God is love, and the man whose life is lived in love does, in fact, live in God, and God does, in fact, live in him. So our love for him grows more and more, filling us with complete confidence for the day when he shall judge all men—for we realize that our life in this world is actually his life lived in us. Love contains no fear—indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected. 1 John 4:18 [Phillips]
I like this translation because it breaks things down where other translations say "there is no fear in love". I used to assume that since my life is wracked with fear, I must not really love God. But the verse actually implies that fear has to do with the threat of punishment. If we're afraid of punishment & do good only to avoid it, our motivation doesn't come from love of God. It's more self-preservation than anything. But what if we come to expect it- not in the sense that we think of God sitting in heaven with a cache of lighting bolts- I'm talking about knowing the consequence for our sin beforehand. A kid knows not to sneak cookies before dinner but does it anyway. The rules are laid down for us. If we deliberately sin, do we usually fear punishment? Obviously not enough to stop the behaviour. We're probably not even thinking of the consequences. But this lack of fear isn't showing love for God. Its exhibiting a blatant disregard for His authority, which is another form of self-preservation. So in what instance is the lack of fear showing love toward God?
I think it might have something to do with the opposite of self-preservation, which involves surrender, submission, humility... all those nasty words that make our corpuscles cringe. Remember the 1st part of that verse says "God is love, and the man whose life is lived in love... lives in God, and God... lives in him". The man who lives in God does all out of a love for God that is yet being formed & perfected. This leaves room for error... even for sin. But that man doesn't have to fear punishment or discipline- not because he expects it won't happen, but that it will- and he knows its for his ultimate good, to train him up in righteousness. He knows this because he knows the character of God, which is love (which is still being perfected in him). If perfect love casts out fear, then love that's being perfected should at least diminish it. Gradually, because of God's faithfulness to discipline us, we're able build trust & love Him more fully... again, not because we're afraid of His punishment, but because we've come to know His love for us.