Made Perfect In God’s Love
The apostle John wrote in I John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear has torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” This is definitely one of the most powerful verses in the Bible. Each statement in this verse contains a truth that can bring deliverance and eternal change in a believer’s heart. I want to focus on the statement, “He that feareth is not made perfect in love,” particularly the last four words: made perfect in love; they imply that we as believers can be made perfect in love (God’s agape love).
First, there is no greater virtue than to be made perfect in the love of God. Love is the greatest characteristic of God because in His love, He created mankind and, in His love, He gave His Son to die for sinners. God’s agape—the Greek word for God’s love—is the unselfish, sacrificial, unlimited, unconditional giving of Himself for mankind due to His affection for mankind. John wrote, “God is love” (I Jn. 4:8). Agape is the God-kind of love. It’s supernatural. It cannot be developed by man because it doesn’t come from man. The only thing mankind can do is believe in the main expression of God’s love, the giving of His Son to die for our sins on the cross, and receive His love.
John wrote, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I Jn. 4:10). There is true holiness in His love, for one who has experienced God’s love will separate himself unto God only. Paul wrote one of the most profound truths of God’s love in I Corinthians 13:1-3. In summary, we can do many honorable things, even in Christ’s name, but if we’re not motivated by God’s love, we are “nothing.”
Second, what did John mean by using the word perfect? In reality, John didn’t use the English word perfect, he used the Greek root word teleioo. This word means “to add what is lacking in order to render a thing full, complete, accomplished.” One of the ways teleioo can be translated is with the word mature, implying spiritual maturity. With this understood, John was writing that “he who fears (ungodly fear) is not spiritually mature in agape.”
Finally, the main question is, How are we made spiritually mature in God’s love? The Holy Spirit gave us the answer in God’s Word. It needs to be understood that having a head knowledge only (or mostly) of agape is not what brings spiritual maturity. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 8:1, “knowledge (only) puffeth up (pride), but charity edifieth (builds up).” Maturity in God’s love means that we have a continual, experiential knowledge of His love for us by the Spirit that expresses itself in love for God and others. Experientially knowing His love for us and through us is a work that can only be done by the Spirit.
As it concerns being mature in God’s love, I believe the best way to truly understand God’s love for us is against the backdrop of our failures, weaknesses, and God’s hatred for our sin. God hates sin (disobedience against God). He hates our sin. The reality is that on our own, we are nothing but sinners headed toward hell. Even now, as a child of God, in ourselves there is nothing good in us except what God has given us freely through faith in Christ. In Luke 7, a woman anoints the Lord’s head with oil, and to the Pharisee who despised this Jesus said, “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (Lk. 7:47). We must see God’s love for us personally in the light of our sinfulness. Jesus died for sinners like us. Every day we can look to heaven and say, “Thank You, Lord, for loving me. I don’t deserve it, but You love me.”
Every work of the Spirit begins with knowledge and faith. Without referring to the Spirit, John declared this in I John 4:16: “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” There are three key words in this verse: know, believe, and dwell. All three words are used in the context of God’s love for us that was manifested at the cross:
• The words “we have known” refer to hearing and receiving the knowledge of the gospel.
The Holy Spirit is saying that we must remain, abide in, and continue knowing and believing in the love that God has for us personally, the same love that caused Jesus to die for us on the cross. The Holy Spirit will make real the Father’s love for us as we continually know, believe, and dwell in His love for us. It’s only then that His love can truly operate through us.
• The words “and believed the love that God hath to us” refer to us believing the gospel and getting saved from our sins.
• The word dwells means “to abide, remain, continue in.” Many believers think they do this, but it’s more head knowledge than experiential knowledge. John wrote, “he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
In I John 4:17 we read, “Herein (knowing, believing, remaining in His love) is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world.”
The true test of being mature in His love is loving one another (I Jn. 4:21), even loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44). Loving one another means that we deal with each other through our identification with Christ’s cross. We are crucified, buried, and resurrected with Him (Rom. 6:3-6). In other words, we must be dead to our own selfish ambitions as we deal with one another. As well, we must be alive to how God views one another. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another” (Jn. 13:34-35).