You may have heard the phrase ‘perfect love casts out fear’ in church, from your fellow Christians, or during your Bible study.
It’s from an important sermon given by the apostle John.
But what does it really mean to have ‘perfect love’? How do we get it, and how can learning more about the phrase empower your life and relationship with God?
Understanding what the apostle John meant in his teachings about perfect love can help ease the concerns we all have about Judgment Day, releasing us from fear so we can approach the day with faith and confidence.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the scripture and strengthen our understanding of God’s perfect love.
‘Perfect love casts out fear’ is an excerpt from a longer sermon from the apostle John on the subject of the fear and anxieties we may have surrounding the Day of Judgment.
The full passage, from 1 John 4:17–19, reads:
“In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.”
What is the central teaching from John’s sermon?
The passage warns us against the folly of fearing the Day of Judgment, highlighting the true weight of God’s love for us and the love we should reflect back to Him.
God granted us an indomitable spiritual power and self-control. But we can see from many examples in the Bible that our best intentions can be misled by bad actors and Satan’s influence.
For example, in Genesis, a serpent persuades Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.
But, John tells us that we can defeat these wayward thoughts and feelings by having and maintaining a perfect love for the Lord Jesus Christ — the same perfect love that he bestows unto us. For, “as he is, so are we in this world.”
But what exactly is ‘perfect love’?
Earlier in John 4:16, John proclaims that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Perfect love is an expression of God’s love for us, and it is only complete (or perfect) when we reflect it back onto Him.
We can know no greater love than the love God has for us. By receiving that love, He offers us the power to give it — to become the perfect expression of it and bask in the gratitude of His love.
But what does this power from the Holy Spirit mean to us as Christians when thinking about this life and its end?
As Christians, we understand that the gift of life comes with the acknowledgment that it will end and that when it does, we will all meet our judgment.
This is known as Judgment Day, the Day of Reckoning, or the Last Judgment.
It is referenced frequently in the scriptures. For example, the Bible verse Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
This sentiment is also echoed in Matthew 25, which says, “The Righteous will go to their eternal reward in heaven and the Accursed will depart to Hell.”
We know from Mark 9:47–48 that there is no greater punishment than an eternity in Hell:
“And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
This violent imagery can understandably cause distress for some Christians.
This distress is exactly the feeling that John tells us we can avoid by embracing God’s perfect love with all our hearts and reflecting it in our actions and words.
With this acceptance of the love of God, we are given the opportunity to relinquish ourselves from the spirit of fear for the Day of Reckoning that we will all come to face.
‘There is no fear in love,’ we are reminded.
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Remember these words when you encounter temptation and when you are confronted with sin. God’s love is powerful enough to dissuade us from the influence of evil and preserve our spiritual purity until the Day of Judgment.
“He who fears is not perfected in love.”
Those who are constantly fraught with the fear of God’s judgment are, by John’s teachings, preoccupied with the fear of punishment, and therefore not accepting of His perfect love.
Open yourself up to God’s perfect love and carry it with you. Spread it throughout your family and your community.
Only then will you be free from fear of judgment and able to face the Day of Reckoning with the brazen confidence that John describes.
The warm embrace of God’s love doesn’t have to be seldom experienced in one’s life.
By constantly reading the scriptures and extracting their meaning, we can enhance our relationship with God and understand what it means to be truly confident in our faith and our destination as Christians.
You need not have fear or anxiety about your own judgment in the eyes of God. Simply reflect the love He has for us back out into the world, and your fear will be cast out.