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Growing Into Maturity

I John 2:12-14

The key question we need to ask ourselves is

“Where am I in my spiritual growth?"

A passage to help evaluate our development is 1 John 2:12-14.

12] I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13] I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. 14] I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. 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.

Here John, by the Spirit, saw three levels of maturity in the people he wrote to. He saw that God’s intention was to bring believers to the place of

spiritual fatherhood

after going through spiritual childhood

and young adulthood.

John also implied, as Hebrews 5:11-14 points out, that the passing of time or a person's experiences are no guarantee of spiritual development. Therefore, John speaks to each of us in these three categories today. While there is no direct call here to progress in our spiritual development, the analysis obviously should have that effect. Each of us should see our present state and realize we must continue to grow, in order to become or stay mature in Christ. Let's look at each of these and use them as gauges as to where we are in our spiritual maturity.

Our Potential

What is our goal? Remember, these are not age groupings but spiritual classifications independent of age.

First, a child—vv. 12-13

12] I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. 13c] I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.

The first characteristic of little children is that they know their sins are forgiven because of Jesus—v. 12. This person, in other passages is called an infant in Christ (1 Cor. 3:1), or a newborn baby (1 Pet. 2:2). Now there is nothing wrong with this stage initially. It's wonderful! It is an essential starting point because forgiveness of sin puts us in fellowship with God (1 Jn. 1:9), and in true fellowship with each other (1 John 1:7). It is healthy and natural when a person is born again, to be a spiritual child and to have the elementary teachings of Christ become their primary attention (Heb. 6:1-3). It is unhealthy and unnatural, however, if a person never grows spiritually beyond this stage. With that in mind, let’s look at this state from two viewpoints.

  1. The positive view. As infants in Christ, their chief focus is that their sins are forgiven. What a wonderful, mindboggling revelation that is! This foundation is absolutely necessary if anyone is to grow. This is what "should" captivate new spiritual thoughts: “I am forgiven...” Do you remember what it was like when you came to know the Lord—the joy, the emotion? This sense of forgiveness should never become commonplace, because each day we will need forgiveness. This appreciation will, in fact, probably increase as we grow in the Lord. 

  2. The negative view. New believers will act like all natural children, with all the marks of immaturity, e.g., instability, gullibility. They may possess a knowledge of redemption and their identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, but it will be interpreted only as it relates to their welfare, victory, and blessing. Like all children, they initially will be very demanding, self-centered, even rude. Because they are immature, they will seek to move God and you in orbit around their lives. They will also need constant assurance from others that they are okay. They will need constant care.

    Think of babies. I love them; but let's face it, they are lazy, rude, self-centered and uncooperative. Now that's also expected for new converts, but not for those of us who have known the Lord for awhile; we are to grow up spiritually. Colossians 1:28-2:1 is the goal—28] We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29] To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. 2:1] I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally.

The second characteristic of little children is that they know the Father. v. 13b—"I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father." This is not necessarily a thorough knowledge of God, but like babies, they know their father. They know God because they have accepted the work of His Son. They know that God is our Father through Jesus Christ His Son (“on account of His name...”). God can be known as our Father only through Christ’s cleansing blood. Here John is counteracting some of the teachings of the heretics of his day, who claimed to have fellowship with God without a reference to sin or to Jesus.

It is important for all new Christians to have a knowledge of the doctrines of salvation—what led them to forgiveness and to the Father—i.e., the significance of the cross, justification, sanctification, atonement, etc. This knowledge of the Father may also imply a knowledge of His character and attributes.All new believers should be taught the attributes of God; how God relates to them; and how they are to be related to Him. This also includes an understanding of the fear (awe) of the Lord—Prov. 1:7.

Do you know why a knowledge of God is so helpful? This is such a revelation to so many new believers, because they have only known of The God of the Universe; The God of Judgment; but now they find out they have a spiritual parent—God the Father. He is God of the universe, but also their Father through Jesus Christ. Wow! That also means we are sons and daughters of God (Eph. 1:3-6 (esp. v. 5). 5] "He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. . ."

This emotional bonding is very important in the initial stages of our spiritual lives. Research has shown that bonding with our parents may take place within the first few hours of natural birth. It should be the same in spiritual birth! This relationship of Father and child therefore is primary and essential to growth.

There is a balance necessary with this knowledge of the Father, however. Our relationship with Him as spiritual children cannot be our only relationship. New babes in Christ need to grow in their understanding and responsibility to all of God’s family, or they'll have the feeling that "all that matters is God and me." That’s autonomous religion.

New believers need to relate to:

  • The church - its members

  • The world - its needs

  • Their families- responsibilities

  • Their friends - Christian and non- Christian

Often undeveloped believers see no real need to care for, or relate tightly with, other believers; therefore their attendance at gathering times; their benevolence; their ministry is spasmodic and dependent on plenty of encouragement. Why? They only know the Father and not His kids! The opposite can be true. If a new believer doesn’t relate to God, he may become overly dependent on his relationships with other believers and not the Father.

The next level of maturity found in this passage is:

Second, a young man—vv. 13b-14b.

13b] I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. 14b] 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.

This refers not only to young men or women in the Lord; it includes anyone who has grown beyond spiritual childhood. What are the characteristics of a young man (or woman) in the Lord?

The first characteristic of a young man is that he has overcome the evil one. vv. 13b,14c—"I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. . . 14c] and you have overcome the evil one." This victorious stand against the enemy is a mark of emerging maturity. "Overcoming the evil one" means that this young believer has been able to stand in the army of Christ and see Satan overthrown. In other words, he understands spiritual warfare because of his personal experience—Eph. 6:10. He has learned to resist the enemy so that Satan has had to flee from him—James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:9.

The immature see people as the problem; i.e., "if so-and-so could just do better, then everything would be better." Anyone who has learned to overcome the evil one, however, knows the difference—Eph. 6:12. The real battle is in the mind and the heart. ". . .against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

This characteristic, in particular, implies that there is an understanding of how to handle temptation. This is a marked advance, in which the believer has moved from defense to offense. A young convert flees Satan—2 Tim. 2:22; but a young person in the faith advances against Satan; he resists Satan, and Satan flees—James 4:7. A young adult in the Lord understands:

  • the causes of temptation; how to avoid consenting to temptation, and what to do if one fails

  • how to pray and intercede against the Devil's schemes

  • how worship of God can affect our warfare with Satan.

What is it that makes the difference in these individuals? How are they able to do this?

The second characteristic is that the Word of God lives in them. v. 14b—"... and the word of God lives in you... " This is more than a few salvation verses. This is the state of those who have the Word of God hidden in their hearts so they won’t sin against God (Ps. 119:9-11). They have learned to meditate on God’s laws so they are not enticed by the way of sinners (Ps. 1). Meditation and memorization are necessary activities.

These are people who have learned to be like Jesus and stand in the test with statements that begin with: “It is written...” (e.g., M att. 4:4, Ps. 19:10; 119:103; II Tim. 3:14-15). A young adult in the Lord is one who loves His law (Ps. 119:97,101). Do you love the Scriptures? Do you have a regular program of memorization and meditation of Scripture? This is what will move a spiritual infant to a spiritual young adult—to build us up. Acts 20:32—"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." This is why Satan fights Bible study—he can stop us from being strong and mature adults by keeping us from the Scripture.

How do we get the Word to live in us, abide in us?

  • By the help of the Holy Spirit

  • By diligent study

  • By memorization of the Scripture

  • By meditation on the Scripture

  • By application of the Scripture to our life and our world

What is the result of the Word living in us?

The third characteristic of these young people is really a result of the second—they are strong. v. 14a—"I write to you, young men, because you are strong..." How are they strong? They are strong in the Word and Spirit. This is obviously not their own strength.

First, they have learned to use the strength of the Word as Jesus did in His temptation. The Word used rightly is like a double-edged sword that can defend and attack our enemy and His schemes (Eph. 6:17b; Heb. 4:12-13). Your strength is measurable by how much the Word of God lives in you. The emphasis is on "lives in you." Is it there? Is it active? Is it memorized and applied to your life, so that it flows from your heart and mouth when you’re in a temptation?

Second, this strength comes from the Spirit of God, others, trials and grace. Strength comes from the Spirit, to minister and do spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10; Luke 4:18-19; Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Cor. 10:4). Strength is made perfect in weakness by means of God's grace and by Christ's power resting upon us (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Strength comes from our relationships (Eccl. 4:10-12; Rom. 15:1). Strength comes after a season of suffering/trials (1 Pet. 5:10).

In addition to being a young man or woman in the faith, there is a third level of spiritual maturity.

Third, the fathers—vv. 13a-14

The first mention of the chief characteristic of a father is that he knows The Father who is from the beginning. v. 13a—"I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning."

This is a different relationship with the Father than what the child has. Let’s compare the differences:

As little children, we recognize Him as responsible for our new birth; He's our Provider and Heavenly Parent.

As young men, we honor Him in a governing relationship, as one who is able to guide us and empower us so that we can stand strong and defeat the enemy.

As fathers, we have come to know the Father through various testings and trials, so that now there is an extensive knowledge of not only His Fatherhood and lordship, but also His eternal dimension. Therefore,this is a knowledge of God who is from the beginning. This is more than what it appears to be at first glance. It means the following things:

First, this is a deep and thorough knowledge of the deity and humanity of Jesus and His eternal dimensions. (See Paul's understanding of God—Rom. 11:35-36.) Verse 13a refers back to the first verses of the book of 1 John (1:1-7), that Jesus is the perfect reflection of the Father: To know Jesus is to know the Father. Philip, for example, said, “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father...”—J ohn 14:8-9. To know the Father is to know Him in a personal way through His Son—2 Cor.4:6. Even fathers in the faith haven't quenched their desire to know Him even more. For instance, Paul considered everything a loss compared to knowing Christ—Phil. 2:7-14.

Second, it means therefore, a deep sense of acquaintance with Him—of closeness to Him, after having walked with Him constantly throughout our lives—i.e., of walking in obedience to His commands.

Third, it is an understanding of God's Word—Ps. 119:89-96—a grasp of the great doctrines He came to reveal. "Fathers" in the faith have mastered the principles of the spiritual life.

Fourth, it means a level of maturity and character such that we begin to manifest the characteristics of the One we know so well—e.g., compassion, tolerance, patience, love, confronting, being just, kind, etc.—2 Pet. 1:5-9; Tit. 1:6-9. Inner qualities and character are easily recognized in spiritual fathers; they in fact are the marks of a father. Notice how John repeats himself in the text.


The second mention of the father reiterates this characteristic. v. 14a— "I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning." Why is this description reiterated? It is a characteristic that can’t be improved upon. It is our concept of God that ultimately determines who we are and what we do.

As little children just born into the family of God, our first acquaintance and introduction to Him was in the role of Savior. Our interest was getting our sins forgiven and keeping out of sin. We also wanted to keep our friends from going to hell, so we witnessed extensively to them. As we grew into young personhood, lordship and conversion seemed quite real; but our relationships were altered. We came into a further concept of God in which we began to know Him in a governing, ruling, architect, lordship and relationship way. We basically saw Him from the perspective of His activity, however, so we became engrossed in what we could do for Him and how we might do battle for Him against the enemy of our souls. We were not merely interested in getting people into heaven, but were committed to seeing the authority and reign of God come into their lives as well. At this point, our concept of God revolves around doing—we were occupied with doing. This will not bring us complete satisfaction, nor is it God’s final intention for us!

As we grow into adulthood/fatherhood, God is interested in seeing us go beyond activity, to see Him as He truly was before He started any world activity.

  • Maturity calls us to see Him in His exalted role (“Our Father which art in heaven...”).

  • Maturity calls us to know not only His acts, but also His ways: not only His creation, but His character.

  • Maturity calls us to not only know about Him, but to be like Him, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, conformed to the likeness of His Son (Eph. 4: 13-16; Rom. 8:29).

  • Spiritual fatherhood calls on us not only to know our Spiritual Father, but to be a spiritual father and mentor to others as we have been parented by our Lord (1 Cor. 4:15; 1 Thess. 2:11; Titus 2:1-8; Phil. 2:22; Acts 6:6).

  • Maturity means we commune with our Father by means of in-depth conversation, plenty of listening and being still and knowing He is God.


As fathers, we awake to our calling to be like Him - to be a father like God’s Son. He is our Father, and becoming conformed to His likeness is our focus. Likeness and knowledge are the key words.

As young adults, we are alive to what we can do for Him; how we can be strong and defeat the enemy. He is our Sovereign. So activity is the key word.

As little children, we are alive to what we can receive from Him. He is our Savior. Our focus is forgiveness of sins, getting to heaven, getting to know our Father. Forgiveness is the key word.

So the call according to Heb. 6:1 is, “Let’s go on to maturity.” Or according to 1 John 2:13, “Let’s go on to fatherhood.” This is the call of maturity.


Our Personal Evaluation

We must now evaluate ourselves in the light of 1 John.

The first question is, “Where am I in my spiritual growth”? Take some time to look back at the chief characteristics of each level and see how you measure up. If you find some areas where you need growth, rejoice!

The second question is equally important: “Do I want to grow up in the Lord?” If the answer is yes, then 1 John 2:12-14 is a guide for you and for those you might influence or disciple. It should be carefully studied and applied.


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