QUESTION: Does 1 John 4:18 mean that anyone who fears judgment isn’t saved?
ANSWER: Here’s what the verse says, “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.” Let me answer this in stages.
First, the context must be considered, specifically the previous verse (1 Jn 4:17). From the phrase “confidence in the day of judgment” we discern that it is indeed the fear of final judgment that is being addressed and it is the love of God shown at Calvary and shed abroad in the believer’s heart that casts out fear. Romans 8:31-39 confirms the believer is secure in the love of God in Christ.
Second, the word “perfected” comes from teleos, meaning, end or goal. Thus, the believer who is governed by fear is not yet fully perfected, made complete experientially. Yes, he is complete in Christ positionally, but not completely sanctified in this present life. Therefore, as he may at times continue to wrestle with fear he must cast it out by abiding in love—refocusing on, and resting in, the love of God that has been demonstrated in the gospel.
So, the simple answer to the question is, “No, it does not necessarily mean the person who fears judgment is unsaved.” It may simply be evidence of the need for that genuine believer’s faith to mature. Should a believer fear final judgment? No, all punishment has been endured by Christ. But the fact remains we live in fallen bodies and a fallen world. We continue to battle fear, both induced by our flesh and the attacks of the “accuser of the brethren” (Rev. 12:10). The solution is to combat this fear by reminding ourselves of the love of God for us in Christ Jesus.
With that said, however…
However, with that said, might a crippling fear of God be an indicator that a person does not have the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5)? Yes!
Could God use fear of final judgment to lead a self-deceived professing Christian to reconsider his or her relationship with Christ in order to bring him or her to true conversion (Matt 7:22-23)? For sure!
Hence the need for us to continually revisit the hill called Calvary and rest fully in what Jesus accomplished for us there.