I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:12-14)
The Apostle John, here, is writing to three groups: children, fathers, and young men. He gives an exhortation to each, then returns to the children and does it again. Who is he referring to? Who are the children, fathers, and young men?
There are a couple of possibilities. He could be describing stages of life. The children were the youngest chronologically and the fathers were the oldest. He could be describing stages of spiritual maturity. Children were the new believers, young men were the not-so-new, and the fathers were the long-term Christians. There are a few other variations on these ideas. In the end, we simply don’t know for sure. I lean toward the stages of spiritual maturity.
What we do know is that John is describing authentic Christianity and reliable signs of salvation by contrasting it to the teaching and lifestyle of the false teachers and those who followed them. I’d rather focus on the signs than the stages, as the signs are John’s emphasis. So rather than fret about the categories of Christians found here, let’s see them as categories of assurance.
Spiritual adolescents: strength, Word of God, overcome the evil one
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:14)
John has the most to say to this category. It’s easy to see why. This is where most of us live. Some of us are new believers, some of us are mature believers, but most of us are running the middle laps of the race. These are the hard ones. They also are the ones that most reveal whether our faith is real or not. Lots of apparent Christians quit during the middle laps. So John gives three signs of genuine salvation in the middle laps of life: spiritual strength; the Word of God active within us; victory over the evil one. I think these are all interrelated and interdependent.
Like our physical lives, spiritual adolescence is a time of strength. They are the days when everything is working as it should. I remember pondering around age 20 whether I was physically as good as I would ever be. My dad affirmed it with these depressing words: “It’s pretty much all downhill from here.”
Spiritually, strength is not muscles or cardio but the exercise of faith in the day-to-day of life. What a wonderful season of faith it is! God is changing us as we integrate our faith into the categories of our lives. The Lordship of Jesus is being increasingly reflected in all areas of life. Like teenage boys, we are changing and growing stronger. There are defeats along the way, but victory as well over past habits and temptations. We are overcoming the evil one and his destructive ways.
Let me focus on what it says about the role of the Word of God. The Word of God abides in you. What does that mean? To abide is to dwell. I abide in my house. I live there. God’s Word abides in us as we make it our authoritative guide. As the Psalmist writes, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105) The Bible is God’s Word and God uses it to grow us spiritually. John connects it to victory over the evil one.
An obvious example of this is Jesus in his temptations. Matthew 4 records that Jesus went out into the desert and fasted for 40 days. Then Satan came to him and tempted him three times with specific temptations to set aside God the Father’s plan for him. In each case, Jesus refutes Satan by quoting and applying Scripture. He overcame the evil one by the Word of God abiding in him.
If there is anything spiritual adolescents need, it’s God’s Word known and applied to life. We teach God’s Word in our church for a reason. We have Bible classes for a reason. We teach our children the Bible for a reason. We blog and podcast and are doing the New City Catechism for a reason.
We are endeavoring to put God’s Word in our hearts so that children will become adolescents and adolescents will become fathers. This is how we grow as Christians. It’s not just how we grow as Christians, it’s also how we know we are Christians.
The bottom line is that the real evidences of salvation relate to growth and ongoing change from spiritual immaturity to maturity.
John is going to talk about categories of change just like there are categories of change in young men. They get taller; their voice changes; their muscles strengthen, etc. These are all evidences of life. When there is no change in a child, there is something wrong.
Spiritually, growth means change. We may not do spiritual trigonometry but we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) We may continue to struggle with a habit, but we want to surrender that area to the Lordship of Jesus. No one may mistake us for Mother Theresa, but the angry people we used to be are now gentler and more humble. Change doesn’t save, but it sure can assure as we see ourselves doctrinally, morally, and lovingly putting aside immaturity and moving toward Christlikeness.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2013 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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