"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us." (1 John 4:18-19)Love is more than a feeling. It is a process that works in our lives to bring us into conformance to the image and nature of Christ. It is a process that does not start with us, nor originates within us, but a process whose genesis is God and which advances in our lives from above. It is a process for which our dependence, and thanks, belongs to God.
John writes of us being perfected in Love. Perfection, in the Greek, has the idea of hitting the mark, maturing to full stature, and being complete in every aspect of our lives, including relationally, vocationally, intellectually, and morally. To be perfect is to be full-grown and to reach the zenith of our existence. The process of God's love is a process to complete us from within that we might be full-grown men and women of God. The degree to which God's love has its way within us is the degree to which we have matured and grown in God.
One of the hallmark characteristics of love is found in its opposition to fear. Not only is love absent of all fear but it actively and decidedly seeks to dispel it from its presence. There is no fear in love nor can it tolerate fear in its presence. Either love or fear must go and love is greater than fear. The degree to which fear still remains in our lives is the degree to which love has yet to concur our loves and to be made perfect and complete within us.
Specifically, the kind of fear that John is talking about is the fear of punishment. The Greek word for this punishment is used only one other time in the New Testament in referring to our eternal punishment and torment in Hell. "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:46) This punishment is a judicial punishment from having been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
There are things we fear because they are fearful, such a standing before a wild beast or an army in battle array. There are things that we fear because we understand their risk, like standing on a cliff or crossing in the middle of a busy street. However, there are other things we fear because of their ability to judge and diminish us in the sight of ourselves and others. We fear public speaking because we are afraid of what people might think of us. We fear sharing our thoughts and ideas with other people because we are afraid that others might laugh at us. We fear making mistakes because we are afraid that people will judge us. All these fears are fears of judgment; fears of how people will judge us and condemn us for our failings and shortcomings. Chief of all these fears is the fear of being judged and condemned by God; the fear of being found guilty and a sinner and less than what God demands or desires us to be. We all fear judgment.
However, when we were at our worst, the love of God came to cast out our fear and to begin a process of conforming us on the inside to His image and nature. God did not wait for us to become perfect before He loved us, He loved us that we might become perfect in love. In Christ, God put away His judgment upon us leaving only His love to rule and reign in our lives. Where their was once judgment, Jesus took that judgment upon Himself, returning love for judgment in our lives. We no longer need to fear God nor His judgment as long as we have His love in our lives. Let us learn to live in His love rather than cower in fear; in fear of a judgment what He has already satisfied.