by Jerusha Agen
Spencer’s face crumpled as tears came to his eyes and he ran from the room.
I sat in the tiny space used for our fifth grade class at church, too stunned to say anything to my best friend, the only other kid in the class of three. Guilt, horror, and fear pumped through my body.
My friend had made an unkind remark about Spencer, a boy we thought not quite as “cool” as ourselves, when we thought we were alone.
What we didn’t realize was that our classmate had returned just then, poised outside the doorway in time to hear my friend’s joke at his expense. As Spencer fled, shouting that he was going to tell our teacher, I sat in perfect outward calm, panicking on the inside.
I was what people often term a “good girl.” Well-trained by my parents and a Christian at an early age, I sinned every day, but usually in the so-called small ways that many people don’t even recognize as registering on the sin scale.
Getting in trouble for ridiculing a kid and making him cry was definitely out of my league.
My heart pounded as I waited for Spencer to return with our teacher. Would the teacher be angry? Far worse, would he tell my parents and I would have to face their judgment?
Then the self-justification started. I hadn’t actually done anything wrong. My friend had made the unkind remark. I’d just sat there. I was innocent.
So skilled was I at justifying myself in my own mind that, by the time Spencer returned with the teacher in tow, I’d cleared myself of any wrongdoing and became angry when the teacher aimed his lecture at me along with my guilty friend.
But fear still churned in my belly when the teacher threatened to tell my parents. Why? Because, deep down, I knew I deserved their judgment. I didn’t have enough fear of their judgment to avoid wrongdoing, but once I committed the wrong and was caught, then fear immediately took hold.
Does this remind you of our relationship with God? I don’t often have enough fear of His judgment to avoid sinning, but once I’ve sinned and been “caught” by the Holy Spirit convicting me, I start to get scared. The Israelites in the Old Testament notoriously did the same thing, frequently disobeying God without fear until they received their just punishment.
But there’s a crucial difference between us and the Israelites.
We live under the new covenant, the one sealed with the blood of Jesus when He died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Because of His sinless life and sacrificial death for His chosen children, those who are true believers in Jesus need not fear God’s judgment now or in the future.
But Scripture tells us that not everyone who claims to “believe” in Jesus will escape God’s judgment. Plenty of people have an incomplete and ill-founded belief in Jesus and unknowingly are among those who will someday be turned away from entering the Kingdom of Heaven, when the Lord tells them, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).
So how can we know if we have reason to fear judgment now and eternally? The answer, the Apostle John tells us, is found in love. God’s love.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18 (NET)
Perfect love. When I started looking at this well-known verse more closely, I was surprised at what I learned. Often taken out of context, this verse isn’t talking about just any kind of feel-good emotion. John here is referring to agape love—the kind of love that is an unconditional, self-sacrificial love of choice, not a fickle love based on transient emotion.
In a sermon series on “Manifesting Perfect Love,” (https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/62-35/manifesting-perfect-love-part-2) Dr. John MacArthur states that the word for “perfect” used in this verse comes from a Greek word that means complete, essentially, taken to the max. So this “perfect love” is a self-sacrificing love of choice that nothing can possibly be added to.
Can you imagine a love that is taken to the fullest possibility of love? You don’t have to just imagine it if you’re in Christ, because then you abide in His love, which is perfect.
And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him. By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world. 1 John 4:16-17 (NET)
As the Apostle John makes clear here and throughout his epistle, one of the surest tests for true Christianity is whether or not you abide in love. This is obviously a deep and lengthy topic, but to put it succinctly, she who abides in God and in whom God abides will demonstrate the perfect love of God through obedience to Him and love for others.
Of course, this side of heaven, we will not be fully perfected because of our sinful flesh and the fallen world we live in. But true Christians will have a desire for continually striving to manifest this kind of love.
So what does this look like? If you abide in His perfect love, you love Christ, with the life-changing love that makes you desire to obey His commands. If you abide in His perfect love, you’ll try, even if you sometimes fail, to love your fellow Christians. And the love of Christ in you will overflow even to your enemies.
When we manifest God’s perfect love, we show a watching world the unseen God. We show them a love that we would never be capable of if we hadn’t been transformed by God, His love, abiding in us.
And if we have this love, we are given with it one of the greatest gifts of all—a life without fear. For the only fear that is justified is that of God’s judgment for our sin. But we who are in Christ have “love perfected in us,” so that God no longer sees our sins when He looks at us, now or at the final judgment.
Instead, He sees Christ, His righteousness and perfection laid on us through His sacrificial death on the cross. Just as Christ can face God without fear of judgment, we can also stand boldly before God on that day with complete confidence that our sins have been forgiven, and we stand undeservedly righteous before Him.
Isn’t that amazing? And it’s all because of His love.
What are some ways you see “perfect love” manifested in your life as a Christian? By commenting, you’ll be entered for a chance to win your choice of an electronic or print copy of the complete Heart Seekers series!
Three romantic novellas in one! A Dozen Apologies: Former fashion designer Mara Adkins stumbles and bumbles her way toward reconciliation with the twelve men she once humiliated and one special bachelor she still loves. The Love Boat Bachelor: What’s a sworn bachelor pastor to do on a Caribbean cruise full of romance and love? Brent will either have to jump ship or embrace the unforgettable romantic comedy headed his way. Unlikely Merger: If her best friend has her way, Mercy will simply marry one of the available men she meets, but they overwhelm her. So handsome and kind. And so many. Even if she felt obliged, how could she ever choose? Plus bonus, The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt.
Comment for your chance at a free copy, or purchase a copy here.
The winner of the free copy will be randomly chosen on 2/22/17. I’ll reach out to the winner if I have your contact information, and the name will be announced in the 2/23/17 post. A physical copy may be sent to only US addresses.
Jerusha Agen imagines danger around every corner, but knows God is there, too. So naturally, she writes romantic suspense infused with the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. With a B.A. in English and a background in screenwriting, Jerusha is the author of The Sisters Redeemed Series and co-author of The Heart Seekers Series novella collection. Jerusha writes about fighting against fear in our everyday lives at The Fear Warrior Blog. Visit Jerusha at www.JerushaAgen.com and connect with her on Facebook (@JerushaAgenAuthor) Twitter (@SDGwords), and Pinterest (@JerushaAgen).
PS – This post is part of the Indivisible series. To get more info about the series, guest writers, giveaways, and the free short story, check out the first post here. New posts will be going up each Tuesday and Thursday through February. As they’re added, you’ll be able to read them all here.