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© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

In the previous study we looked at what John says in 4:7 – 21 about the significance of the command ‘love one another’ and how God demonstrated his love. John’s commands and his clear expectations that Christians will ‘love one another’, are written in the context of other truths about God’s love. The ‘love one another’ arises from the grand and reassuring reality of God’s love.

John says a lot about the command to love one another. In doing so he has told us:

[1] ‘God is love’ (4:8, 16);

[2] ‘love comes from God’ (4:7);

[3] God has demonstrated his love in sending his Son to save us (4:9, 10, 14).

All of this makes it clear that God’s love came first. He loved us before we loved him. His love was not motivated by any love in us, or any loveliness in us, or any lovability in us. He who is love, in love reached out to us. Nor is it that God took one little step towards us, one little reaching out of his hand towards us, then waited for us to take a small reciprocal step towards him. What God did, before any response on our part, was total: he came all the way to us. All the way: all the way in incarnation – all the way into our flesh; all the way in substitution – all the way to die our death. All of this, without us doing anything to cause his love and without us doing anything in response. All of this while we were still rejecting him.

What does John say?
Verse 10

Verse 19

What do other biblical writers say about God’s proactive love?
Deuteronomy 7:7, 8a

Ezekiel 16:1 - 6

Romans 5:6, 8, 10

Our default position was enmity towards God, not love for God. While we were still in this position of enmity and alienation God loved us and sent his Son to be our Saviour. We did not make the first move. God did.

Because God’s love came first, when we were still sinners alienated from him, two important truths follow:

[1] That his love is a deliberate action of his will, not caused by anything in us. We did nothing to attract or deserve his love. It is his unconditional choice, a choice made before we even existed (Ephesians 1:4, 5).

[2] That because he chose to love us, without our doing anything to qualify ourselves for his love, his love for us is secure. Just as nothing in us caused his love, so nothing in us can bring his love to an end.

Because God’s love came first, it is absolutely certain. It is available to all unconditionally, but not everyone actually receives it.



In 4:7 – 21 John refers to several things that are true of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ:

They are ‘born of God’ – verse 7.
They know God – verse 7.
God lives in them – verse 12, 13, 15, 16.
They live in God – verse 13, 15, 16.
They know and rely on God’s love for them – verse 16.

These truths are dependent on two conditions:

[1] that we acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God – verse 15. This recognition/confession of Jesus Christ as Lord is the one thing needed on our part; we could call it the instrumental cause of our salvation. In terms of theological necessity, it precedes the above truths. But in terms of ordinary time, the above truths become effective even as we express our acknowledgement of Christ. As Paul stated ‘by grace you have been saved, through faith’ (Ephesians 2:8), and ‘if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Romans 10:9). And as Jesus said ‘Unless you believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins’ (John 8:24).

This acknowledgement is a once-for-all time acknowledgement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Aorist Tense in 4:15), which goes hand in hand with a present, on-going belief in Jesus Christ (Present Tense in 5:1). True acknowledgement of Jesus Christ persists; a ‘faith’ that lasts only for a short while is not biblical faith. True faith knows who Jesus is; it will never give him up for another.

[2] that we love one another – multiple verses. This condition is evidential. It can only occur after the above truths have been applied. It is the continuing evidence, produced by God, in those whose confession of faith is genuine – those who have really received him by receiving his Son. As we have seen previously, the commands and expectations that we love one another are in the present tense.



John has written previously about the truth that God lives in believers and believers live in him – 2:28 – 33; 3:24, and we have looked at this when we studied those verses. [Note, this is the ‘remain in me, and I will remain in you’ that Jesus spoke of in John 15. (The same Greek word – meno – is used.) It is not an upper level mystical state achieved by some Christians; it is the permanent state of all true believers. Our difficulties with this concept arise because, in our ignorance of it, we do not live in the reality of it.]

What does John say about this mutual indwelling in these verses?




In these verses John teaches us that:

This mutual indwelling occurs in all who acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God.

This mutual indwelling is verified by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Loving one another is the evidence that God lives in us, and we in him.

Living in love is the evidence that God lives in us and we in him.



Most of John’s commands and expectations about love have been about loving one another. But there is a change of focus in 4:13 – 18 which is easy to miss because we have been so overwhelmed by the repeated ‘love one another’. Perhaps John realized that his stress on loving one another could be unsettling. Here in these verses, as he has done previously after teaching about the critical evidence of true faith, he gives us great assurance to allay our uneasiness.

D.1 ‘We know ...’ – verse 13 – 15
John refers to three related certainties:

[1] ‘We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit’ – verse 13. This parallels Paul’s teaching that the Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:15, 16; Galatians 4:6). And that the Spirit is a deposit, guaranteeing our final redemption (2Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13, 14).

[2] ‘We have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world’ – verse 14. We are saved by the Son, not by anything we do, not even by our loving one another. If we forget this, if we think that it is our loving one another that saves us, or keeps us saved, then we have lost touch with the Gospel. We have merely substituted one form of bondage for another. So John reminds us: the Father sent the Son to save us, and that is the most important thing about love (as he has said in verse 10).

[3] ‘’If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God’ – verse 15.

In these three certainties, John has reminded us of:

The three persons of the Trinity involved in our salvation – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Three central truths of the Christian faith: the identity of Jesus Christ, the saving work of Jesus Christ, and the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

D.2 ‘And so we know and rely on the love God has for us’ – verse 16.
Although John has been saying over and over that if we don’t love one another our claim to know Jesus Christ is false, he does not mean that we are saved by loving one another. We do not rely on our own love for others either to gain our salvation or to maintain our salvation.

On the basis of the truths mentioned in D.1 above, John says ‘and so we know and rely on the love God has for us’. It is God’s love that is important. It is his love that we know by knowing the Son and by knowing that God loved us so much that he sent his Son to redeem us. It is his love that saves us. It is his love that we rely on. Not ours.

No matter how much love we have for our fellow-believers, it is not that love we rely on. We have utter confidence in the presence of God, not because we love others, but because we know and rely on his love.

D.3 ‘Whoever lives in love ...’ – verse 16.
These words, at first glance, sound like another command to love one another. But, in its context in verses 13 – 18, it is not referring to our loving others, but rather to we ourselves living in the reality of God’s love. John’s question to us here is not ‘Are you loving your fellow-Christian?’ but ‘Are you living each moment in the wonder and the joy and the peace and the assurance of God’s love for you?’

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who loved you and gave himself up for you: you know that, and you rely on that.

God, in his love, sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for your sins: you know that, and you rely on that.

God, in his love, lives in you by his Spirit. You know that, and you rely on that.

To live in the reality of God’s love, is to live every moment with unshakeable confidence in the very presence of God, utterly at peace in the presence of God.

D.4 ‘In this way, love is made complete ...’ – verse 17.
Previously, in verse 12, John used this same phrase ‘love is made complete’. He uses the same word again near the end of verse 18. The verb, teleioo, means to bring to culmination, to accomplish a purpose.

In 4:12, John referred to one aspect of God’s purpose in saving us: that our lives would be characterised by love for each other. That when we love others, as he loved us, then truly his image is being restored in us, his love is being demonstrated by us, people are seeing his love in us. In this his love has accomplished its purpose, its culmination, in respect to (1) transforming our hearts, and (2) transforming our attitudes to others. [In 2:5 John similarly says ‘God’s love is truly made complete’ in those who obey God’s word.]

In 4:17 & 18, John refers to another aspect of God’s purpose in saving us: that we ourselves are restored to a present and permanent, uninhibited, guilt-free relationship with himself – reconciled to him, at peace in his presence, forever. In this his love has accomplished its purpose, it has achieved its goal, in respect to our relationship with God himself.

Yes. God’s love is ‘made complete’, it achieves his purpose for us in our interpersonal relationships, when we love one another. That is what John has been stressing throughout this letter.

But, there is this other level, the level of our relationship with God himself that is secured by his Son – by his atoning sacrifice, by his advocacy with the Father. God’s love, that costly, incredible love, has accomplished its purpose, its culmination, when we live moment by moment in the deep and powerful reality of that love.

D.5 ‘so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement’ – verse 17.
This restoration of our relationship with God is the multi-faceted salvation that God accomplished when, out of his amazing love for us, he sent his Son. This restored relationship with God is the ultimate goal that he, in an action of incredible love, sent his Son to accomplish.

What do these verses say is accomplished by the love of God through Jesus Christ?
John 3:15

John 20:31

Romans 3:21, 22

Romans 3:24

Ephesians 1:7

Colossians 1:12

Colossians 1:13

Colossians 1:20

Colossians 1:22

All of that, and more, is what the love of God accomplished in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. It is a massive salvation, so complete, so comprehensive, so extensive, that we will never comprehend its size or its power. We will continually be discovering more of its depth and length and height and breadth. But there it is, and it is ours. Freely given to us in Christ Jesus. If we have received Jesus Christ – if we have acknowledged him as God – then, whether we realize it or not, we have also received, in him, this complete salvation that God, in his infinite wisdom and understanding, has freely lavished upon us (see Ephesians 1:6 – 8).

What did Paul pray about this love in Ephesians 3:16 – 19?



D.6 ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear’ – 4:18
John in 4:16 – 18 encourages us to live in the reality of this incredible love. To live as though it is all true, because it actually is true. He is reminding us of what God did through his Son. He is telling us ‘we know and rely on the love God has for us’. If we really know and are really relying on that love, ‘we will have confidence on the day of judgement’. We will not fear the day of judgement – even if that day was today. We will not fear that God might reject or condemn us. Not because we think we have not sinned. Not because we think we have loved others enough. But because his love, if it has accomplished his saving purpose in us, casts out the fear of judgement. God’s love assures us that there is no judgement left for us to bear. There is no guilt left for us to carry. There are no sins that have not already been forgiven. There are no sins left for which we must be punished. Christ has borne it all.

John’s question to us is: Are you living (present tense - every moment) in that love? Are you living every moment in the joy, the peace, the freedom from condemnation that God planned for you when he sent Jesus to die for you? Are you resting in him and his love? Or are you still living with fear and guilt in the presence of God, as if Jesus had not died for you? As if his atoning sacrifice did not atone? As if his advocacy is powerless and ineffective?

How do these verses express the confidence and freedom from fear in the presence of God that results from knowing and relying on the love of God that planned and accomplished our salvation?
Matthew 11:28

Luke 2:10, 14

John 14:27

Romans 5:1

Romans 8:1

Ephesians 2:18

2Timothy 1:12

Hebrews 4:16

Hebrews 10:19 – 22

John has assured us early in this letter: ‘we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (2:1, 2). Now John tells us: because God in his love for us, thus sent Jesus to be our Saviour, we, living in and with the reality of this love, knowing and relying on this love, stand in the presence of God, the righteous Judge, with confidence and without fear. This is the culmination, the consummation, the accomplishment of his purpose, the intended outcome of his love. This is what God’s love had in mind for us when he sent his Son into the world.

D.7 The one who fears is not made perfect in love – 4:18
The fear John is talking about is fear of the judgement day, fear of punishment. Sadly, there are many Christians, who have genuine belief in Jesus Christ, and are therefore saved, but who live without the confidence and absence of fear of punishment that John speaks about in verse 17 & 18. This fear of God’s judgement is most likely the result of an inadequate understanding of what God accomplished in and through the death of his Son. This inadequate understanding of Christ’s death could be the result of several factors, including inadequate teaching and legalistic perceptions and expectations within the Christian community. Whatever the cause, their fear of punishment/judgement means that, although they belong to Christ, although they are indwelt by the Spirit, although they are infinitely loved and accepted by God, they do not live with the joy, peace and freedom that is God’s goal for them. His love has not yet been perfected in them. From God’s perspective, as he sees them in Christ, he knows that there is no punishment left for them; his Son has borne it all. But from their perspective, because they do not understand how completely they are saved, they still fear the judgement.

This is perhaps one of the saddest things – that a person can be truly born again, fully saved by the death of God’s Son, loved by God, lived in by God, yet still fearful of rejection and condemnation by God. Loving the Lord Jesus, serving the Lord Jesus, but never really knowing how greatly they are loved.

E. LOVING GOD – 4:19 – 21

John has said very little about us loving God. His emphasis has been on us loving others.

In his first letter we find reference to:

Loving (with no object mentioned) – 3 times.
Loving or not loving others – 13 times.
God loving us – 3 times.
Us loving God – 7 times.
Loving or not loving the world – 2 times.

John understands love in a very logical and practical way:

Love comes from God:

Because God is love.
And because God has loved us.

Therefore we love God.

We are born of God, who is love:

He, who is love, and who loves us, lives in us.
We live in him, who is love and who loves us.

Therefore we love (others).

These are not optional outcomes; they are, in a sense, automatic outcomes – the inevitable sequence of events flowing naturally from the spiritual truths on which they are grounded. Our love for others is the fruit of our love for God which is the fruit of his love for us.

John points this out in these final verses of chapter 4.