By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment.…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.
John is not saying that no one should fear God's judgment. In fact, if you do not believe in Jesus Christ, fearing God's judgment is exactly what you should be doing. Jesus said,
He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:9)
This is the true Gospel. It says, "The wrath of God abides on you. You stand condemned before God. Believe in Jesus Christ and be saved." In other words, the true Gospel sees fear of God's judgment as a necessary precursor which compels us to receive God's grace.
But there's a half-gospel that is taking over.
Instead of preaching, as John the Baptist did, the true Gospel which says we are to "flee the wrath to come," this half-gospel says, "There is no wrath. You have nothing to be afraid of. God just wants to have a relationship with you. All your greatest relational longings can be fulfilled in Him."
The true Gospel was preached by Jonah: "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4). This brought the people of Nineveh to repentance, and God had mercy on them.
The same Gospel of repentance was preached by the Apostle Paul:
Having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31)
This message was the same message preached by Stephen when he condemned the Jews for the same thing—crucifying the Lord of glory. But he didn't get the same humble response. He was killed for it, because he judged them and convicted them of sin. The difference was not in the message preached, but in the hearts of those who heard it.
Conviction of sin in light of God's righteous judgment is integral to the Gospel. Here's how Iain Murray puts it:
The knowledge of God does not first come to sinners with comfort, rather it is intensely disturbing. Mouths are shut, or if they speak at all it is to say such words as: "Against you, you only, have I sinned" (Psalm 51:4). "Woe is me, for I am lost" (Isaiah 6:5); "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence" (Psalm 90:8). "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5). (The Old Evangelicalism [Banner of Truth, 2005], 9)
Here's an excerpt of the conclusion from Abdu Murray's talk. The following quotes come from one continuous section of the talk. They are Murray's summing up of the Gospel. I actually transcribed from this video (starting at 21:34) of the previous stop on their tour at the University of Michigan nine days earlier.
What does it mean to be human? It means to be valued, objectively speaking, independent of human opinion. [i.e., in God's eyes]
How does this all matter to us? How is it relevant to us? It tells us that we're valuable, but this also allows us to see other people as made in God's image as well. If you are vouchsafed that image and it's proven to you that you have that in you, because of what He's done [i.e., He's sent Jesus to pay an "immeasurable price" for you], then you can see others the same way.
But so what's interesting about this is that we ask the question, "How is the message relevant to me?" The Gospel actually inverts all of it. It inverts all of it and doesn’t say, "The message is relevant to you." It says the message is, "You are relevant to God." That's why the cross is there. It is the exclamation point to the statement "You matter."
Because your moral choices matter. He gives you the dignity of saying your moral choices actually matter. If they didn't matter, there would be no cross.
And if you weren't intrinsically valuable, there would be no redemption. Raymond Tallis says that we are homo sapiens; we have an intrinsic dignity. Yet the atheist John Gray disagrees with him and says we are more like homo rape-iens, because of our insatiable appetite for destruction.
Jesus says that He comes to give His life as a ransom for many; He comes to pay the price that you and I deserve so that we can have a salvation that we don't deserve, because we are, in fact, the monsters that John Gray says we are, but we are at the same time the dignified creatures that Raymond Tallis hopes we are. He brings together those two contrary parts of you and me, what's wrong and what's right about us, and He makes that statement.
Remember what Raymond Tallis says? He says that the kind of creatures we are is a question of supreme importance. That's a reflection, I think, of what C. S. Lewis—who dabbled in atheism and pantheism, ultimately coming to the Christian faith—actually says. He says, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance; if true, is of ultimate importance. One thing it cannot be is of moderate importance," because it tells you and tells me that you have intrinsic value. It's proven through history and through what God Himself did.
Just before this conclusion, Murray gave an anecdote about his atheist friend's mother who died when he was very young. The atheist demanded an answer to this question: "How can I know that God values me or my mother, if he let her die so young?"
Here was Murray’s response: "You can know that your mother has an immeasurable value because the immeasurable God paid an immeasurable price to spend an immeasurable eternity with her." Then to the audience: "That's a matter of history, friends, not a matter of hope only."
That's a really sweet sounding answer, isn't it? It certainly made tears well up in my eyes when he said it. But there's a problem. It doesn't actually solve his friend's problem. Do you know why?
What if his mother didn't believe in Jesus Christ? What if his mother died with God's wrath abiding on her? If that's the case, then this man has just as much reason to be bitter towards God for the death of his mother, because this man still understands nothing about God's judgment, especially not God's righteous declaration that we all deserve to die.
This half-gospel utterly removes the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is the means by which we grab onto Jesus Christ and receive the benefit of His death—forgiveness of sins. Before we believe in Him, that gift is not applied to us. Until you grab onto Jesus Christ by faith, you are not God's friend. You are His enemy and His wrath abides on you. "He who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).
But this half-gospel says, "You are God's friend no matter what. There is no judgment to be afraid of." And that makes faith in Christ unnecessary. If there's no wrath of God abiding on you, then there's no need for the blood of Jesus to save you.
This is a soft, easy gospel which will lead many to hell, because it does not teach us, as Jesus does, that we ought to "fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matthew 10:28).
Leave out the holy character of God, the holy excellence of his law, the holy condemnation to which transgressors are doomed, the holy loveliness of the Savior's character, the holy nature of redemption, the holy tendency of Christ's doctrine, and the holy tempers and conduct of all true believers: then dress up a scheme of religion of this unholy sort: represent mankind in a pitiable condition, rather through misfortune than crime: speak much of Christ's bleeding love to them, of his agonies in the garden and on the cross; without showing the need or the nature of satisfaction for sin: speak of his present glory, and of his compassion for poor sinners; of the freeness with which he dispenses pardon; of the privileges which believers enjoy here, and of the happiness and glory reserved for them hereafter: clog this with nothing about regeneration and sanctification, or represent holiness as somewhat else than conformity to the holy character and law of God: and you make up a plausible gospel, calculated to humor the pride, soothe the consciences, engage the hearts, and raise the affections of natural men, who love nobody but themselves. (Letters and Papers of Thomas Scott [Seeley, 1824], 441–42])