Fear is a very real issue in the lives of many people today. Among the causes are abuse, financial insecurity and terminal illness.
Does the Bible speak to this issue? Most certainly. It offers comfort to the concerned, hope to the downtrodden and peace to the anxious but, above all, it offers love that can dispel the greatest fear – the fear of facing our Maker.
Our verse comes in a section where John is reminding us of ‘the love that God has for us’ (v 16). The evidence is in the fact that He ‘sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world’ (v 14, ESV); that is, to provide a righteous way for God to rescue and forgive sinners. Because ‘God is love’, John equates living in the sphere of true love with having a living relationship with God (v 16). He writes elsewhere in his letter about the means by which that relationship comes about. Our part is trusting our lives to God’s Son, who died and rose again – ‘believ[ing] in the Son of God’ (1 John 5:10), and God’s part is giving us new life – we are ‘born of God’ (1 John 3:9).
In our section John goes on to say that, if we are in the full enjoyment of this love, we will be able to anticipate being in the presence of God, who is the Judge of all, without fear (v 17).
How? John says that fear of facing God and full enjoyment of His love cannot co-exist, because love removes fear. Then he gives the reasoning behind this: ‘fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love’ (ESV). For those with this living relationship with God, there is no need to fear God’s wrath because the Son of God exhausted it, as our Substitute. What is needed is to live in the conscious enjoyment of God’s love.