Does perfect love cast out all fear?
Do we have to fear God if we are saved? And whose love is scripture referring to? Let’s discover what the fear of God means and if it applies to Christians.
I have often heard it taught that as Christians we do not need to fear God; only the non-Christian does. They use the scripture that says “perfect love casts out fear” (1Jn 4:18) to claim that by calling ourselves Christians we all somehow escape the need to fear God regardless of how we live our lives. But can this be true?
Perfect love casts out fear (1John 4:18)
This scripture has often been misrepresented. John said that “perfect love casts out fear”. It does not mean that God’s perfect love for us casts out our fear. This is not according to the principles of truth. God always has perfect love, and His love is universal in the spiritual and natural world. Yet the world remains in fear – fear of death, fear of the future, fear of failure and even fear of success. If God’s perfect universal love casts out all fear in man then why is there still so much fear in the world?
The reason why we still have a fear of (for) God is because we do not have perfect love. But as we learn to abide in the Spirit of Christ so our love will grow. As a result, our fear of the things of this world, and the fear of God as Judge will decrease in the precise degree to our love for Him. This love in Christ, when perfected, removes all carnal fear. This is because we walk in faith in the only living God, knowing His goodness; entrusting ourselves to His capable keeping. We know that all things are in His hands. But this does not remove all types of the fear of God.
There are two categories of the fear of God. One applies to the unsaved, and the other to those who truly belong to Christ. But before I explain the difference we need to understand that there is no partiality with God.
No partiality with God
The Bible teaches that God is a righteous judge and will “render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom 2:6), and that there is no partiality with Him (Rom 2:11).
How do we look on a teacher who shows favouritism to some children and not others? Would that teacher not be regarded as being a respecter of his pupils? Would it be fair on the other children? What about a judge that condemns one for a crime but does not condemn another for a similar crime? Would that judge who demonstrates such partiality not be deemed unjust?
The increased offense to God by Christians’ sin
Would a faithful husband be as offended by a neighbour’s wife committing adultery as he would be if his own wife, who is the love of his life, did the same? ( This is why, on these grounds, he is permitted to legally and scripturally divorce his wife). Yet, the neighbour who commits adultery offends him far less (and cannot be divorced by him) as she has no part in him in the first place.
This is the same with God. Those who have supposedly surrendered their hearts to Christ and, repented of their sin to walk in loving obedience to Him all the rest of their days, then sin against Him, prove to be a much greater offense because they have broken their faithfulness. We, as Christians, will be judged more severely than non-Christians because knowing the truth and then denying Him aggravates our sin of faithlessness. We are to be holy in all our behavior for God is holy (1Pe 1:15-16), and to live out the rest of our days on earth in the fear of Him (1Pe 1:17).
Examples of God judging His people who didn’t fear Him:
- Saul was God’s first chosen king for Israel, yet he rebelled against God. He was judged accordingly, and died most likely unrepentant.
- Moses was judged by God for striking the rock instead of talking to it, and even though he repented, he was not allowed his dream of leading Israel into the promised land.
- Few know that Moses was judged by God, Who was going to kill him because he hadn’t circumcise his son at the time of leading the mission to free Israel. His wife saved him by circumcising the boy saying; “you are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me” (Exo 4:24-26). God expects us to be obedient to the light that we receive. Therefore, the more light we receive, the more freedom in Christ we can experience, but because of this, we will also come under stricter judgement.
- Ananias a Sapphira were judged by God and were slain by the Spirit at the feet of Peter because they did not fear Him. Instead, they sinned against the Holy Spirit Who was so evident among God’s people.
There are numerous examples of God judging His own people. Peter said that the judgement of God starts first with His people (1Pe 4:17). He shows no partiality, nor does He want to. God defends righteousness supremely. He extends grace so that we can repent of our sins and, in so doing, He can reconcile us to Himself. Nevertheless, He cannot permit anyone’s unrepentant sin to go uncondemned, no matter by what name we call ourselves.
Understanding the world’s fear of judgement
A convicted criminal, when condemned, fears his due judgement. In contrast, an upstanding citizen does not fear condemnation because he keeps the law, therefore there is nothing that condemns him. It is the penalty of the law that gives it its substance. If the penalty is removed, the law is then reduced to merely good advice. Even though the law-abiding citizen consents to the law, deems it good for society and for promoting his own security, he has the fear that he would incur the same condemnation as the criminal should he transgress the law. This fear then reinforces his will to walk according to the law.
When people of the world contemplate judgment, they think of God as being unjust and condemning of their self-centered way of life. They don’t fear the separation from God for eternity because they have no regard for Him anyway, but they fear the anguish that His eternal sentence will bring upon them.
The difference between the world’s fear and true Christians’ fear of God
True Christians know (or ought to know) that God is impartial and that He is a righteous judge. The credibility of His trustworthiness demands it. They know His love for them and are secure in His grace. They don’t fear His inevitable sentence brought on through sin because, through their obedience, they have passed from judgement of eternal death (caused by sin) to infinite security in the love of Christ. Their biggest dread is the thought of an eternity without Him (Who is their supreme love) and His goodness. In fact, they cannot bear to think of being apart from Him. And because of this, they walk in a way that is pleasing to Him, enjoying His presence through the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, the difference between the fears of sinner and saint is that the sinner fears the uncertainty of his future and death (which is his inevitable judgement), but the saint only fears offending God for His sake. Saints know that should they sin and not repent, they would fall under the same judgement as the sinner – God being an impartial Judge. But this is not what motivates them to be holy. They choose to live a life walking in the real presence and goodness of God, pleasing Him and, consequently, the fear of judgement is not part of them.
But we have not been given a spirit of fear!
Paul said we have not been given the spirit of fear but of power and love and of self-control (or sound mind) (2Ti 1:7). This truth is for all those who exercise the power of the Holy Spirit within, through loving obedience wrought by faith in the person of Christ. Consequently, they do not need to fear the judgement of God. They walk by the Spirit of God and as a result have love for Him, and self-control in doing that which is pleasing in His sight. But they still need to fear Him for who He is. Faith without fear is vain supposition. All true Christians, who walk by faith in Christ have a reverential fear for God.
Fear and reverence for God amount to the same thing for Christians.
When I was young I often found myself in trouble at school. Mostly on the Friday I would get caned because my excitement for the freedom of the up-coming weekend would spur me on to mischief. And many times on a Monday for enjoying the weekend too much and not doing my homework. (Those were the days of corporal punishment in schools). The fear I felt while waiting outside the headmaster’s office was a fear of the punishment soon to come.
But I also revered their authority when they recognized me for my achievements in class (which was occasional), and for doing well in sport. Here I did not fear their wrath, but I still feared / revered their position over me.
Fear and reverence in this capacity are synonymous – they amount to exactly the same thing. It is the fear invoked by authority.
Biblical examples of Godly men fearing God.
Paul speaking says: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2Co 5:11).
Peter says: ” Fear God” (1Pe 2:17) and, “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1Pe 1:17).
The angel in heaven said: “Fear God and give Him glory…” (Rev 14:7).
Fear is the very first step to salvation
The world is not conscious to the need of fearing God. They usually only become fearful with impending death. This fear is generally not of God, but of their unknown immediate future after death. But those who have been awakened to the reality and righteousness of God, their obligation to self-control, and His judgement to come, fear Him (Act 24:25).
The Word of truth produces conviction of sin, which invokes fear in the sinner. It is the very first step towards salvation and is followed by repentance and faith / trust. It then motivates us to walk in loving obedience to God.
Without fear there is no conviction of sin and, therefore, no reason to repent. This is why many do not want to hear the gospel of Christ. They prefer to keep their heads buried in the sand so that they can walk undeterred in their sin. The true gospel message offends them and, if they do attend church, they will polarize to those pastors who gather spurious Christians through preaching false doctrine that “tickles their ears” (2Tim 4:3).
Use the fear of God to produce great blessing
The fear of God does not always produce good fruit. Felix, the governor of Israel, became fearful whilst hearing the gospel preached by Paul, but he did not use it to repent of his sin and believe in Christ (Act 24:25). But those who permit fear to rise up in their hearts because of the Word preached in truth and, who press on to use it to repent of their sins, can be transformed from darkness into light (Act 26:18), and consequently obtain peace with God.
Fear for the Christian, is a great blessing which, coupled with love, keeps us in God’s will and favor. Even though it is our love for God that is our supreme purpose in life, it is the fear of Him that supports our faith. It gives us the very power to love and obey Him. May we forever embrace the fear of God to feed our faith and love. It will help us sustain a right spirit within, and enable us to maintain our eternal peace and security.
The work of God produces both fear and trembling
Some say that we just need to respect God. Even though respect is a derivative of fear / reverence, it is not the essence. I respect my children, but I don’t fear them.
Peter puts it:
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (Php 2:12)
One cannot tremble without fear!
Understanding “Fear” and “Reverence”
Fear of non-believers is the terror that not knowing God will bring because of condemnation; but reverence for God for those who truly know Him, is a refined fear, which includes adoration and awe.
Original Translations of fear and reverence
Fear – Gr. phobos – alarm, fright, dread, terror
Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2Co 7:1)
And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.”(Rev 19:5)
Reverenece – Gr. eulabeia -properly to caution; dread, fear
Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; (Heb 12:28)
for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb 12:29)
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (translated from Gr. phobos – fear) (1Pe 3:15)
The wise fear God, understanding Who He is, and that nothing will deter Him from righteous judgement of all moral beings. It is the foolish of heart that live their lives without fear of Him as they continue in their sin. Join the fellowship of the wise, and use the fear of God coupled with supreme love for Him, to govern all you do in this life, so that you may not shrink back at His coming when you will meet Him face to face. (1John 2:28)