The Four-Fold Fruit of Christian Maturity (preaching resource for Easter 6, 5/5/24)

This post exegetes 1 John 4:17-5:5, providing context for the 5/5/24 (Easter 6) RCL Epistle reading. This exegesis draws on commentary from Warren Wiersbe ("Bible Expository Commentary"), Stephen Smalley ("Word Biblical Commentary") and Leon Morris ("New Bible Commentary"). 

"Last Supper" by Liz Lemon Swindle (used with artist's permission)


In 1 John 4:16, the apostle makes this astounding statement: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” God is the loving communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. Through the incarnation of the Son, this communion includes all humanity. To abide (live) in God, is thus to participate as God’s dear children in a divine-human communion of love. And now in verse 17, John urges us to grow in this participation whereby God’s love “is made complete” (mature; given full expression) in and through us. John thus defines Christian maturity not as adherence to external rules or rituals, or to the possession of esoteric knowledge; but as growth in loving communion with God. What does that growth look like? John helps us understand by highlighting the four-fold fruit of Christian maturity: confidence, integrity, joyful obedience, and victory. Let’s look at each one and embrace the growth in love that is ours as God’s children living in communion with God.

Confidence (1 John 4:17-19)

17 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. 18 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. 19 We love because he first loved us.

To relate to God in fearfulness is a mark of spiritual immaturity. However, a mature Christian knows (experiences) that God truly is love—they relate to the Father in the way that Jesus relates to the Father (“in this world, we are like him [Jesus]” v17b). This assurance gives us confidence in God and in his love—a confidence that drives out paralyzing fear concerning the futurepast and present


Because God is love, we need not fear the future—particularly the coming judgment.  Jesus assures us: “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, NASB). And Paul makes a similar point: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, NASB). A believer does not fear judgment (condemnation), because they know that their sins have been judged already in Jesus who assumed our fallen nature, lived our life in the flesh, stood in for us at the cross, and rose victorious in our flesh in his resurrection and ascension. Our record of sin will never be brought against us. And thus we do not fear the future.


Because God is love, we need not fear the past. Fear concerning past mistakes haunts and even paralyzes many people. But this need not be, for God reassures us that his love toward us is not diminished by our past—indeed, it was “while we were [God’s] enemies” that, “we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10). Even while we were living as children of Satan, God was relating to us as who he recreated us in Christ to be: his dearly loved children. Our past is no problem for God, and need not be for us.


Because God is love, we need not fear the present. John says that, “perfect (mature) love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). As we mature in God’s love, we cease to be fearful of what God is doing in our lives. Of course there is a proper “fear of God,” in the sense of respect and reverence, but we need not fear that God is angry at us and out to punish us (1 John 4:18).  God has given us every reason to have a spirit of confidence as his children. 

Rejoice: nothing future, past or present can come between us and God’s love! Awakening to this stunning truth typically comes in stages. When we were lost, most of us lived in fear and knew nothing of God’s love. After we trusted Christ, we began to experience a mixture of fear and love in our hearts. But as we continue to abide in God’s love, gradually fear vanishes and our hearts are controlled by his love alone. Mature Christians find rest in God’s unconditional love.

Confidence is the fruit of growth in God’s love. And there is a another…

Integrity (1 John 4:20–21)

20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

To have all our relationships grounded in God’s love is to experience integrity (truth) in our lives. Sadly, because of sin, our lives are pulled apart and fragmented—we live without integrity; we live a lie—we live in disobedience to God’s great commandment of love (cf. 1John 2:7-8; 3:23). But as we participate in God’s love for us and for others, integrity is restored—our lives are put back together; aligned with the will of God. What a joy it is to have all aspects of our lives come under the grace of God’s transforming truth! As this happens, we experience God’s love more deeply and express it more fully and honestly—with greater integrity—toward God and toward people. Our doing is now aligning more fully with our being in Christ. 

Love and truth go together. Because we know that God loves and accepts us (even with all our faults), we have no need to pretend—no need to be self-protective (the opposite of outgoing love); we have no need to lie to ourselves, to God and to others. This opens us up to God’s love in every nook and cranny of our lives and gives us the freedom to participate more fully in his love for others who are imperfect like we are. 

Confidence and integrity are fruit of growth in God’s love.  And there is another…

Joyful obedience (1 John 5:1–3)

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome...

Mature believers are those who, through belief (trust) in Jesus, participate in the new birth of humanity in Jesus—they are “born of God.” This regeneration is not a “once in the past” thing—John speaks of it as continuing action—trust (faith) expressed in continuing obedience to God’s commands to love. Thus the obedience of which John here speaks is a family matter—it’s our active participation in a divine-human family of love. We serve a loving Father, through a loving Spirit, actively sharing in the divine-human life of a loving Savior who includes all humanity in his living and loving. To join in on that, is to share in Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s commands. This obedience is not a burden, but a joy. We are not slaves obeying a harsh master; we are children obeying a loving Father.

The burden of religion is trying to please God through ritual obedience in one’s own strength; but the yoke of discipleship that Christ puts on us is not burdensome (Mat 11:28–30)—he relates to us in such a way that we are given freedom to join in spontaneously and joyfully on Jesus’ loving of the Father and people.

Confidence, integrity and joyful obedience are all fruit of growth in God’s love. And there is another…

Victory (1 John 5:4–5)

...4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Christians live in a real world and are beset with real (formidable) obstacles. But at the same time, because they participate in the rebirth of humanity in Jesus (they are “born of God”), they experience the truth and power of Jesus’ words to his disciples:  "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Believers participate in the perfect humanity of Jesus, who has overcome “the world”—the powers of evil working in and through humanity in opposition to God and his children. 

If our fallen nature is the controlling principle of our daily living, we are living in defeat. But if the life of Jesus—our new nature—is in control, we are experiencing Jesus’ victory on our behalf. We share in this victory (Jesus’ overcoming for us) through our faith—an unusual reference by John to the Christian community’s body of belief (confession) concerning Jesus. This is the truth on which we stand, sharing in the true life of the true Son of God who has won victory over the world.  In Jesus, we have overcome.

The word overcome is a favorite with John; he uses it in 1 John 2:13–14 with reference to overcoming the devil. He uses it seven times in Revelation to describe believers and the blessings they receive (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). He is using the word in 1John 5:5 as a name for believers—those who are trusting in Jesus, the Overcomer. To be born of God means to share in Jesus’ victory over the world.  

John continuously emphasizes the ramifications of our inclusion in Jesus. When we actively participate, by faith, in that inclusion, we are sharing fully in Jesus’ victory for us. To paraphrase John, “We do not have to walk around defeated, because, in Jesus, we are victors! Jesus has defeated for us every enemy and we share his victory. Believe that, and walk in his victory.” 

Faith—belief—is vital. The great men and women named in Hebrews 11 all experienced Jesus’ victory through faith. They took God at his word and acted on it, and God honored that faith and gave them a deep experience of the victory of Jesus the Overcomer. This type of faith is active—it’s not about mere intellectual assent, but about acting boldly, in confidence, according to what we know is true about Jesus and our life in him. The deeper we commune with God, the more we trust him with the needs and battles of our life. In this way, maturing love becomes the guiding principle of our daily living.

Confidence, integrity, joyful obedience and victory are the wonderful fruit of growth in God’s love.


As we mature in experiencing and expressing God’s love, we grow in confidence toward God, and do not live in fear. Because fear is cast out, we can be people of integrity—honest and open; there is no need to pretend. And because fear is gone, our obedience to God’s commands is born out of love, not terror or obligation. Finally, living in this atmosphere of love, integrity, and joyful obedience, we are able to face the world standing victorious with Jesus in his faithfulness—overcoming instead of being overcome. May we abide in God and there experience the four-fold fruit of Christian maturity. Amen.