In his first letter, the apostle John described those he wrote to as follows: “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. 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, dear 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 lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 Jn. 2:12-14 NIV).
This passage was written to believers. John used a term of affection – often used by a teacher to his disciples – when he referred to them figuratively as “dear children” (teknion 2:12). Indeed all believers are children of God (Jn. 1:12-13; 1 Jn. 3:1). He noted why they were enabled to be called children of God: “because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.” It’s important for us all to realize, know and remember what Jesus Christ has done for us. By trusting in His work on the cross our sins are forgiven. What a joy to be liberated from the guilt and penalty of our sins!
John mentioned three stages of Christian growth in these verses: young children, young people and fathers. These stages are like infancy, adolescence and maturity. Let’s look at each of them.
The Greek word translated “dear children” in verse 14 (paidion) is different from that in verse 12 (teknion), as it means the youngest believers – those immature in the Christian faith. As babies recognize their parents at a young age, infants in the Christian faith knew “the Father” (1 Jn. 2:13). In fact, the Holy Spirit within them recognized God as their Father (Gal. 4:6). They may not have known very much, but they knew that God was the Father who loved them by sending His Son to die for them. As spiritual children, they experienced God’s forgiveness.
But spiritual infants can’t distinguish between good and evil, or teach others, or apply the Bible’s teaching to their lives (Heb. 5:11-14). Instead, they rely on others to help them through life. Like babies they are still selfish, needy and dependent on others. But a prolonged childhood is not healthy and leads to problems and difficulties. As children need to grow physically into young people and then into adults, so believers need to grow from infancy in the faith towards maturity. One of the reasons John wrote this letter is that we might turn from the sinful ways of immaturity (1 Jn. 2:1).
The fathers knew “Him who is from the beginning” (1 Jn. 2:14). Elsewhere John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). So this reference is to knowing Christ. This knowledge is different from that of infancy – it’s the experience gained over a lifetime. Mature believers know the Lord well through their life experiences, and have enjoyed knowing Him for a long time. They have learned to obey God’s commands (1 Jn. 2:3). Their relationship with God, which is given top priority, is their security in life. The only thing that matters in a world where we eventually lose everything else, is our relationship with and knowledge of God.
Adolescence is the period between childhood and adulthood. John mentioned three things about the spiritual youth: they were strong, the word of God lived in them, and they had overcome the evil one (1 Jn. 2:14).
They were strong. Youth is a period of energy and enthusiasm. Paul wrote, “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:10-11). The weapons for spiritual battle include the Bible (Eph. 6:14-18). These young people were spiritually strong because they used these weapons daily.
The Word of God lived in them. This was why the youth were strong and had overcome Satan. When God’s Word lives in us, we are equipped for God’s work: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Also, our motives are judged: “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). In addition, our lives can be pure: “How can those who are young keep their way pure? By living according to Your word” (Ps. 119:9). Furthermore, there can be spiritual growth. When Paul said farewell to the elders of the church at Ephesus, he said, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).
The Bible can build us up to further maturity when it is studied and applied to our lives. It is the means of spiritual growth from infants to young adults and then to mature adults in the Christian faith. If we desire to grow to spiritual maturity and to be spiritually strong, the Scriptures must live in us as well. That’s why God’s Word must be uttermost in our lives. It offers eternal principles for every area of life, and with the Holy Spirit’s help the Bible provides power for living and for overcoming Satan and sinful desires.
They had overcome the evil one. Youth is a time of conflict and wrestling with Satan. The goal of Satan is to separate us from God and to use sin as the tool to accomplish that separation. But Jesus promised that believers can overcome the sinful world (Jn.16:33; 1 Jn. 5:4-5). The presence of sin and evil will be a constant reality as long as we live in this world, but the Lord has assured us that in Christ we have the strength and power to overcome them. Here the spiritual youth learned the secret of victory – it’s through Christ. The Lord defeated Satan in the desert by quoting the Scriptures. This emphasizes the importance of constantly reading the Bible and having it ready to repel the attacks of Satan.
God’s Word Is The Key
Let’s move on from immaturity and strive for spiritual maturity in our lives. The secret of growth along the path to spiritual maturity is assimilation of God’s Word, which makes us spiritually able to overcome Satan’s temptations.
Published, July 2007