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A Child of the Father

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:12-14


Well, I encourage you to turn with me to the book of 1 John, chapter 2, as we continue to make our way, verse by verse, through this letter that was written at the end of the first century by the last living Apostle, the Apostle John, as he wrote to those who were his beloved children in the faith in the churches that he shepherded in Asia minor, what is today modern Turkey.

1 John, chapter 2. Today we come to a passage that talks about stages, stages in our lives. You know, we tend to do that as humans; we break down the story of our physical growth and development into stages. For example, the contemporary view of the stages of human development contains some seven stages, and I'll ask you to stand when I get to yours, I'm just kidding! You know, there's infancy, childhood, the teen years, young adult, the adult years, middle-aged, and then senior or old age, whichever you prefer. It's not a new idea; that's been around as long as human beings have been around. In fact, I love the way Shakespeare puts it in his play, As You Like It. He says this:

All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.

And then he details those seven ages, and I'm not going to go through all seven of them, but I have to give you the first one:

At first, the infant,

Mewling and puking in his nurse's arms.

And then he goes on to describe the other stages, not all of them more flattering than that.

This has been around, this idea of the stages of life, obviously it's been around since ancient times. For example, Philo of Alexandria, who wrote about the time of our Lord's birth, speaks of Hippocrates, the great Greek physician, he says, "There are seven ages of man: infancy, childhood, boyhood, youth, manhood, middle age, and old age. (That was an interesting slip of the tongue.) And he said, "And these two are measured by periods of seven years." Again, you can sort of calculate where you stand in all of that.

But in the passage that we come to today, in our verse-by-verse study of 1 John, John explains to us that just as is true with our physical growth and development, there are also clear stages in our spiritual development as well. Now, we're studying a section that begins in 1 John 2, verse 7, and runs down through verse 17. The point of this entire section is this, you can know that you have eternal life, you can know that you are a true Christian because you manifest a new love for God's people and a new love for God.

Now, this paragraph presents two great truths about love. First of all, in verses 7 and 8, we've already seen "The Divine Priority of Love;" it's an old commandment, it's as old as God Himself because love is His character; it was in the Old Testament. It's reiterated by Christ in the New Testament, so it's a new commandment as well. This is the divine priority love: Love God, love others.

In verses 9 through 17, we're considering "The Believers Commitment to Love." True Christians, all true believers have love; "They Have a New Love for God's People," we saw in verses 9 through 11 over the last couple of weeks. If you're a true Christian, then you have a genuine love for the people of God.

Today, we discover that "The True Believer Also Has a New Love for God Himself." That's the message beginning in verse 12 of chapter 2 and running down to verse 17. Now, let me just tell you that the little paragraph we come to this morning, verses 12 through 14, is one of the most difficult strongly debated passages in the entire letter; and because of that, I'm going to have to make several arguments to sort of support the view I'm taking. Stay with me because then we're going to get to the good stuff. But I want you to know that I'm not making this up, alright?

Now, many commentators argue that there is no connection between verses 12 to 14, and the context on either side. In fact, many of them refer to it as a kind of digression, just sort of stuck into this letter without any real context or connection. I'm convinced that is not true. In fact, I want to give you several arguments as to why the theme of these verses is still about love, but it's about the Christians love for God. So let me give you several arguments to support that because that's how I'm going to interpret it, and I want you to be along with me as we take this journey.

So, here are the reasons I believe that verses 12 to 14, are about love, and frankly down through verse 17, are about love for God. Reason number one, the word 'love' occurs frequently in this paragraph, but it doesn't appear in the next section. It occurs once back in the previous section, chapter 2, verse 5, where we're told to love God; it occurs four times in this section, including three times in verse 15; and then the next occurrence of the word 'love' doesn't come until chapter 3, verse 1. So clearly, this section in verses 12 through 14 is in the middle of this section, is about love.

A second argument is this, the flow of John's thought supports this theme as well. Back in chapter 2, verse 5, John introduces love for God as a Christian priority. Then in verses 7 and 8, he focuses on the priority of love in a general sense; we are to love. Verses 9 through 11, deals with our love for other Christians; verse 15 contrasts loving God with loving the world. So, you can see that the flow here, these verses, in the middle, fit this theme of love and specifically, tied to loving God in verse 15.

A third reason I would say this is about love for God is that the other paragraphs, you remember there are three movements or cycles in this letter that contain these tests. In the other movements, in the other cycles, when this test of love shows up, it's not just love for other Christians, but it's also love for God that shows up. For example, in chapter 3, verse 17, in the second cycle, it talks about love for God. In the third cycle or third movement, chapter 4, verses 20 to 21. So, in other words, whenever this test of love comes up, it's not just, "You need to love other Christians," and that shows you're a believer, but it's, "You need to love God," and that shows you're a believer as well.

And the fourth reason is that the large number of family terms, and we're going to see this as it unfolds today, the large number of family terms in verses 12 to 14, implies a child's connection to and love for his Father, a true Christian loves God because God has become his Father. So, verses 12 through 14, then, explain why and how true Christians love God.

Now, in English, this is written like prose, verses 12 to 14; but in the Greek text, these verses are set off like a kind of poem because of the obvious parallelism that you can't see in the English. There are six lines in these verses with two groups of three where there's repetition. So, you have three lines, and then another three lines that essentially hit the same groups a second time. John probably repeats himself to emphasize the certainty that his readers belong to God's family, and I love this.

I mean, think about it, John has just given two really difficult tests of the genuineness of our faith, and if you're a true Christian, you've sat there as we've walked through it and you've sweat a little bit, and you've been concerned, and you've wondered, "Wow, am I manifesting these?" And so there's a legitimate concern that comes out of that; and as a loving pastor, John didn't want true believers to think that they were, in fact, false Christians. So, in verses 12 to 14, he explains that he is, in fact, convinced that most of those to whom he writes are real Christians. He's not writing to shake our assurance, but to confirm it.

Now, each of the six lines in verses 12 to 14, are similar in structure. Each begins with either, "I am writing to you," that's the first three times he says it. Or, "I have written to you," that's the second three times he says it. I think that variation in verb tense, by the way, is just stylistic; I don't think there's any meaning there. So, he begins with, "I am writing," or "I have written." Then each line contains a direct address; "children, fathers, young men." And then each of the six lines includes a reason that's introduced with the word "because." So, that's the structure.

I love this poem, this section, because John, and don't miss this, ultimately, Jesus Christ Himself, wants you, Christian, to have assurance and confidence of these great spiritual realities.

Now the theme of verses 12 to 17 is that the true believer loves God because he now belongs to God's family. You realize that before we come to repent and believe in Jesus, we don't belong to God's family; we belong to Satan's family. Go to chapter 3, verse 10, "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother." John says, "Listen, there only two kinds of people in the world; every person in this room is either as you were originally born as all of us were originally born, a child of Satan, or there's been a radical change in your relationship to God and you've now become a child of God." Those are the only two options. True Christians love God because that relationship has changed, and they are now His children.

Now, let me tell you where we're going next week, Lord willing. If you look at verses 15 to 17, in these verses, John will explain to us that the false Christian, and by false Christian, I mean someone who says, "Yup, I'm a Christian," but really isn't a Christian; the false Christian loves the world and all that the world loves. And I'll explain what the world is, I think a lot of people have no idea what that's really talking about. You know, they think it's pure externals, nothing could be further from the truth.

But he begins today by expressing his confidence, and here's the point of verses 12 to 14, alright, here it is, "The True Christian Knows and Loves the Father and Everything the Father Loves," the true Christian knows and loves the Father and everything the Father loves. Let's read together verses 12 to 14:

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His
name's sake.

I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.

I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.

(Now, here's the second set.)

I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.

I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.

I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in
you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Now, we have to start with the really important question and that is, "How many groups are there in these verses? That may seem obvious, but there's a lot of debate about that. Some people, some commentators say there's only one group in these verses; that essentially all six lines describe spiritual realities present in every Christian. I think that's very unlikely. Clearly, even in reading it, he intends to identify groups of some kind, so one group is not likely.

A second view, and this is a very popular view today, is that there are two groups in these verses and here's how it works. They say look at those lines about 'little children' and 'children,' and those don't identify a group, a subset within Christians, but rather they represent all believers. And then, all believers are divided into two groups, fathers, referring to older believers or those who are more spiritually mature; and young men, that is those who are newer believers, who are a younger stage of spiritual maturity. Now, those who hold this view make a couple of arguments, and I want to tell you what they are because you're going to read them, if you study at all, and I want you to be prepared. They say this, they say, "It has to be two groups because every other time John uses the Greek word 'little children' in this letter, it always refers to all Christians without exception," and that's true, by the way.

Secondly, they say, "If there are three groups in these verses, then it's not the natural order." I mean, they would say, and it does seem odd at first to say, why would you speak of children, fathers, and then young men? That seems clearly out of order, so it must not be three groups they would argue. I'm frankly unconvinced by their arguments, and I'll tell you why in a moment.

I land on the third view, and that is that there are three groups here; there are three groups: children, young men, and fathers. Now, this view argues that these three groups are three distinct stages of spiritual maturity or development. I'm convinced this is right for several reasons and I'm going to give them to you; stay with me, we're going to get to the good stuff, but you need to know why I'm taking this view and understand it.

First of all, I believe it has to be three groups because this doesn't change John's normal use of the word 'little children.' That's a valid argument the other argument makes, but this view doesn't change that because every Christian has experienced forgiveness of sins, and knows God as Father, and has, at a time, been a 'little child,' so it's true of every Christian. So, this view doesn't in any way change the meaning of the word.

A second argument is this, because the other two terms, and everyone agrees, almost everyone agrees with this. The other two terms 'fathers' and 'young men' are stages in development, it seems best because of the parallelism to see 'children' as a stage as well.

Third argument, the New Testament often uses physical growth as an illustration of spiritual growth, and when it does, it always includes children. For example, Ephesians 4, talks about children needing to grow up. And so, when it talks about spiritual growth in physical terms, it almost always has children, and so it would make sense to have that here.

The fourth argument, and frankly the one that I think is the strongest of all, is that not all true Christians are either mature fathers or strong young men. That means there's an entire category of Christians left out here because there are 'children,' spiritual children who need to grow up. Ephesians 4, there are "children tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine," (paraphrase) who need to grow up in Christ. If there are only two groups here, then, they're not even mentioned. That would be very unlikely. So, it seems to me that it's clear there are three groups that identify three stages of spiritual growth.

So, one other note I need to make before we look at it and that is, ladies, John uses masculine terms here, which is not uncommon throughout human history, but you are not excluded from that. Alright, this includes men and women who are believers in Jesus Christ. Alright, with that said, let's look at these verses then; there are three stages in the Christian life that are marked out here.

Because the two descriptions of each of those three stages are very similar, we're going to look at the two descriptions together in pairs. So, let's begin then with the first pair. The first pair describes, "Spiritual Childhood," spiritual childhood, "The Start of the Christian Life." And I could put it this way, "The true Christian loves God from the very beginning because of the forgiveness of his sins and a new relationship with God as Father." This is where the Christian life begins, spiritual childhood.

Look at verse 12, "I am writing to you," or, we could say, "I am addressing you as little children." 'Little children' comes from the Greek verb that means 'to bear or to give birth.' It emphasizes the fact that this child or these children have a relationship of a child to his Father. That's us; Christians have a new relationship to God; He has become our Father.

Now, how did we get this new relationship to God? Look at verse 12 as it continues, "…because (Here's why I call you 'little children' God's children.) because your sins have been forgiven you." Now, the perfect tense in Greek, you can see it reflected here in English, but in Greek, the perfect tense that's used here implies our sins were forgiven at a point in the past and they remain forgiven forever. I love even the verb tense that makes these points clear. The Greek word that's translated 'forgiven' literally means 'to send away.' It's a word that's even used of divorce, 'to send away your spouse' in legal active divorce. Used as it is here in this context, the Greek word means 'to release from legal consequence, to cancel, to pardon.'

You see, every true Christian has been freed from the legal guilt of our sins before God and has had the sentence that we justly deserve canceled! We are guilty; if we were tried before God in His tribunal, we would be found rightly guilty of having broken His Law. The sentence would justly be death, as Paul makes it clear in the book of Romans, both physical and eternal death in separation from God. That's what we deserve, but that, for the Christian, that's been canceled; he's been pardoned. I love too that the word 'sins' is plural. Our sins, every one of them, it includes every sinful thought, every sinful attitude, every sinful word, every sinful act, past, present, future, our sins.

Christians know that their sins have been forgiven because they believe the gospel, because they believe what the gospel promises. Colossians, chapter 2, verse 13, "He…(has)…forgiven us (Listen to this.) all our transgressions." Now, verse 12 is not the relational forgiveness that believers need daily that we studied back in chapter 1, verse 9. As believers, we sin against our Father, and we need to come, verse 9 of chapter 1 says, "Confessing our sins regularly and seeking God's forgiveness." (Paraphrase.) That happens daily and it happens after we become Christians. That's not what this is talking about. Instead, verse 12 is the legal forgiveness that happens, once for all at the moment of salvation. Notice, "…(our) sins have been forgiven," happened in the past, continuing results.

If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, at the moment you repented and believed in Him, God forgave all of your sins, past, present, future, in the courtroom of His justice. The gavel came down and God declared you forgiven, pardoned, once for all! You will never stand in judgment for your sins again, Christian, because they were judged on Jesus Christ.

More than that, and this is the amazing thing, more than just a pardon, at the moment your salvation, Paul teaches in Romans, chapter 4, and following, that God declared us, at that moment, to be perfectly righteous, not just not guilty, but perfectly righteous because He did something amazing. He took the thirty-three years of Jesus's perfect obedience and he credited it to our account, and now He treats us as if we had lived Jesus's perfect life; that's the gospel, that's justification. God's legal declaration that (A), our sins have been permanently forgiven, and (B), that we have been declared righteous with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. As I stand here this morning, I am not only pardoned, forgiven, of the sins that I have committed or will commit; but I also stand here looking to God as righteous as His Son, as if I had lived His Son's life of perfection, and if you're a Christian, that's true of you as well.

On what basis did God forgive our sins and declare us right with God? Look at verse 12, "…for His name's sake!" We have not been forgiven because we earned it; God forgave us our sins for the sake of Jesus's name. That's another way to say, "On account of Him." He forgave you not on account of you, but on account of Him. Jesus's name here stands not only for obviously the Word, the label, but rather for His person, and His saving work on the cross. All that He is, and all that he did on account of that, God forgave us our sins. That's what Peter says in Acts, chapter 4, verse 12; he's preaching, and he says, "…there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Folks, God forgives our sin, not on account of any merit in us, but on account of the infinite merit of Jesus Christ. God sent His Son to do that.

You remember when the angel, Gabriel, showed up to tell Joseph that Mary was going to have a Son; he said to Joseph, "Listen, you're going to call His name 'Jesus,' which means 'Yahweh saves' or 'God saves!'" Why? "Because He (the Child) will save His people from their sins." Acts 10:43, Peter is preaching to Cornelius and his household, and he says, "Of (Jesus) all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." It's amazing! This is the gospel.

Look at 1 John 2, and verse 1, the first part of this chapter details this very reality. Look at the end of verse 1. "…Jesus Christ the righteous. . ." Verse 2, "and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins." Now, when we taught through that, I explained to you, that's not a word we use very often, 'propitiation,' but it's a word that means, 'He Himself is the satisfaction of God's justice against our sins.' Jesus satisfied the Law's claims, guilt, and sentence because of our sins, that's what it means. Go over to chapter 4, verse 10, he says again, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins," to satisfy God's own justice against our sins so that God could be just and still forgive us.

You see, a lot of people think God can just say, "You're forgiven!" What kind of a judge can do that? Imagine a human judge who has a terrorist who's taken multiple innocent lives, and that judge says, "You're forgiven." You would say, "That's not justice; it's a travesty!" And the same would be true if God did it. God had to see the debt paid because His justice demanded it, and Jesus paid it so that He could be just and still forgive us. True Christians have abandoned any hope of being right with God based on personal merit or good works. Their hope is solely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the sake of His name, I have been forgiven.

Let me ask you this morning, and I really want you to take this test in your own heart, "Do you believe, in your heart of hearts, that your sins have been forgiven?" And then I want you to ask a second question that's equally important, "If you believe your sins have been forgiven, the question is, on what basis do you believe they have been forgiven?" If your answer is anything but the fact that Jesus is your representative with God, that He stood in your place; and in His perfect life, in His substitutionary death, and in His resurrection that He purchased your forgiveness, that you stand in Him, and that it's for His name's sake that you've been forgiven, if your confidence is anywhere else, then your sins have not been forgiven, and you are not a Christian because true Christians know their sins have been forgiven on account of Him. But, Christian, if that is what you believe, then John's writing to give you assurance, to give you confidence that your sins have been forever forgiven and you can have confidence in that because it had nothing to do with you; it's not your good works, it's not your merit, it's nothing in you, it's on account of Him, it's on account of His name. A true believer loves God because he's come to understand that God has graciously, in Christ, forgiven all his sins, made him right with Him forever.

There's a second description through here of spiritual childhood, that's the first of the pair. The second one of this first pair comes in verse 13, at the end of the verse. "…I have written to you, children, (Here we're addressing the same group.) because you know the Father." John uses a slightly different word for 'children' here in Greek; it's a word that implies immaturity, the need to submit to our loving Father, the need to listen to His instruction. But we're children and God is our Father, and notice what John writes, "…children, I have written to you because you know the Father." Again here, the tense that he uses literally could be translated like this, "You have come to know the Father."

How did that happen? How did you come to know the Father? Well, Jesus is very clear in John 14:6, there's only one way. He said, "…I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through (by) Me." If you're a Christian, at the moment of your salvation, God became your Father through Jesus Christ, and that relationship will continue forever; you know God as the Father. How did that change happen? How did God, who was once your enemy, someone you hated potentially, or at least someone you ignored, how did God become your Father?

Well, you're actually twice His child because the Scripture speaks of us being born of God, or Jesus refers to it as the "New Birth." But 1 John mentions this often; look at chapter 2, verse 29, he says, "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who also practices righteousness (Notice this.) is born of Him," born of him. Look at chapter 3, verse 9, "No one who is born of God practices sin…he cannot sin, (That is, he can't sin habitually without restraint, without repentance, without a desire to change.) because he is born of God." True Christians have experienced a dramatic change.

You see, Christianity isn't about some sort of a change of, you know, turning over a new leaf; it's a change that only God can produce in the human soul. Jesus calls it the "New Birth;" it's when God makes you over; He makes you a new person, a new creation is the way Paul refers to it. Instead of the person you've been the rest of your life, there comes a moment when you are changed by God and you become someone else, not that you don't have your own personality, but you now love the things you hated and you hate the things you loved, and you have a desire to know God and love God and follow God. That's what it means to "be born of God."

But not only have we been born of God; we have been adopted by God. This is the other image the New Testament uses. Look at John, chapter 1, verse 12:

As many as received Him (Jesus), to them He gave the right (or the authority) to become children of God, (That's referencing adoption.), even to those who believe in His name, (And then he comes back to the born image.) who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (of God's initiative).

So, it mingles the two.

Look at Galatians, chapter 4, verse 4:

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!"

It's an amazing passage! Paul says, "God sent Jesus into the world to redeem you, to buy you back, from your sin and the slave market of sin from what you deserve from God's justice; Jesus came to redeem you from all of that in order that God could adopt you as His son or His daughter." And let me just say that that's not pretense, that's reality! This is how God sees you, Christian. He sees you as His legally adopted son or His legally adopted daughter; you have a new relationship with God contrary to what you had before.

D. Edmond Hiebert, in his commentary, writes:

Believers know God personally as members of His family, living under His love and Fatherly care, they came to know Him through their acceptance of Jesus Christ as the One who has revealed the Father. This knowledge of the Father is effected through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

What he's saying is this, "If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, your Christian life began with the forgiveness of your sins because of Jesus Christ, and the initiation of a new relationship with God, a relationship with God not just as your Creator, but as your Father." And the Holy Spirit made you aware of that relationship. I love the way it says there in Galatians 4, verse 6, "…God… sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

That word 'abba" is an Aramaic word; that's the language Jesus grew up speaking. And the experts in that language tell us that when a child was weaned, a young child was weaned and started to talk, the first words they spoke were "Abba" and "Emma," like "Papa" and "Mama." God is our Abba, and the Spirit teaches us to think of Him in that way.

Lloyd-Jones writes:

This is the blessed knowledge that every Christian must have, a knowledge of God. Not God as some great power or as some great force; not someone who's opposed to us and hates us, imposing harsh commands on us, but God as Father, God who has loved us with an everlasting love, God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, spiritual children don't know much, but they know that their sins have been forgiven on account of the work of Jesus Christ, and they know that God is their Father.

The second pair, back in our text of 1 John 2, takes us a little farther into "Spiritual Adulthood," spiritual adulthood. And here is "The Goal of the Christian Life." Now, you might ask, "Why does he skip young men, why does he go from the start of the Christian life to spiritual adulthood?" Because here's the goal, here's the goal, here is what you're targeting. And I would summarize this this way, "The true Christian pursues a mature knowledge of and love for the Father and the Son, through the Spirit." This is the goal.

Look at verse 13, "I am writing to you (Or, I could say it this way, "I'm addressing you fathers (as spiritual fathers.), because you know Him who has been from the beginning." John uses exactly that same wording in verse 14, in the second set, "I have written to you, fathers (as spiritual fathers) because you know Him who has been from the beginning." Again, in both of those verses, he uses the perfect tense in Greek, literally, "You have known Him who is from the beginning, you came to know Him personally in the past, and that knowledge continues." And the idea here is that knowledge continues to grow; it's progressive.

But who does John mean by, "Him who is from the beginning?" Who is that? Well, there are only two choices. Some say it's God the Father. I think that's unlikely because it has John strangely repeating himself. I mean, look at verse 13, the end of verse 13, "…I have written to you, children, because you know the Father." Wouldn't it be strange for him to turn around in verse 14 and say, "I've written to you fathers because you know the Father?" That doesn't seem to make sense.

In addition, John never speaks of the first person of the Trinity in his Gospels or in his letter, he never speaks of the first person of the Trinity as anyone but God or the Father. So, more likely here, "Him who is from the beginning," refers to Jesus Christ and it makes sense. I mean, that same expression occurs in John's gospel, chapter 1, verse 1, and it occurs in 1 John, chapter 1, verse 1, and there it clearly refers to Jesus Christ, to His eternal existence, to His incarnation.

So, John here is referring to Jesus Christ. He says to spiritual adults, "You have known Jesus Christ." This doesn't mean you've known Him in the facts about Him; it doesn't mean you've just entered into a relationship with Him. No, it's speaking of a mature knowledge of the person. Little children know God as Father and they know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; but as we mature, the goal of our maturing, the goal of our Christian lives, is to grow in the depth of our knowledge of, love for, and relationship to Jesus Christ. John 17:3, Jesus is praying to the Father and He says, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

And it's progressive. In Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 13, which is the verse after the verse on the wall out on our foyer that says, "The church exists to equip you to do the work of ministry." The next verse, chapter 4, verse 13 says, and that's to happen, "until we all attain to a unity in our knowledge of the Son of God." (Paraphrase.) That is, we grow up in our personal relationship to Jesus Christ, in our devotion to Jesus Christ. Paul the Apostle says in Philippians 3, "There was a time when I came to know Him, but my prayer is that I may know Him in a richer fuller way." (Paraphrase.) In 2 Peter 1:3 we read Christ's, "…divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him."

So, what is the nature of this deepening relationship to Jesus Christ? You know, I think a lot of people have the sort of fuzzy sentimental view of what it means to grow in your relationship to God. It's like this mystical thing where I just feel God more, I feel Christ more. No, Jesus defines it. Don't ever forget John 13:13; He's talking to the eleven disciples, Judas is gone, and He says this to them, "You call Me Teacher and Lord…and…so I am." That's the nature of our deepening relationship with Jesus Christ, as our Teacher and as our Lord! You learn more and more from Him as you grow; you learn from His Word, and you grow more and more to obey Him and to do what He says. "You call me Teacher and Lord…and so I am." So, the ultimate goal of the Christian life is not forgiveness; it's a growing, personal knowledge of Jesus Christ.

But how does that happen? We've skipped from childhood to adulthood. How do you get from childhood to adulthood spiritually? And the answer is in the last stage that John mentions. The third pair here describes "Spiritual Youth," and I'm identifying this as, "Real Progress in the Christian Life." You could define it like this, "The true Christian grows in his love for God by a maturing knowledge of and obedience to God's Word."

Between children and fathers, there's a group that John labels as "young men." 'Little children,' they've experienced justification the forgiveness of their sins, and they have been declared right with God. 'Fathers,' they have experienced the maturity of mature knowledge of God in Christ. But the progress in between those two is made by sanctification; that is growing in obedience to God and freedom from sin's power.

And this happens significantly during this period of time called "Spiritual Youth." We're talking about growth in your Christian life. Now, there are several truths about spiritual growth in these verses and they are so important. Number one, "spiritual growth is inevitable," it's inevitable. Spiritual growth is as inevitable as the fact that physical children, if they live, physical children grow into youth, grow into adults. It happens; it's inevitable! If there's life, that's going to happen. Like physical growth, spiritual growth is inevitable. And like physical growth, spiritual growth is a slow, steady process that takes many years. Oh, yeah, that slow process can be punctuated by occasional growth spurts and even occasional times when growth seems almost imperceptible. But where there's life, there will be growth.

You know, there are some who claim to be Christians often because of a childhood profession of faith, but they have been a spiritual flatline for years, maybe decades. There's no sign of real spiritual life at all. Now folks, let me be kind by being direct. If you don't have a spiritual pulse, it's because you don't have spiritual life. Wherever there is life there are signs of life.

At the risk of making the profound trivial, it reminds me my favorite Monty Python skit where the guy buys the parrot that's dead; he buys a dead parrot. But the guy convinces him that the parrot is actually alive, and he leaves the store with this dead parrot, thinking it's alive; it's just sleeping or resting, you know. And he comes back a couple of days later when the parrot hasn't moved, and he says, "Look, this parrot's dead." And the shop owner assures him, "No, no, he's just pining for the fjords; he's you know, he's alive. He's alive." And then the man who bought the parent launches into the string of euphemisms for death. You know, he's gone to meet its maker, he's joined the great choir invisible, he's, you know, 'pushing up daisies,' and on and on he goes with a string of euphemisms to convince the guy, "No, this parrot's dead." You see, that makes a really basic point and that is, if there is life there are signs of life! And that's not only true physically; it's true spiritually. Spiritual growth is inevitable where there's life.

Number two, "Spiritual growth is like physical growth; it takes time." You don't go to bed one night a spiritual infant and wake up the next day a spiritual father. Now, I hate to tell you that because when I was a new Christian, people were selling the idea of all these secrets that would just sort of catapult you from one stage to the next. It's a lie! Spiritual growth is just like physical growth. It is a slow, painful, day-by-day process. You grow slowly through the various stages from child to youth to adulthood.

Number three, and this is key, and this is the point of this passage, "Spiritual growth is by means of God's Word." Look at verse 13, "I am writing to you (or I am addressing you as spiritual), young men, because you have overcome the evil one." You see, as we recognize it as believers, we have to fight. To grow as believers, we must fight. You say, "What do we have to fight?" We have to fight our own wrong thinking; we have to fight the error that's in our minds, the untruth; we have to fight temptation; we have to fight the world system that Satan has created; we have to fight our own flesh; but behind it all is Satan himself. Here, he's called "the evil one," because he's completely bad, and he's our real enemy that stands behind everything God wants to do in our lives.

Spiritual progress requires fighting everything that's contrary to the character of our new Father and our Savior and Lord and winning. Notice what John says here, "…young men…have overcome the evil one." Again, this is in the perfect tense; the ideas at salvation, at the moment of salvation, the enslaving power of sin was broken, Romans 6, and a new pattern of obedience and growth began. He's not saying that we have somehow stopped sinning altogether. I mean, the first part of 1 John is clear about that. He's not saying that we arrive at spiritual perfection or that the war has ended; he's talking about spiritual progress. The spiritual youth has engaged in battle with error, with temptation, with sin, and has experienced victory. He's tasted victory!

How? Well in verse 14, John explains how. He fills this out a little bit, "…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong." This is how spiritual progress happens; we become progressively spiritually stronger, and that raises the next question. How do we become progressively spiritually stronger? Verse 14 goes on to say, "…and the word of God abides in you." Those who are in spiritual young adulthood are strong spiritually because they know and understand the Word of God. Notice, it's truth "abides in them." Literally, the Greek text says, "is abiding in them," its remaining in them, they grasp the truth of God's Word and they're seeking to obey it.

Psalm 119, verse 9, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according toYour word." What about our Lord's Prayer in John 17:17? He says, "(Father), Sanctify them (make them progressively more like Me by Your) …truth; Your word is truth."

Simon Kistemaker, one commentator on this book, writes this speaking of young men:

They possess the Word of God that is living in them. This possession is the secret of their strength and the source of their victory. As long as they treasure, obey, and believe that Word, they will be victorious and overcome the power and deceit of Satan.

Those who are spiritually strong use God's Word.

Listen, let me put it to you bluntly, "This is not rocket science. A lot of people are frustrated because they are not growing in Christ and they think, 'You know, where's the secret?'" Folks, there's no secret. What do you need to sustain physical life? Again, this isn't rocket science. To grow physically, you need oxygen, you need water, you need food, and you need sleep, that's it! You get those four things, guess what's going to happen? You're going to grow. The same thing is true spiritually; it's not rocket science.

Invariably, those Christians who are struggling, it's because they have neglected the very basic Christian disciplines. They're not in prayer to God regularly, and they're not in the Scriptures learning about God. Now, don't get me wrong. You can study the Word of God academically and not grow from studying it, but you will never grow spiritually without the Word of God.

So, my question to you is this, "Where are you in your spiritual life? Have you even started the journey? Are you even spiritually alive?" Or, as I've been speaking this morning, you realize, you know, I'm not connecting with this because I just don't see signs like this in me of spiritual life; I've never been changed. The good news for you is that can happen right now because God always receives those who humble themselves and come to Him. You can repent of your sins and trust in Christ, and God will change you. Jesus called it the "New Birth."

Most of us in this room have experienced that. We're not perfect, but we're different than we used to be because God changed us, because we humbled ourselves and threw ourselves on His mercy, and I plead with you to do that today.

Or maybe you are a believer, but you're in spiritual childhood; all you really know is that your sins are forgiven, and that God is your Father. Or, maybe you're growing in your knowledge of God's Word; you're becoming more aware of what the Scriptures teach, and you're growing strong and you're seeing victory in overcoming sin and error in your thinking and you're seeing this progress and this growth. Or, maybe you are in spiritual adulthood where you're experiencing a greater passion, not just to know the truth, to know the truth, yes, but to know the truth for the great end of knowing God, knowing the Lord Jesus Christ better and deeper as your Teacher and your Lord and God as your Father, and you long to really know who they are by studying this Book and learning about them.

My prayer for you is wherever you are in that journey that you won't be content with where you are; that God will stir in your soul a holy discontent for where you are and help you to move forward with the only means that we have. That's my prayer for you and for me.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for the truth of your Word, for its clarity. Lord, thank you for opening up to us these stages in spiritual development. Lord, help us to be honest with ourselves as to where we are in this journey.

Lord, I pray for those who haven't yet begun, who have to admit that they have no awareness of their sins being forgiven, they don't know you was Father because they've never repented of their sins and put their trust in Christ and His work alone as their only hope of being right with you; they've never been changed. Lord, may this be the day when they just call out to you, throw themselves on your mercy, and see your power work in their lives.

Father, I pray for the rest of us who are somewhere on that continuum between spiritual childhood and adulthood, Lord, give us a holy discontent with where we are and give us a hunger and resolve to grow through your Word. We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.


Loving One Another - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

A Child of the Father

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:12-14

Do Not Love the World

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:15-17

More from this Series

1 John


An Introduction to 1 John

Tom Pennington 1 John

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Priority of Love

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:7-8

Loving One Another - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

Loving One Another - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

A Child of the Father

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:12-14

Do Not Love the World

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:15-17

It Matters What You Believe - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

The Christian's DNA - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

Oil & Water

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:4-6

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love As a Sign of Life - Part 7

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

This Is Love - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

The Nature of Saving Faith

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 7

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-15

Real Christians & Deepfakes - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21