By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also 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 whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:13–21)
John is here waxing lyrical, and we can see intertwined many of the themes of this letter: the love of God who abides in us; the Father sending the Son to save us; the love we should have for our brothers and sisters in Christ; the fact that we love God because he first loved us. Yet tucked away in the middle there are a couple of sentences which should grab our attention: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love”.
There are many ways of describing the work of Christ on the cross, each one giving us a different perspective. One such description is that of substitution, that someone gives up their life for another. We can see this idea foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament itself, where the pattern of animal sacrifice is instituted. The idea was that an animal’s life was sacrificed at the Temple as substitute. The animal - often a lamb - bore the punishment due for the sin of the one who offered the sacrifice. This is the imagery behind the famous saying of John the Baptist who, pointing to Jesus, exclaimed: “behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.
Since a crime can only be punished once, those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their substitute need fear no further punishment from God. This “perfect love casts out fear”. As the old hymn puts it:
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinner’s gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour! Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on me with they favour, vouchsafe to me thy grace.
What a tremendous liberation it is to know that there is now nothing which can separate us from God’s love! “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). Here is the joy of Christianity: knowing that when Jesus, on the cross, breathed out the words “It is finished”, it truly was. That is why we “may have confidence for the day of judgment”. Because “it is finished”. No more punishment is due.