According to 1 John 4:13-18, the subjective experience of the Holy Spirit, the objective truth about the Savior, and our effective action in the world are three grounds for assurance of salvation.
In a previous Daily Word, I discussed subjective experience and objective truth. Today, I want to take a close look at 1 John 4:16b-18 and discuss effective action in the world.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
The first statement John makes in this passage is also the most important one: “God is love.” From what I wrote previously, you might have formed the impression that subjective experience, objective truth, and effective action are equally fundamental. They aren’t. In reality, the objective truth about God is the foundation of the foundations, the ground of the grounds. The only reason we have a subjective experience of the Holy Spirit or take effective action in the world is because of the objective truth that God is love and expresses love to us through his Son Jesus Christ.
In other words, the logical order of the grounds for assurance is truth, experience, and action. God expresses his love for us through Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9). When we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). And love—the characteristic form of effective Christian action—is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Loving action, in other words, is the logical result of God’s initiative-taking love for sinners. It cannot be separated from faith in Jesus Christ or the experience of the Holy Spirit.
So, when John writes, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him,” he is not referring to a Christ-less, Spirit-less love. Love, in and of itself, is not a ground for assurance of salvation. It is only a ground for assurance if belief in the objective truth about the Savior and the subjective experience of the Spirit are also present. As Christians, we do not believe that nonbelievers have grounds for assurance of salvation, no matter how good or loving they may be. We do not believe that a person can be saved by works, after all (Romans 3:20). Instead, we urge everyone to believe in Jesus Christ and receive the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38).
When we love in a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled way, “[God’s] love is made complete among us.” Such love assures us that on the Day of Judgment we will have nothing to fear, for “fear has to do with punishment.” But if God’s love for us results in God’s love through us to others, we can have assurance that we will be welcomed into eternal life in his presence.