Living and Growing in God's Love (1 John 4:17)
Christianity isn';t just a system of beliefs or something we carry with us like an identification card. It';s a life of faith in God, a life that changes as we grow stronger and more mature in our faith. And it';s a life of love that brings us to maturity in all areas of our lives, including how we love God and others.
The apostle John points out that the love that is within us — and that radiates out of us — will grow toward perfection as we grow more perfect in our relationship with God: “And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world” (1 John 4:17).
The point John makes here is that there will be a day when each of us will appear before God, a day when we will give an accounting of what we did and didn';t do. And this verse tells us that when we grow in our love, when our loves becomes “perfect” — meaning more like the love of Jesus — then we';ll have every reason to face God Himself with confidence because we know and love His Son — our Savior — Jesus Christ, and because we allowed him to love others through us.
The apostle Paul wrote of the centrality of love to the Christian life: “Three things will last forever — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love, then, is the beginning and the end and everything in between when it comes to our relationships with God. That';s because we get to love God and love others because God loved us first.
When Jesus was asked which commandments were most important, he replied that the two most important were to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as we do ourselves (see Matthew 22:35–39). Jesus finished his point by saying, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). That means that there is nothing we can do in the Christian life — no kind word, no act of charity, no religious performance — that can please God if it isn';t done with a pure heart of love, both for Him and for others.
When we love God, our obedience to Him comes not out of a dread of God or out of fear that He will punish us — although we are told in the Bible that it is a good thing to fear God — but out of a heart of love for Him and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we do those things willingly and joyfully, it is a sign that we are maturing spiritually, that we are becoming, in John';s words, “more perfect” in our love.
We aren';t to love God because we';re afraid not to, and we aren';t to love the people He has put in our lives because we know there is eternal reward in doing so. While outside the love of God is certainly a scary place to be, and while there is reward in performing those acts of love for our brothers and sisters, we are to love from our hearts without worrying about the costs of not loving and without concern for the rewards of loving.
The Christian life is a life of faith in and obedience to God, but more than anything it is a life of love. And when we respond to God';s love by loving Him in return, we will find that our lives become fountains of love to God Himself and to the people He puts around us.
What does it mean to you to be “more perfect” in God';s love?
What steps are you taking now to grow “more perfect” in God';s love? What other steps can you take?