Click here for the reading: 1 John 4:16-21.

If there remains uncertainty about why God would choose Abram, or Israel, or you and me, there can be no uncertainty about the result for those who are chosen and are thereby in Christ. They abide in God and God in them. They have received perfect love. They have received it by faith, and so they have come to know who God is. To others the kingdom is hidden, but to those who believe all has been made plain.

Most of all, God’s love delivers righteousness by faith so that the sinner need not fear punishment, even in the great and awesome Day of the Lord. In fact, the one who fears shows that he has not believed. If Abram were to go on in anxiety that Eliezer would be his heir after God had delivered a promise to the contrary, he would show his unbelief. The one who fears the day of judgment has not received the love of God. Neither has the one who refuses to love his brother. That man is a liar if he claims to love God, and he makes God into a liar, for God sends his Spirit into our hearts that we may be perfected in love.

The absolute language that is so characteristic of John leaves us without excuse. While that may lead to sermons preaching repentance, it also leaves room to clarify what is often confused among us about the Christian life. The Christian does not want to make excuses and finds no delight in them. The Christian does not want to hate his brother and does not rest at ease because of the simul. Instead he agrees with the love of God. He abides in it. He believes what God promises, obeys what he commands, and hungers and thirsts for righteousness. The commandments of Jesus are not burdensome for the Christian.

On the contrary, the Christian rejoices in the clarity with which he can now see the righteousness that he has received by faith. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). He sees his own righteousness in the flesh and blood of Jesus, who shows us what perfect love looks like, not fearing the cross, nor death, nor the grave, but laying down his life for those he would call brothers.

The priority of receiving love is the necessary presupposition for everything that follows. “We love because he first loved us.” Much can be made of the subtle ways this necessity gets distorted. What comes of attempts to love without first receiving the love of God? What deception leads one to believe that he has received love while he still does not love his brother? What false confidence arises from loving one’s brother but forgetting the source and origin of that love? The cure for any of these maladies is to receive again the gracious love of God, to again hear and believe.