1st John, Perfect Love, And Sanctification

by | Mar 2, 2020

I read in one of your blog posts that “1 John’s ‘perfect in love’ terminology does not reference entire sanctification.”


You also said, “All those who walk in obedience to Christ’s commands are perfect in love in the sense John intends.” Could you explain?



Dear Jason,

Let’s get clear on the word “perfect” first. In English, if something is perfect, it can’t get any better. Perfect is as good as it gets. In Greek, perfect generally means “complete” as opposed to partial or incomplete (cf. 1 Cor. 13:10). Something is “perfected” if it has been completed.

We see this in James’ discussion of faith and works. Faith without works is dead (James 2:26), but faith is “perfected” by works (James 2:22). In other words, faith is incomplete without works; with works faith is complete or “perfect.”

The exact phrase “perfect love” shows up only in 1 John 4:18. However, the language of love being “perfected” also occurs in 1 John 2:5; 4:12, 17, and 18. Whether the love being talked about is God’s love for us, our love for God, or a godly kind of love has been debated. At the end of the debate, however, the bottom line is the same. Let’s look at each of these texts.

1 John 2:3-5 answers the question, “How can we know that we know God?” John says that we know that we know God if we keep His commandments (2:3). If we say we know God, but don’t keep His word, we are liars (2:4). But “whoever keeps his word, in this one the love of God has been perfected” (2:5).

Keeping God’s word is obedience. Obedience completes love for God, for obedience is love’s fruit (John 14:15, 21). When we obey God, our love for God is completed or “perfected.”

1 John 4:12 says, “If we love one another, God abides in us and His love has been perfected in us.” God does not abide in a person who hates his brother (1 John 4:16). If a person does not love his brother, he isn’t saved (1 John 4:20). John’s point is that love for others is evidence we’re saved. When we love others, we show that God is in us and His love has born its fruit in us. The love of God is completed or “perfected” when we love one another.

1 John 4:16-17 reads, “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as That One [Jesus] is, so also are we in this world.” Love is completed or “perfected” by us abiding in love and God abiding in us. The result of such abiding is that we are like Jesus in this world. Being like Jesus gives us confidence to face the judgment.

1 John 4:18 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.” There is no fear of God’s judgment in love because love that bears the fruit of obedience to God’s word, and love for one another, and likeness to Jesus has nothing to fear. Such fearless love is perfect love, completed love, love that is not missing its fruit.

Affirmations of love are incomplete without the actions of love.

Love without obedience is like an outboard motor without a propeller.

It’s not going anywhere. Professions of love for God are equally incomplete without obedience; so completed love or “perfect love” is love that is not just words or emotions. It has been completed by obedience that loves others and lives like Jesus.

I am a staunch proponent of entire sanctification and a heart purified by faith. Yet, as best I can tell, these passages in 1 John address evidences of regeneration, not entire sanctification. Everyone who knows God has been perfected in love.

If your life doesn’t bear the fruit of obedience, love for others, and (increasing) likeness to Jesus, you have no basis for believing you are right with God.

Blessings, Phil