We can receive wisdom from some unexpected sources. One of the most insightful statements I ever heard was made to me by a young, suicidal teenager talking about the people around her in her life. She said, “There is a glass between us, and their side is a mirror.”
Her “parable” describes beautifully a phenomenon I call, “Judgment out, judgment in;” in other words, the judgments we make toward others are the same judgments we have toward ourselves. If we look at the way we see others, we can know how we actually view ourselves. It is as if, when we are judging others, we are looking into a mirror, seeing only ourselves. Because we look in the mirror and find ourselves unworthy, unlovable, and undeserving, we project those beliefs onto others, and judgment is the result.
Jesus expressed a similar sentiment: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).
Judgment has to do with fear, as I John 4:17-18 explains: “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 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.” An honest evaluation of these verses exposes something in our hearts that we do not want to acknowledge, but that needs to be addressed: a persisting fear that we are worthy of judgment and should be punished.
If all fear arises from a fear of judgment and punishment, are we seeing the cross as inadequate to cover our sin? In doing so, we render the cross of Christ a failure, and His sacrifice without purpose. Verse 18 proposes an outlandish idea: we are made perfect in love. John is not saying we can be perfect (can get it right or be good enough) or that God demands us to reach perfection (by striving to meet the demands of the Law). He is claiming that we ARE MADE perfect, and it is God’s love that makes us perfect. The presence of fear indicates that we have not allowed God’s love to fully infuse our spirits, hearts, souls, and minds.
His love is freely given, a proffered gift that we can choose to receive or decline. However, if we still live in fear of judgment, John is letting us know that we have not fully and completely abandoned ourselves to the love of Christ, leaving room in our hearts for fear to infest and a belief in judgment to continue.
How can our beliefs in our unworthiness be accurate if I John 4:17-18 is true? How can our fear of judgment coexist with Paul’s teaching that we are now reconciled to God through Christ (Romans 5:10; II Corinthians 5:18)? Either Christ has paid for our sin on the cross, and we are seen accordingly as made perfect in love; or, He has not, and we are rightly judged accordingly. Scripture gives a clear answer to this question: “In this world we are like Jesus.”
God desires us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). Similarly, Paul tells us, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Since how we love ourselves directly impacts the way we love others, we are indebted to make sure we see ourselves through God’s eyes. So, how do we see ourselves? Do we see ourselves as God sees us, made perfect in love? Or do we look through the mirror of our own judgment, seeing ourselves as unworthy, unlovable, and undeserving? Continuing to judge ourselves will keep a glass between us and others, with our side of the glass remaining a mirror.