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Paul J. Bucknell
Purpose: From an examination of 1 John 4:18-19 show how a person needs to grow from a fear-based obedience to love-motivated obedience to reach the fullness of Christ.
Christians are to ‘grow up’ in their faith, but this unfortunately doesn’t happen regularly enough. Just as parents want their children to grow up into being responsible adults, our Heavenly Father desires that we grow up into the fullness of Christ. Just think how many believers are constantly troubled by anxieties, worldliness, lusts, relational problems or anger. A lot of Christians have obviously not spiritually grown up.
The Apostle John in 1 John 4:18 alludes to one reason Christian believers do not develop to their fullest potential in Christ. The process of physical development will serve as an analogy to help us better understand this aspect of Christian growth. The comparison between our spiritual and physical lives provides much insight (1 John 2:12-14).
What happens when children do not grow up properly? Problems. The same is true in our Christian lives. A believer’s early training always affects his or her spiritual growth. John refers to a two-staged training, fear proceeding to love. The two aspects, fear and love, both have the same goal of producing obedience but function at different levels due to different motivation and purpose.
Fear accomplishes an important role for all of us due to our sinfulness. An increasing number of people, however, influenced by modern secularism, think that parents and religious educators should remove any hints of fear in training because it hinders us from gaining emotionally healthy loving children. They are wrong. The fear is necessary in early parenting and serves as a good foundation for Christian lives. The reason for fear is that it counters our tendency to do foolish things that bring harm to us while young and naive both in our physical and spiritual lives.
Yes, parents can abuse their children. They can spank their children in a rage and go off huffing while blaming their children. There are different ways to implement fear. This kind of fear, stimulated by anger, can destroy important relationships especially if removed from a genuine apology. It is important to properly train children, giving them rules and consequences so that a good fear develops, enabling them to refrain from disobedience because of the bad consequences that will come. (Check out our Principles and Practices of Biblical Parenting book.)
The problem is not the fear nor the required obedience (parent/God tells child what to do) but not being able to transition to a full and rich loving relationship where fear takes a backseat in the child’s motivation, allowing true love to blossom in rich trust relationships.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).
John shows us in 1 John 4:18 that though it is good for believers to obey, believers should transition into a more mature understanding of God. The Lord wants His children to be deeply impacted by His love for us so that we obey Him. As children of God, we will never grow out of our need for obedience!
In other words, we can be motivated by fear because we want to avoid facing certain consequences, but it is much better to be motivated by love. The fear represents an imperfect state while the love represents a full and rich state of Christian life.
“There is no fear in love.” When our understanding of God’s love grows, then we are motivated by love rather than fear. The Christian wants to please the God who so deeply loves him or her. The end result can be summarized by 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.” The ‘because’ depicts the new source of motivation–His love for us.
Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted:
(C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988