Spiritual Progression

I write to you, little children,
Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.

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 wicked one.

I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father.

I have written to you, fathers,
Because you have known Him who is 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 wicked one.

1 John 2.12-14

John writes or has written to people who have been standing in theTruth, people who are in Jesus Christ. He refers to these people as little children, fathers, and young men. It seems that he is writing to three distinct categories of believers with some overlap.

Little Children

All believers are little children. We are sons and daughters of God. As such, we admit that we are helpless and vulnerable before God. We have come to the Lord Jesus Christ for refuge. Our sins are forgiven for His name’s sake and not on the basis of our righteous activity. But the text goes on to say that as little children, we have known the Father. Our understanding is finite and often confused; however, we understand that though we were once blind, now we see. We have known the Father. We have experienced His just, merciful, and gracious character in salvation.


If this is a spiritual progression, we want John to change the order in which we receive these titles. He mentions little children; therefore, young men should be next, right? But John moves instead to fathers. Why? I believe he is using two sides on the spectrum of spiritual growth or progression. The immature (little children) and the mature (fathers) both seem to be in view. These fathers have known Him who is from the beginning. This is affirmed twice in the text. They have known God through Christ by experience and through a deep, ongoing relationship over a very long period of time. They have known the Lord Jesus Christ from the beginning. He is the One who from the beginning, the One heard, seen, and handled as the Word of Life (1 John 1.1). Therefore the fathers are rock-steady spiritually speaking. They receive the Word and are consistently obeying the Word. The Word lifts the fathers to higher ground and greater maturity.  They are truly seasoned saints.

Young Men

The young men are said to have overcome the wicked one, are strong, and the Word of God abides in them. They are moving toward spiritual maturity. Stability in these believers is the fruit of an enduring struggle with evil and the evil one (see 2 Peter 1.5-9; Colossians 3.1-2; Hebrews 5.12). Young men are strong. They press on. They were once susceptible to being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but now they know the One in whom they have believed. They are practiced with struggling over and over with temptation. They have stood firm in the knowledge and grace of God. Their strength is in the power of His might. Their weakness is not a liability.  Instead, weakness has become strength.   They are learning to truly trust in the LORD with all their might.

Young men have the Word of God abiding in them; little children know very little. They know enough to be saved but not enough to grow. Young men desire both the milk and meat of the Word. They want to grow. The Word of God is quick and powerful to them. No weapon is as powerful in the young man’s arsenal as God’s Word is. How do we get the Word of God to abide in us? We feed on it daily. We commit it to memory. We unleash its power in our lives to resist temptation and convince men of their need for Christ.

Young men have overcome the wicked one. They have realized that greater is He in them than he who is in the world. They have been defeated by Satan over and over, but now they are not ignorant of his devices. The Lord has taught us how to win against evil and the evil one. We take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God and defeat our wicked foe! We go to our knees in prayer.  Deliver us, Lord, from evil and the evil one.

When we face conflicts in the world through the energy of the flesh, we resort to intimidation, aggressive posturing, and unkind manipulation. But growing believers understand that this is playing into the devil’s hands. We need no defender but the LORD. The LORD will fight for us and for our families. Submit to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4.7-8).

Remember that if you are in Christ, you ought to rejoice. None of us have arrived. There is always higher ground. There are always set backs. We must fight the good fight of faith and seek to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our privilege and right as children of God is the forgiveness of sins and spiritual progression. Seek the grace of God for maturity and stability. The church of Jesus Christ needs you as a father (or mother).

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