John MacArthur's sermon on this passage: The Stages of Spiritual Growth
Mark Driscoll's sermon on this passage (and up to v17)
12 I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
13 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.
14 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.
The goal of the Christian is to be like Christ. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to grow in our Christian walk. And when we talk about spiritual growth, we're talking about sanctification.
MacArthur describes the three different kinds of sanctification...
There is a kind of positional sanctification that occurs when you're saved, you're set apart from sin into a new state in which you're covered by the righteousness of Christ. That is in the past, that happened at salvation. There is a future kind of sanctification, ultimate sanctification that will take place when you're finally and forever and totally separated from sin in your glorification. So there is a forensic or declared sanctification by which you were set apart from sin in the eyes of God by being covered with the righteousness of Christ. There is a future kind of sanctification by which you will be actually set apart from all sin and become righteous in the perfection of eternity. In the middle there is this process of sanctification that is a increasing separation from sin as you move more into spiritual maturity, increasingly becoming like Jesus Christ.
This passage shows that there are three levels of spiritual maturity - children, young men and fathers. One important thing to remember is that no matter where we are in our spiritual maturity, that does not change our standing before God in Christ. At the moment of salvation we were covered by His righteousness and that will never change.
Where we are in our spiritual journey also does not affect His love for us. He loves us all and He loved us even before we believed in Him. He will continue to love us throughout our spiritual journey. There is the saying that is so very true - "There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less". He loves us. Period.
Spiritual growth also has nothing to do with the passage of time. You can have an elderly person that has been a Christian his whole life and he could, sadly, be more spiritually immature than a young and relatively new believer. People who have been believers for a long time should be more spiritually mature than new believers, but that is not necessarily the case.
Spiritual growth is also not necessarily linked to biblical knowledge. You absolutely need biblical knowledge in order to grow spiritually, but it doesn't do anything for you if it stays in your head. It needs to penetrate your soul, it needs to be applied, it needs to transform your life.
Spiritual growth is also not necessarily linked to spiritual ministry or how busy you are serving God. Everything can be done with the wrong motives.
Spiritual growth is also not measure by success or prosperity.
The more we walk in the spirit, the more we grow. The more we give in to our carnal nature, the more we succumb to temptation - the slower we grow.
The only way to grow in our spiritual life is to grow in the knowledge of the truth of God and apply it to our lives. The only way to grow physically is to eat and drink healthy food, right? The same thing is true spiritually - we need to fill ourselves with spiritual food - the Word of God. It is not an option. It is the only way to grow spiritually. The only way. And that's why we're doing this blog together!
The epistle was not written to create doubt in the minds of true believers. And for that, I go back again to chapter 5 verse 13 which is the stated purpose of this epistle. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life." He didn't write this epistle to make you doubt, he wrote the epistle to confirm your salvation because you're going to read this epistle and when he says a true believer acknowledges sin, you're going to say, "I acknowledge my sin." And when he says a true believer acknowledges that Christ is Lord, you're going to say, "I acknowledge that." And when he says a true believer has a desire from the heart to obey God and to love others, you're going to say, "I experience that reality." And so this then is going to confirm your salvation. And what it's going to do is expose those people who deny Christ, expose those people who deny their sin and say they don't sin, expose those people who hate others, expose those people who don't obey the Word of God, expose those people who love the world and the things of the world. That's what it's intended to do. It's intended to help believers to be able to discern....
I want you to affirm your salvation, I want you to know you are forgiven, and I want you to have complete joy. Then he says, "And I want you also to understand that because you're not a spiritual father, or even a spiritual young man in the process of spiritual growth, doesn't mean you're not a Christian." And that's why he transitions into this. Look, there's room in the Kingdom for spiritual babies. There's room in the Kingdom for spiritual young men. There's of course room in the Kingdom for spiritual fathers. That's his point. There is room for stages of growth.
MacArthur says that the children in v12 refers to all believers. And the apostle John is writing to believers and confirming that all believers are God's children, and we have all been forgiven. And John makes it clear here, as in numerous other places throughout the Bible, that we are not forgiven because we earn it, or because we've done anything to deserve it, or because we're just so lovable and forgivable. We are forgiven for His glory. That this display of His grace would bring glory to His holy name.
After clearing that up in v12, he goes on to explain that even though we are all forgiven, we are all at different places in our spiritual journey. Just because you're not where you should be spiritually yet, doesn't make you not a Christian. Don't deny the reality of what God has done in your life. There is room for different stages of growth.
And then he goes on to describes the different stages of growth.
Spiritual babies know God in the same way a baby knows his/her parents. It's about the relationship more than the doctrine. They just love Him, and they know Him even though don't really know that much theologically or doctrinally. It's about relationship. But the danger in being a spiritual baby is that they don't have discernment and be easily deceived - just like a young child. Cults and false teachers prey on spiritual babes.
Then he moves on to young men. They've grown from simply enjoying the relationship and have moved into theology and doctrine. They have overcome the evil one (v13) because they are strong and they are strong because the Word of God abides in them (v14). They are not led astray by cults or false teachers because they know the Word and they recognize Satan's lies and deceptions. Young men are still vulnerable to the flesh and to sin, as we all are all life long. But... as you mature there's a decreasing frequency of sin but there's an increasing hatred of sin that makes less sin seem worse. Young men are no longer vulnerable to being led astray by false doctrine. They delight in the truth.
But there's one more stage yet. Fathers have grown from delighting in the relationship, from delighting in the truth to delighting in God who revealed that truth. You don't just know the doctrine, you know the God who revealed the doctrine. And in some ways you're back to the relationship again only it's fuller and richer and fully informed by sound doctrine to know the author of that doctrine, to know the God who is behind it. It's to deeply, intimately know God.
The power behind this progress is the Word of God.
You're not even going to be a spiritual young man if you're not strong in the Word.....You're never going to know the God who wrote the Word until you know what He wrote. And as you go over it and over it and deeper and deeper into it, the character of God begins to develop and to grow and expand. You literally live your life in awe of the wonder of who God is. The Word is life itself. It is the living Word. The Word is life giving. We're begotten again and sanctified by the Word. The Word is life maturing, grow in grace and in the knowledge that the Word provides. The Word is transforming...It is the bread of life by which we live and grow. And the pursuit of all of us is to become that spiritual father and the characteristic of that spiritual father is an intimate knowledge of God like the knowledge that Christ has of His own Father.
I admit that I was a spiritual babe for most of my life. Basically until starting this Bible blog journey a few years ago. And now, finally, together we are being young women of God. Thank you for joining me on this journey to spiritual maturity!
Tomorrow's scripture focus: 1 John 2:15