifically — John’s thinking of eternal punishment since we know the whole point of his letter is to give believers assurance about their eternal life — which means — this is John’s point: You cannot love God and fear his eternal punishment at the same time. You can’t love God and fear his eternal punishment at the same time.
God’s love is perfect and it casts out — it makes no room for — it does not share space with — fear of his eternal punishment. For when you experience God’s love — as expressed so powerfully on the cross — God’s Spirit resides in you giving you a blessed assurance and confident expectation as you approach the day when you will see God face to face. And this confidence — this assurance — isn’t cockiness or ego — this confidence is rooted in joy as you know that — the day you see your God and Savior face to face — eternal life will be your reward — a gift given to you by the One who loves you.
You see, God doesn’t want his children to be paralyzed by fear of death or his judgment. God desires that his followers be so confident in his love for them that nothing in this world would stop them from living a bold life of love for his fame and glory to the ends of the earth. Nothing. Not fear of man. Not fear of death. Not fear of judgment. Not fear of missing out on what this world offers. Nothing.
And nothing would make the apostle John happier than to see a community of Christians who are unwavering in their assurance because they know that God loves them and will receive them into his Kingdom on the great Day of Judgment. And the reason for our assurance — the foundation of your and my bold confidence is this: God loved you first. He loved us first. In verse nineteen John writes, We love because he first loved us. - 1 John 4:19 (ESV)
God proved his love for you by sending his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins long before you ever loved him. And if this is the expanse of his love for us — prior to your and my existence — why would we ever doubt that he’d waver in his love for us now that we’ve believed in the name of his Son?
To close our time together — let me give you four simple tests from our verses — four questions to answer — in order to know — with great assurance — whether or not you believe in Jesus Christ and have eternal life.
Test number one: Have you confessed that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world?
Test number two: When you hear of Christ’s love for you — and his command that you’re to love others — does your heart fill with joy and a longing to live in love?
Test number three: When you fail to love God and others, is your heart grieved to the point of you humbly turning back to the cross of Christ to find forgiveness and strength to begin loving God and others again?
Test number four: Are you living for the eternal good of other people or are your thoughts, dreams, and daily choices aimed mainly — or solely — at loving yourself?
I have no doubt that God has and will use these questions to give each of you confidence in knowing whether or not you’ve believed in Christ. To those whose hearts are leaping with great confidence and joy — I say — live in the assurance that’s been promised to you because your faith is genuine.
But if you experienced great sorrow — or conviction — as I asked those questions — here’s what I want you to know with certainty: God loves you. And he’s proven his love for you by sending his Son Jesus to be your Savior and Lord. And “today is the day of salvation,” says the Lord. Would you receive and trust in God’s great love for you today? No matter who you are — or where you are — no matter what you’ve believed about Jesus up until this moment — if something is stirring inside of you because of God’s love for you — please don’t harden your heart — but respond to his love by believing in his Son, Jesus. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, may you cause your love to abound in the hearts of all who’ve heard your Word today. Your love is more wonderful than we dare to hope — for your love is unconditional, unfailing, unstopping, and unending for those who believe in your Son.
Spirit of God, help us to test our faith. May many be assured of their belief in Jesus by knowing that they trust in your love. Spirit, thank you for living in us who have confessed that Jesus is the Son of God. And empower us — we ask — to live in your love.
And finally — to you Jesus — may you give us assurance that we’ve truly believed in you and have eternal life. Assure our hearts that we’ve been perfected in your love. Assure our hearts that we have no need to fear eternal punishment because your love drives out all fear. Assure our hearts with the truth that it is your love — not ours — that came first — thus our hope is in — and is built on your love — which is all-powerful and all-sufficient in saving your people for all eternity.
And this offer of eternal life is available to all who hear my voice. For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved — you will have assurance — and you will have no reason to fear judgment — for God’s perfect love has come upon you — and in you — and has changed you for all eternity. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
May you go with assurance in knowing that you are loved by God. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.