Among the little children of God, who know in their heart of hearts their sins are forgiven, are people at various stages of spiritual growth (1Jn 2:12). Some are infants or children (1Jn 2:13). Some are mature fathers capable of leading and teaching those who are younger. The rest are somewhere in between. John calls them young men, not that females are excluded, and he offers a word of encouragement to all of them.
He reminds the spiritual children in the church that they know the Father (1Jn 2:13). They have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with their spirit that they are children of God (Ro 8:15-16). Even the weakest believer feels a familial connection to God. He is no longer a distant Deity far removed from their daily life. Forgiveness in Christ brings peace between them and the heavenly Father, and peace brings intimate fellowship.
As devoted and eager as these children may be, however, they are still too young to stand on their own (1Jn 2:13). More than anyone else, they are prone to be tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:14). In John’s day, they were the most likely candidates to be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Col 2:8).
Perhaps John intended his bold conditions throughout this epistle primarily for them, yet he is not without empathy. “I write to you, children,” he says, “because you know the Father” (1Jn 2:13). In case his words tormented these spiritual babes with more uncertainty than certainty about their salvation, he tells them to look to God. They love the Father and know he loves them. They know him as personally and profoundly as the youngest child knows his or her parents.
If you struggle to understand the doctrines of the Bible, keep the commandments of God, or love your brothers and sisters in Christ—these are John’s tests for a true Christian—it does not mean you are necessarily excluded from the family of God. It just means that you have some growing up to do. Sanctification is a lifelong process, and you may still be near the beginning of yours.
Children, as you continually strive to better love God, his word, and his people, always remember what your soul already knows: Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake and you know the Father (1Jn 2:12-13).
To the young men and women in the church, those who have advanced to some degree or another in their spiritual growth, John says, “I am writing to you … because you have overcome the evil one. … I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1Jn 2:13-14).
This group is characterized by two essential things. First, they have successfully defeated the devil’s temptations and those elementary struggles the new Christian often faces. Second and certainly not coincidental, they have armed themselves with a greater knowledge of Scripture than spiritual infants.
The god of this world, that is, Satan, does all he can to blind our minds and keep us from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2Co 4:4). He loves nothing more than to inject error, little by little, into the church. Rarely does he launch full-blown assaults. Instead, he chips away at the foundation until everything remaining collapses on itself. But the children of God who wear the whole armor of God are able to stand against the schemes of the devil (Eph 6:11). They never leave home without the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:17).
When Satan relentlessly tempted Jesus in the wilderness for forty long days, the Son of God didn’t retaliate with divine power. Though he had the authority to send the devil away, he willingly suffered temptation after temptation, using only Scripture as his defense because that’s all he needed. As Christ said on that occasion, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).
Young men and women, examine your Christian life from the beginning (1Jn 2:13). You have more to learn and room to grow, but you’ve made significant strides already. The devil hasn’t defeated you yet. A fire burns in your bones for the word of God. Keep fanning it. The assurance of your salvation will only grow stronger.
As for the mature men and women in the church—”Fathers,” John calls them (1Jn 2:13)—you know him who is from the beginning. If you didn’t get it the first time, John repeats, “I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning” (1Jn 2:14).
The wisest people among us know biblical doctrine in a way that surpasses mere intellect. Like children, they know the Father (1Jn 2:13). Like young men … the word of God abides in them (1Jn 2:14). Yet these two attributes have seamlessly merged within their hearts and minds. They know God as never before because they know his word as never before, and vice versa. A child may love and trust his father, and a young man may respect and honor his father’s rules, but only a fully-grown, fully-developed adult can see and appreciate the harmony between his father’s character and will.
Parents often tell their natural children, “You’ll understand when you’re older,” and that’s true. Especially when a child becomes a parent himself, he shares a newfound bond with his own father and mother. He sees the mercy in their every act of discipline. He understands his parents’ motives and desires. He comes to love them with an even deeper affection than he had as a child.
Fathers, you hardly need John’s epistle, though you’ll gladly take it because your hunger and thirst for righteousness are insatiable (1Jn 2:13; Mt 5:6). After years of being transformed by the renewal of your mind in pursuit of God and a greater understanding of his word, you have come full circle only to find the second time around is even sweeter than the first (Ro 12:2).
You don’t need to be told to keep his commandments or love your brother (1Jn 2:3; 10). You do these things, though not perfectly, because you know and love him who is from the beginning (1Jn 2:14). It is the greatest joy and honor of your life to walk in the same way in which Christ walked and love as your heavenly Father has loved (1Jn 2:6; Mt 5:48).
Long gone are the days when theology was little more than a lifeless intellectual exercise to you. You study God by studying his will because it draws you closer and closer to him. Spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting have become privileges rather than chores you perform out of obligation. You, fathers, are well on your way to being transformed into the … image of our Lord and Savior (1Jn 2:14; 2Co 3:18).
Just hours before his arrest, Jesus prayed this prayer for all believers, saying:
“And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just 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 have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:19-26)
Christ longs for our continual sanctification because our spiritual growth leads us into deeper intimacy with him and his Father. It also leads to greater assurance of our salvation. After all, what is eternal life but to know … the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent? (Jn 17:3).