************ Sermon on 1 John 2:12-14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 8, 2019
1 John 2:12-14
"I Write to You"
As I told the girls and boys, we are talking about growth on this kick-off Sunday. Growth is a normal part of life. You plant a seed of corn in the ground and it becomes a full-sized plant. You have a puppy-dog in the house or on the farm and it grows to be a big dog. A baby grows to be an adult. Where there is life there is growth.
This is true in the spiritual realm too. God gives us spiritual life in Christ. And, in Christ, there should be growth. God's goal is that we become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ; God's goal is that we will in all things grow up into Him Who is the Head, that is, Christ (Eph 4:13,15).
One of the saddest and most difficult things in life is when a child has a physical or mental disability that prevents growth. Equally sad is the failure to grow spiritually because one who doesn't grow spiritually does not enter into all the spiritual blessings that the Lord wants to give to those who mature in Christ.
Spiritual growth is what John has in mind in our Scripture reading this morning. What jumps out is the categories of people: dear children (which is all of God's people), fathers, young men, little children (our pew Bibles say "dear children" again but the Greek of verse 13 uses a different word than the Greek of verse 12). So, we have all of God's people mentioned; and, John mentions fathers, young men, and little children. What we have are three levels of spiritual growth. Some are fathers/mothers in the faith, some are young men/women in the faith, and some are little children in the faith.
I Seven Warnings About Spiritual Growth
A Before talking about the specifics of our text, I want to give you seven warnings about spiritual growth.
The first warning: there are those who are quick to question whether or not someone is a Christian because they remain small and immature in the faith. A lack of spiritual growth does not mean someone is NOT a Christian. After all, we are not talking about justification; rather, we are talking about sanctification. We are not talking about whether someone has been forgiven; rather, we are talking about progress in holiness. So, whether you are a little child in the faith, a young man in the faith, or a father in the faith you are still one of God's dear children. Look at verse 12: "I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name." Dear children includes every believer. Every believer is a dear child of God. Every believer has been forgiven -- not just the spiritually mature.
B The second warning: don't assume that those who are older or elderly are fathers in the faith. Spiritual growth has nothing to do with age. There are people who have been Christians all their life and yet they are immature in the faith. The author of Hebrews 5 makes a complaint about this:
(Heb 5:12) ... though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!"You should have grown in the faith," he says, "but you didn't." I'm afraid this is far too common. It is very common for people to be baby Christians for decades, immature in the faith, characterized by childish behaviors like anger, tempers, lack of self-control, inability to forgive, inability to ask for forgiveness, lack of discernment, easily led astray, and so on.
C The third warning: spiritual activity is not a substitute for spiritual growth. Just because someone is involved in all sorts of activities in the church and kingdom does not mean they are spiritually mature Christians. Busy Christians are not necessarily mature Christians.
D The fourth warning: theological and biblical knowledge does not mean spiritual maturity. I have mentioned before that Josef Stalin studied for the Orthodox priesthood and even memorized large sections of Scripture. If he was a Christian -- which I doubt -- his theological knowledge certainly did not display spiritual maturity. So, memorizing Scripture, knowing your Reformed theology, acquiring all sorts of theological facts does not mean one is spiritually mature.
E The fifth warning: those who are spiritually mature are not loved more by God; and, likewise, those who are spiritually immature are not loved less by God. Christ died for all of us while we were still sinners and enemies of the cross (Rom 5:8). His love for us is not more because we are immature or mature.
F The sixth warning: people too often assume that worldly success also mean spiritual maturity. There is no connection between spiritual growth and worldly wealth and position. Having material goods, a big bank account, and a prosperous business is not a sign of spiritual maturity. But, the opposite is also true. Don't assume that those who are poor and struggling are further along in sanctification.
G The seventh warning: in this life and on this earth no one becomes totally mature; no one can say, "I have arrived. I have made it." The fact is, sometimes we are in the Spirit and other times we are in the flesh. There is a never a time when we are completely Christlike.
II Children, Young Men, Fathers
A We all start at level one as spiritual babies. Whether we are born into the faith or are a later convert, we all start off as spiritual babies. We had spiritual babies up here this morning on the steps. But, those aren't the only spiritual babies in this congregation. Every believer should grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ but not all do.
John talks about spiritual babies in verse 13, "I write to you, [little] children, because you have known the Father." The emphasis of the Greek word is on someone under parental instruction, someone who needs to be trained and taught and instructed. Spiritually, they are little children.
They are spiritual babies of the Father. They know the Father. What is the first word out of a baby's mouth? Usually, it is Dada or Mama. Little children rejoice in their parents and are just delighted to know them. They depend on them. They find safety and security in them. They love them. Likewise, spiritual babies know the Father. They know God as Father and Christ as Savior and Lord. They know theirs is a relationship, an attachment, to and with God. They know they are dependent upon God. They rejoice in this relationship and delight in their salvation.
Spiritual babies are attached to the relationship more than to doctrine. It is not about theology. It is not about knowledge. It is about relationship. They know the Father and Jesus Whom He has sent. But they know little else.
I just love babies and little children. I love their love, their joy, their happiness. But along with this comes a lack of wisdom and a lack of discernment. For instance, when they are little they crawl on the floor and pick up anything and stick it in their mouth; parents have to keep prying things out of their mouth and say "No." Little children are easily led astray. That's why parents have to warn them about talking to strangers. That's why we have websites that warn us about pedophiles in our neighborhoods. That's why parents have to look over school assignments to make sure the school does not contradict what is being taught at home and church.
Likewise, spiritual babies lack wisdom and discernment. They live in danger of being led astray. Cults prey on spiritual babies. False teachers and preachers enrich themselves with donations from these baby Christians. Paul speaks of this to the church at Ephesus:
(Eph 4:14) Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.That's what happens to spiritual babies: tossed back and forth.
B The second level of spiritual maturity is young men/women. Look at verse 13: "I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one." To this we need to add the statement of verse 14: "I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one." In level one, infants love and rejoice and feel secure in a relationship. In level two, young men/women add knowledge or theology to their relationship with Christ.
Follow what John says about Christians in this level. They overcome the evil one. How do they do that? Because they are strong. Why are they strong? Because the Word of God lives in them.
Those at this level of maturity -- John calls them young men -- know the Word of God. They know what the Bible teaches. They are equipped with spiritual knowledge. Characteristic of little children is ignorance; characteristic of young men/women is knowledge. They know doctrine. The Word of God abides in them. They know the truth. They have had years of worship and sermons, Sunday School, Catechism, Christian schooling, Cadets, GEMS, Youth Group. As all this spiritual food has gone in, spiritual strength has resulted; they have grown and developed and matured in the faith. The result? They have overcome Satan. Not will overcome. Rather, they have overcome. What an amazing thought.
Those at the second level of spiritual maturity have already overcome Satan. What does that even mean? I mean, I look at my life, my words, my thoughts, and it seems Satan has overcome me. But John is not talking about life and lifestyle. Rather, John is talking about doctrine. Remember the doctrinal test John holds before us for being a Christian? This test asks if you believe Jesus has come in the flesh -- that He was heard, seen, looked at or examined, touched? Do you believe He is the Word of life? Do you believe He is the fulfilment of God's plan for our salvation? Satan is disguised as an angel of light. Satan is a liar and deceiver. He works in cults and sects and false doctrines and new age religions. He loves the JWs and the Mormons. And he uses them to proclaim His lies. His first and biggest lie? "Did God really say?" Did God really say Jesus is the eternal Son? Did God really say Jesus came in the flesh? Did God really say Jesus died for our sins on the cross? Did God really say Jesus arose from the grave? Those at the second level of spiritual maturity know what God has said. They know it. They understand it. They believe it. And guess what? They don't fall for the lies of Satan! They are not going to be led astray by his false teachings. They have overcome the evil one. No matter how clever the speaker. No matter how slick the presentation. No matter how popular the teaching. They will not fall for it. They are strong. They are victorious.
C But spiritual young men/women, knowing doctrine, have not reached the final spiritual level. The final level John calls "fathers." Hear what John says about them. "I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning." This is so important that John says it twice, in verse 13 and verse 14. Those at this level have gone from experiencing the relationship to knowing the doctrine to becoming a spiritual father/mother.
So what is the difference between level two and level three? Those in level three know Him Who is from the beginning. They don't just know the doctrine; they know the God Who revealed the doctrine. They have begun to plumb the depths of God's character and God's ways. Their knowledge of God is intimate. And they worship Him as they come to know Him. They begin to love God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength.
Do you see John's path of spiritual growth? Little children are to become young men/women and young men/women are to become fathers/mothers. That's the path God wants us all to take.
Now, how do we move from being a little child to a young man to a father? John tells us: "I write to you." Six times he says this. "I write to you." This is how we grow. Because he has written to us. What am I saying? That the Spirit brings growth through the Word. You grow as you feed on the Word. You grow as you hear it, read it, study it, meditate upon it. It is the Word that brings maturity. It is the Word.
Spiritual growth is not mystical. It is not based upon feelings. It is not experiential. It is not the result of the secret or hidden knowledge of the Gnostics. In the same way as you feed your body so it can develop and grow, so you feed your spirit. To put it simply, you will not grow spiritually unless or until you grow in your understanding of God's truth. That is what I want to hold in front of you as we stand at the start of another church year.
The final result? You come to know God the way Jesus knows God. You go from glory to glory. You go from strength to strength.
My prayer, as we start another church year, is that we all grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. That none of us want to remain as spiritual children. That none of us are content with being young men/women. That all of us press on to become spiritual fathers and mothers.
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