God’s Love, Spirit, and Judgment – 1 John 4

Read the Passage: 1 John 4

Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: 1 John 4

God’s Love (4:7–11)

John had discussed God’s love previously, at 1 John 2:7–11; 3:10–14, and he returns to the same theme in chapter 4. Specifically, John exhorts his readers to “love one another, for love is of God” (1 John 4:7). The idea here is that if someone truly is of God, then they will necessarily love others; or, stated inversely, if someone loves others, they are truly of God. The ability to truly love others can be a proof and assurance of salvation. John states this truth negatively, as he writes, “He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). Recall that in His high-priestly prayer for believers in John 17:20–23, Jesus prayed that Christians would have an inter-Trinitarian type of unity and love for one another, with the intent “that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21). Neighbor love, then, validates the gospel to believers and unbelievers alike.

1 John 4:9–11 expands upon and further explains John’s statement that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In this passage John makes two closely related claims: (1) God’s love was manifest by Jesus’ incarnation, and (2) God’s love was manifest by Jesus’ atonement. Observe that in this passage John refers to Christ as God’s “only begotten Son” (1 John 4:9). This phrase is a very Johannine description of Jesus, as over half of the New Testament uses of this phrase appear in John’s letters. Note this description of Christ does not refer to Jesus’ creation (or chronology), but to His position (or authority). As John taught in 1 John 2:2, so again here in 1 John 4:10, John teaches that through Jesus’ work of incarnation and atonement, He made “propitiation for our sins.” Indeed, because Jesus satisfied the very wrath of God toward man, now “we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9).

God’s Spirit (4:12–16)

John writes, “No one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12). While this teaching is given elsewhere in Scripture (cf. John 1:18; 1 Tim. 6:16), it may seem odd here in the middle of John’s teaching about the love of God. Yet, John’s point is that since God is unseen, Christians must embody and reflect the love of God, for this is the way in which believers and unbelievers alike can see God. The reason believers can accomplish this is because God “has given us of His Spirit. . . . God abides in [believers]” (1 John 4:13, 15). Of course, Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit dwells within God’s people (cf. Ezek. 36:27; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). Therefore, authentic Christians will necessarily bear spiritual fruit and manifest God’s character (cf. Gal. 5:22–23). However, when believers sin, they grieve the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 4:30) and quench His presence (cf. 1 Thess. 5:19).

God’s Judgment (4:17–21)

John continues his discussion of abiding in God’s love. However, in 1 John 4:17, John makes the assertion, “Love has been perfected among us.” This claim is not a teaching about sinless perfection; rather it is simply a statement about the perfect love of God being within and among believers. A proof of the indwelling Spirit of God, writes John, is, “We may have boldness in the day of judgment” (1 John 4:17). Indeed, since we have been accepted in the Beloved (cf. Eph. 1:6), there is no need for Christians to fear God’s judgment. As John teaches, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a). Observe John’s teaching that “fear involves torment” (1 John 4:18b). This is simply the idea that sin, which will one day be judged by God, causes fear, guilt, unease, and exhaustion. In contrast, the gospel brings love, joy, peace, as well as authentic rest.

As he concludes this section, John summarizes the main theme he has been addressing all throughout this chapter, as well as exploring earlier in this book—namely, the idea that the love of God and the love of neighbor necessarily go together. In 1 John 4:20 John reiterates his teaching from 1 John 4:12 about God’s invisibility as he rhetorically asks, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” In considering this question, recall Jesus’ response to the religious lawyer in Matt. 22:34–40, when he asked Christ about the greatest commandment in the law. In answering Him, Jesus quoted Deut. 6:5 to teach that loving God is paramount. Yet, Christ followed up on this idea, answering a question He was not asked, as He taught that the second greatest commandment is to love one’s neighbor as oneself (cf. Lev. 19:18).

Application Questions:

  1. What are some of the benefits of John’s spiral structure of writing, as he covers and then recovers much of the same material, albeit from different angles?
  2. How have you been encouraged in your walk with Christ as you have observed other Christians’ love for one another?
  3. What does it mean that Jesus is God’s only begotten Son? What are some practical ways we can follow Christ’s example of love?
  4. How shall we think about someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, yet never manifests spiritual fruit nor displays God’s love?
  5. What are the practical effects of the gospel you have experienced in your life? If all will be judged one day (cf. 2 Cor. 5:9–11), why should believers not have fear?