1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 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. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 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. (1 John 2:1-14)
Family is so important to me, and I hope it is to you as well. It’s so important in many ways, and today we will be discussing what it means to be a part of God’s family.
Many of you who are more “mature” may remember back when you were growing up and how people would refer to you as your parents’ child. For example, I was once more often known as “Billy and Hazel’s son,” or “One of those White boys” (because my last name is “White”). I thought that was really cool because I really looked up to my parents and respected them.
Later in life, as a young man, I thought, “One day, people will come to know me for who I am, and they will no longer refer to me as my parents’ son.” Many years passed and that day finally came when I was no longer a child and people thought of me as a mature adult; that is when I became known as “Sandra’s husband.” Of course this was a shock to me personally, but I completely understand that new title because I know I married way above myself.
Seriously, isn’t it interesting how people refer to you with relationship terminology? You are a child, brother, sister, husband, or wife. We use these terms to explain relations to those around us and to explain the hierarchy of the relationship: fathers, mothers, older brother, younger brother, older sister, younger sister, etc. Isn’t it great to be a part of a family and to be referred to with familial terminology? It provides an assurance of being a part of something bigger than yourself.
God has emphasized throughout the Scriptures that He created mankind to be in relationship with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. But more importantly, God’s Word emphasizes the need to be in a relationship with Him, to be a part of His family. We were created to be in relationship with God, and therefore He established the family and adopts all believers into His family as sons and daughters.
Regarding different types of families, we need to understand that from God’s perspective there are only two families: God’s and Satan’s. Each person here today is either a child of God or a child of Satan. The Scriptures tell us that we were all born into sin, therefore we were all once part of Satan’s family. However, all who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are now children of God and are therefore a part of God’s family. Today’s message is more specifically about the apostle John encouraging all believers regarding their spiritual position in God’s family.
Before we get into each verse today, I think it is important that we talk about the context of the verses in 1 John 2:12-14. This section of Scripture at first glance seems to be an independent unit that has little connection to the verses that precede or follow. However, a closer examination of the text reveals that there is a connection.
After some stern warnings and tests to know that you know you are a Christian, in verses 1-11, starting in verse 12 John begins reassuring and encouraging them that they are in fact Christians. Having just completed a discussion of loving your brother in verses 10-11, John now reminds believers that as a child of God you have the power to love your brother. John is encouraging believers by assuring them that they are partakers of the new covenant, a part of God’s family, having been forgiven of their sin based on their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Ultimately, John is encouraging all believers, regardless of their spiritual maturity, that they are part of God’s family. Then in the verses following, verses 15–17, John reminds them that they are no longer part of Satan’s family, for Satan’s family loves the world and the things of the world. This is in direct contrast to God’s family where we love God and love the things of God.
So in reality, verses 12-14 are a continuation of the thought that John has been emphasizing all along: recalling them to the fundamentals of the faith and a return to the basics of Christianity.
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 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. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 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. (1 John 2:12-14)
Here in 1 John 2:12-14, John uses the phrase “I am writing to you” or “I have written to you” six times, in order to emphatically state that this message is for believers in Jesus Christ, the ones who truly are part of God’s family.
John first refers to the broad group of all God’s children, all believers in and followers of Jesus Christ. He then divides them into three groups based on spiritual maturity.
Regardless of their spiritual maturity, John is reminding believers of one of the fundamentals of the faith by contrasting their spiritual condition with the self-glorifying false teachers of the day. Remember that the false teachers of the day, the Gnostics, claimed that ordinary believers did not really know God because they had not received special revelation or knowledge of him through mystical experience. John reassures the believers that they have come to know God, regardless of their spiritual status in God’s family.
Just to be absolutely clear regarding spiritual status of a believer, spiritual maturity is not directly related to physical maturity or age. I think sometimes we tie those things together, like, “They’re just a young teenager, so they can’t be very mature spiritually.” There are younger children and teens who may be spiritually mature, while some elderly men and women may be spiritually immature believers. So please don’t assume that spiritual maturity is directly associated with physical maturity or age.
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. (1 John 2:12)
As I have mentioned in previous messages, John often refers to his readers as “little children” because he is intimately acquainted to those who first read his letter, since the majority of them were fruits of his labor.
John gives us a little more insight as to why and how he knows them; he knows them as those whose sins have been forgiven. The Greek word translated “little children” here in verse 12 is “teknia” which literally means “born ones.” Thus John is referring to those whose sins have been forgiven because they have been born again. They have had a spiritual birth.
In a general sense, John is talking about all children of God. This same Greek word is used throughout the New Testament emphasizing the children of God. For example, in John 13:33, Jesus refers to the apostles as “little children” and throughout 1 John, John refers to believers as “little children.” (1 John 2:1, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21)
Here in verse 12, John is addressing all who are true children of God, irrespective of their spiritual maturity or their physical age. These are those who have grieved over their sinful state and have trusted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. These are the true believers and followers of Jesus; those who are truly a part of God’s family.
As I mentioned earlier, from God’s perspective, there are only two spiritual families; you are either a child of God or a child of Satan. God’s children grow in their love for the Lord, a love that will manifest itself in heartfelt obedience and service. God knows we will not all grow at the same spiritual rate or even in a consistent manner. But the glorious truth is that all who have accepted Jesus Christ as their redemptive substitute are His children. In contrast, Satan’s children love the world and things of the world.
The first and most fundamental word of encouragement that John can give to all believers is that at some point in the past their sins were forgiven, and that this forgiveness has been eternally secured. This forgiveness occurs only because the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ made the mercy and grace of God available to those who repent of their sins and believe in the name of Jesus. Amen! Now that is encouraging! It has nothing to do with our goodness or our works, it has everything to do with the work of Jesus Christ on the cross!
The New Testament states that all true believers have been forgiven of all their sins, irrespective of their spiritual maturity. Jesus told His apostles in Luke 24:47, “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations.” God’s forgiveness is complete and final, regardless of your spiritual maturity. Paul also confirmed in Ephesians 1:7 that, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”
Forgiveness of sins is not a new reality in the New Testament because it is also firmly embedded in the Old Testament.
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit (Psalm 32:1–2)
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12)
I, even I am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
God has specifically stated that forgiveness of our sins is required, and it is through the blood of Jesus Christ that it is accomplished. This is taught throughout Scripture from Genesis through Revelation.
John ends verse 12 with a doctrinal truth that God grants forgiveness to believers for “His name’s sake.” God does not grant forgiveness based on anything we have done but does so in spite of us. “His name’s sake” is a reference to God bringing glory to Himself, which is the foundational basis of absolutely everything that He does.
I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give my glory to another. (Isaiah 42:8)
For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act…And My glory I will not give to another. (Isaiah 48:11)
Everything God does is to bring Himself glory. Therefore, God forgives sinners because it pleases Him to glorify His name. God’s forgiveness of sin displays His abundant, overflowing grace, mercy, and power. Our sins have been forgiven on account of His name, that is, we have been and remain forgiven because of the name of Jesus Christ.
John Calvin states it like this when referring to God’s own sake: “The actual cause is mentioned lest we should seek other means to reconcile us to God. For it would not be sufficient to know that God forgives us our sins unless we came directly to Christ and to the price that he paid on the cross for us. Every means of deserving pardon that we intrude on God is another obstacle that prevents us from approaching him. Hence John, not satisfied with simply stating the doctrine that God forgives our sins, expressly adds that God is propitious to us because he has regard for Christ, and so the apostle excludes all other reasons. We also, if we are to enjoy this blessing, must ignore and forget all other names and rely only on the name of Christ.”
I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning…I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. (1 John 2:13a, 14a)
John mentions three kinds of believers in God’s family: fathers, young men, and little children. John first encourages the most spiritually mature group of believers – he refers to them as “fathers.” This group of believers are those who do not merely understand doctrine intellectually, but they have come to “know him.” Because they know God, they also know the dangers of the world. Warren Wiersbe states, “No Christian who has experienced the joys and wonders of fellowship with God, and of service for God, will want to live on the substitute pleasures this world offers.”
The most spiritually mature believers are those who have spent significant time searching the depths of God’s Word and have spent even more time dwelling upon the truths. The Psalmist in Psalm 1:1-2 says, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” Spending time in God’s Word is critical for spiritual growth.
These believers have focused on God to the point where they have not only gained a deep understanding of God, but have intimately worshiped Him. Their relationship with Jesus Christ is noticeably more rich and full because it is completely grounded on fundamental biblical doctrine. Peter states in 2 Peter 1:8, “and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”
There is only one way believers can progress in their spiritual growth; it is through the life-giving and life-transforming study and application of God’s Word in their lives. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” It requires reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, and applying biblical truth in every situation, and ultimately being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In John 17:19-21, Jesus emphasizes His desire that believers know God in a very intimate relationship, not in a shallow, superficial way, nor in a theoretical or academic sense, but instead in a rich, deep, and intimate relationship.
For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:19-21)
To know the Father is to know and be like His Son Jesus Christ. Our spiritual maturity should be moving us into a deeper and fuller knowledge of God, which should result in a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him. This process of progressive sanctification should be the goal of all believers and should continue to the point that John calls being spiritual “fathers.” This intimacy with God is made possible only by a lifetime of obedience to Him and His Word.
Both times John addresses the group of spiritually mature believers, he uses the phrases: “you have known him who is from” or “has been from the beginning.” All Christians, mature and immature, have come to know God. But the difference is that some Christians have known Him longer and more fully. The most spiritually mature have come to know him as “him who is from the beginning,” which is most likely referring back to John 1:1; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John’s phrasing, “from the beginning,” seems be a reference to the eternal God who is immutable, never changing, forever the same. These believers know God as a perfect Father who is the great “I Am.”
Matthew Henry calls these believers “the seniors in Christianity.” He also states that “even the longest standing…need further advice and instruction…Fathers must be written to, and preached to; none are too old to learn. Old men have knowledge and experience. They know the Lord Christ, particularly him that was from the beginning. As Christ is Alpha and Omega, so he must be the beginning and end of our Christian knowledge.”
I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one…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. (1 John 2:13b, 14b)
John now moves on to those who are spiritually growing in the faith and who are no longer spiritual children. He refers to them as “young men.” They are busily involved in the battle of Christian living. They are also conquerors: they have overcome the evil one, Satan, who is the prince of this world system. They are not just enjoying the forgiveness and the fellowship of God, but they are fighting the enemy. Their spiritual maturity highlights the forgiveness of past sins and how forgiveness must be followed by deliverance from sin’s present power. These Christians have highlighted that justification must be followed by sanctification.
These believers have outgrown the childish self-absorption with feelings and emotions, and moved beyond just the basic spiritual struggles often associated with new Christians. They are working hard toward spiritual maturity, growing in the faith.
In the portions of verses 13 and 14 discussing these young men, there is a threefold structure. First and last, John focuses on the fact that they have overcome the evil one. These believers have matured to a point where Satan’s individual temptations to sin and his deceptive and false religious systems have much less of an impact on them. They have “put on the full armor of God” and are equipped with a thorough understanding of Scripture and are able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).
“Have overcome” is in the perfect tense, meaning that “it has already been accomplished.” It particularly relates to the manner in which they have withstood the attempts to lure them away. Even though John is referring to this particular group of believers, this truth is a part of the life of every believer, regardless of their level of spiritual development. Through the blood of Jesus Christ, we have overcome! All Christians have great hope in the midst of this spiritual battle because the victory is absolutely assured through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross! When someone accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and chooses to follow Him, Jesus secures victory over death for them because He alone has defeated “the evil one.” Even though Satan is an active aggressor, he can never harm those who are true believers. 1 John 5:18 says, “but he who was born of God keeps Him, and the evil one does not touch him.” Our salvation is absolutely secured! However, we struggle here in this world as we are growing in our faith; as we are more conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and as we desire this world less and less.
John gives us a hint how a believer has victory over the evil one, because he says these believers “are strong.” John could be referring to these believers as being strong both physically and spiritually, but it is clear that contextually that he is referring to spiritual strength. These believers are strong in the Lord.
An illustration of this strength can be found in Moses’ last counsel to the Israelites regarding the nations across the Jordan River. Moses says in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord our God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” Just like these believers, our strength comes from our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose victory over the evil one gives us the ability to triumph over this world. John also highlights this truth later in 1 John 5:4; “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”
John tells them, “You are strong,” because God’s Word lives in them. Because the Word of God abides in these believers, they are strong in doctrinal truth. The word “abide” means “to remain in” or “to keep on.” These believers are “no longer to be children, tossed here and there.” (Ephesians 4:14). Instead they “constantly nourish on the words of faith and of sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6). These believers have grasped the Christian life and are seeking to conform their lives to it in accordance to God’s Word, for “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word,” according to Psalm 119:9.
God’s word “abides” in them because of the word of life that was revealed by Jesus Christ. It is through the continuous study of the Word of God that we have communion with the Father. Abiding in God’s Word provides us with direction and spiritual energy for the battle against the evil one. The source of all strength has not changed, whether we are talking about Old Testament saints or a New Testament believers. All believers have overcome the evil one through faith in Jesus Christ and careful study of and abiding in the Word of God.
John says these believers have a foundational understanding of God’s Word and an individual devotion to living out the truth. This group of believers has moved beyond being a child and to a point of having definitive clarity about biblical doctrine. They have a sound biblical worldview and good biblical theology. They also have a love for God’s Word and a desire to not only proclaim its truth to others, but to daily live out those truths.
We get an idea of the heart of these maturing believers when we think about the Bereans and their progress in sanctification. Luke writes in Acts 17:11, “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see, whether these things were so.” Certainly we all should be examining the Scriptures to find the truth and to obediently live out the truth, as well as ensure that false teaching does not creep into the church.
How can we overcome the evil one? John says that it is by the Word of God abiding in us. These “young men” are not yet fully mature, but they are maturing, for they use the Word of God effectively. We all need to understand that God’s Word is the only weapon that will defeat Satan. Ephesians 6:17 lists the Christian’s armor and the only weapon of offense, it is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” If we are going to be able to defend ourselves against the enemies of God, we must have a good knowledge of God’s Word and a desire to apply it to our lives.
I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. (1 John 2:13c)
The last group of believers that John addresses are the young in faith, the new believers, “children” in the faith. John reminds them that “you know the Father.” Literally it says, “have come to know” God as their Father. As believers, this would be our earliest conscious experience of being a part of God’s family, remembering when we were newborn Christians. Just like all new believers, we rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins through Christ and in continual fellowship with God. As Romans 8:16 points out, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” In the previous verse, it tells us that “we have received a Spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba Father!’” Certainly the Holy Spirit living within us makes us aware of our family relationship as sons and daughters of God, as highlighted in Galatians 4:6. How encouraging to know that the Holy Spirit is reassuring us of our position in God’s family.
John’s reference to “children” here in the last portion of verse 13 is different from the term referenced earlier as “little children” in verse 12. The reference to children in verse 12 was a reference to all the children of God, but here in verse 13 it denotes more specifically younger and less spiritually mature believers. Such children are in need of care and guidance. The word “children” in 1 John 2:13 carries the idea of “immature ones,” or “little children” still under the authority of teachers and tutors. These are young Christians who have not yet grown up in the Lord.
Immature spiritual children are those who know the Father but have not yet had time to grow spiritually or, unfortunately, have chosen not to grow. Jesus says this group follows Him “because they know His voice.” (John 10:4). It would be similar to an infant or small child that has a basic knowledge of his or her parents, but does not yet really know them. One of the distinguishing characteristic of these babes in Christ is that they are focused on their new familial relationship with God and on the great hope that comes with that reality. However, they are still newborns and are not yet able to feast on sound doctrine.
Just like little babies and young children, their lack of understanding makes them highly vulnerable to dangers of this world and the attacks of Satan. They are many times driven by their earthly flesh and lack wisdom and discernment on how to avoid harmful and sinful pursuits. They are often susceptible to the attraction of false teachers and their heretical doctrines.
Don’t get me wrong, we should applaud a new believer’s energetic love, as well as their enthusiastic and genuine devotion to God. We should be overjoyed by their adoption into God’s family and by their new desire to live out the Christian life. However, more mature Christians must also be willing to disciple them and help them to guard against the danger of being led astray by false teachers and their demonic doctrines, as John has previously warned us here in his first epistle and warns us later in his second epistle (2 John 7–11).
In summary, John’s description of the stages of spiritual growth should challenge all believers to strive in our spiritual growth as we are being transformed into the image of God. In 1 Thessalonians 4:10, Paul encourages the believers in Thessalonica to “excel still more” in their Christian walk. Certainly spiritual “children” must move beyond their initial delight in God’s love to a point of having a solid grasp of biblical truth and doctrine. It is not enough for “young men” to have a knowledge of biblical truth, they must push forward to know more completely and deeply our Father, and to fight the good fight against the evil one. And even “fathers,” the most spiritually mature, must continue to the end as they expand and deepen their knowledge and understanding of the eternal God, the one who was from the beginning.
All believers should seek to live in daily obedience to God’s Word. Just as Peter highlights in 2 Peter 3:18, all believers, while alive on this earth, are bound to obey the command to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
How are we going to apply what we have learned today? Well, John has been encouraging all believers in the faith. How do we encourage believers? I think it starts by spending time with them! The person that knows me best is the person I spend the most time with. That person is also the person who encourages me the most. Praise the Lord, she has spent more than thirty-four years in marriage and four years prior to that as friends. That is awesome, but sometimes it is frightening because she knows me very well, and occasionally those words of encouragement are really words to correct my thinking.
We also need to spend time with other believers. We need to spend time with others and be an encouragement to them. We need to lift them up and remind them that they are a child of God, and that the victory has been won. So my first challenge to you this week is to go to at least two believers and encourage them in their faith, and remind them that they are a permanent member of God’s family.
Now how are we going to grow in our spiritual faith and get to know the Lord Jesus Christ better? Well, we have to spend time with Him as well. We first have to understand that the only way you can know Him is through God’s Word. All believers understand that point because that is where God has revealed Himself. If I want to know Him better and to grow spiritually, I have to spend time studying God’s Word.
You may be asking yourself, “How much time do I need to spend in God’s Word?” Let’s think for a moment about food, because I am confident that is something we can all relate to pretty easily. I don’t know about all of you, but it takes a lot of food to maintain this girth of mine. Since God’s Word is like food for our souls and is needed for spiritual growth, we need to be feeding on it daily. Can you imagine going in and eating a single meal one day a week and then saying, “Okay, I’m full! See you next week!” I think we would all be in a very sad physical state by the time next week rolls around. If we are to know Christ, we must live with Him in His Word. So here is my second challenge: spend some time this week, each time you sit down to eat, to feed your soul on some spiritual food. Read a couple of verses, a devotion, anything from God’s Word that keeps you focused on Him.
Lastly, we all need to be an encouragement to those who are spiritual newborns, to help them grow and mature, to get into the spiritual battle and overcome the evil one. So here is my third and final challenge: spend some time this week encouraging a new or young spiritual believer. They need to know that God is indeed our Father, and that is certainly something to celebrate, but they have so much more to learn as they grow in their spiritual walk with the Lord.
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. (1 John 2:12-14)