So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.
– 1 John 4:16-19)
God wants you to know that he is a loving Father and that we should view Him in that light. St. John teaches us that fear, in the sense he uses the word, has to do with punishment and that we do not need to be afraid if we abide in God’s love.
It may be very true that at some time in our lives we sought to obey God more out of fear of punishment than from our love of God. The version of the Act of Contrition many of us learned acknowledges this truth:
O my God I am most heartily sorry for having offended Thee. And I detest all of my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell; but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.
If you approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a genuine repentance and resolve to sin no more, even if motivated out of fear of loss and punishment, that is sufficient for forgiveness when you confess your sins.
But that is the way of a beginning, immature faith. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, love is perfected in us by God if we abide in His love. One of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (See Isaiah 11) is Fear of the Lord. This is a proper attitude we should have of awe and reverence towards the Lord. Beyond this, there is no need for the Christian to fear judgement.
“I detest all of my sins… most of all, because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.”
Image credit: “Jesus Heals the Centurion’s Servant” (detail) by Paolo Veronese [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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