February 21, 2021 | Don Horban
References: 1 John 1:10 , 2:12-14Matthew 6:14-15Psalm 112:7
Topics: GraceForgivenessLife

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1 John 2:12-14 - "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.”

These verses mark a noticeable transition in the text. John has been stressing the importance of making sure these people are living out the full implications of their professed faith in Christ Jesus. At least twice he has pointed out that many people live a lie in their Christianity. They walk in “darkness" “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1:6).

Then, zeroing in even more specifically, John tells us the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of phoney faith - the primary way people walk in darkness while claiming to be in the light of fellowship with God – “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness”(2:9).

John writes so honestly because his love for these people is so deep. You have to really love people deeply to reach into their souls like John does in these tough, searching words. But John is a very wise and thorough teacher. He wants to tell these people the truth but he doesn’t want them hearing the word with nothing but condemnation in their hearts. Even in his admonitions and warnings he wants them to be hearing the word from a position of repentance, strength, and encouragement.

John knows how we all come to times when, instead of hearing the Holy Spirit with repentance, we listen only to our own thoughts with hopelessness and condemnation - "What's the use? I'm never going to be able to measure up. I've already broken half of the commands you've just been talking about!"

That’s where today’s text comes into focus. There’s a beautiful pastoral balance in these verses. John once again reminds them of the foundation under all of their Christian experience and the hope of all future growth and expectation. This doesn’t undo the challenge of his earlier words. Far from it. What it does do is remind them of their capacity to genuinely and openly hear John’s words, turn from their wicked ways, and respond with divine help as they continue to press their lives more fully and completely into the light - the revealing, purifying light of the risen Christ in their hearts.

They can live the kind of life John's calling them to. They can have confidence and assurance as they learn to walk in the love and life of Jesus. It's not just a matter of trying to be the best people they can be, somehow trying desperately to earn the love of Jesus and qualify for heaven.

There's a grace here. There's a life and power at work inside their skins. Yes, there's room for carefulness. Yes, there should be self-examination. No, they must never take their walk with Jesus lightly or glibly. Yes, their faith must be more than just religious talk and slogans. John is not undoing anything he's already said. But just as surely as he wants to take false assurance away from phoney religious professors, he also wants to give assurance to those who were laboring to lay hold of a sincere heart to the Lord.

Any true presentation of the word of God always comes along those two lines:

a) The Word never comes to just soothe and stroke those who are careless

It warns. It rebukes. It corrects. It convicts. There's a sharpness - an edge to the Word that cuts through the fog and mud of our lives. It’s properly called the "sword” of the Spirit.

b) But the Word always comes with sweetness to the heart prepared to receive it with humility

The Word is only hard to bear when it’s resisted. The Psalmist said receiving the Word was like eating honey. You can taste and see that the Lord is good. Even when He corrects and chastens, He’s still very, very good.

It's the state of the heart that dictates how the word of the Lord lands on our lives. We constantly need both approaches in the church and in our lives. And this is why John writes these profound words in today’s text. There is a different trajectory, a different shaping of the impact of the Word at different levels of the Christian’s experience. We need to consider each one carefully.


1 John 2:12-13“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.”

Like a good spiritual father, John starts with the children - "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake..... [13]....I write to you, children, because you know the father.”

There is something so precious in these words. John sees a great need to talk about the only real way to start life in Jesus. Everyone must start at the beginning. You have to be rooted and settled on the issue of forgiveness – “....because your sins are forgiven” (12).

We will grow up spiritually deformed unless we have our birth in divine mercy. We won’t think properly about anything else if this is skipped over lightly. There will be no peace with God, no confidence in prayer, no ongoing joy apart from entering the children’s gate to the kingdom.

The Christian is not someone who is trying to earn God's forgiveness. He is not someone who is hoping he will one day be forgiven or that he can somehow qualify for kingdom status. No. When John writes to these "little children" and talks about their first experiences in Christ he lays the right foundation. "Never forget that your sins are forgiven! Don't carry suitcases full of guilt through life. Jesus brings unbelievable mercy. We have been “righteoused” (that’s the literal meaning of the word “justification”) through faith in Jesus Christ.

We constantly need to come back to this. None of us ever feels worthy. But we still are forgiven. Worthy people don't need forgiveness. Unworthy people do. You will never be worthy. But you still are forgiven.

There are enemies to the experience of forgiveness in our lives:

a) I can lose sight of the magnificence and centrality of the cross of Jesus Christ

John writes in words that slam the contemporary church’s therapeutic pursuit of spiritual wholeness. Self help is in. The cross is out. And John will have none of it. Notice "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His name's sake(2:12).

I can believe in the cross and still lose sight of the cross. The Christian is called upon to constantly emphasize the cross in his own mind and understanding. Jesus calls the church specifically to collect herself regularly, with nothing else on the agenda, to take the time to relive the centrality of his crucifixion over and over again. We call it communion because we’re to all learn together the only reason we’re here at all is the forgiveness extended through Christ’s cross.

And every time we gather at His table I'm reminded not just of my sinfulness. That was never the heart or the call of Jesus. I’m reminded of the wonder of my forgiveness. I celebrate the completeness and wonder of being clean and free because of Jesus Christ.

But there's another way I can shut the experience of God's forgiveness out of my heart:

b) I can fail to extend forgiveness to others who have wronged me.

Matthew 6:14-15 - "....for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly father will also forgive you, [15] but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses.”

In many evangelical churches we call coming to the Lord’s Table communion because it helps me remember I can’t receive God’s forgiveness solitaire. There is a necessary togetherness in receiving grace. This is what Jesus emphasizes in these words from Matthew’s gospel. Receiving grace and extending grace are forever joined together by God and the church has been trying to put them asunder ever since.

And so as John writes to these "young children" he is saying there is only one way to be propelled in your life in Christ. Make sure you know you’ve truly begun. All children must be born. And you can only be spiritually born at the children’s mercy gate to the kingdom.


1 John 2:13-14 - "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.....[14]....I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. ...”

Notice the wording about fathers in these verses. There is a mind-set is hinted at in the way John words his instructions. In each of the three groups addressed by John, the wording changes slightly as it's repeated. Only in the case of the fathers is it repeated in exactly the same words - "because you have known him who is from the beginning" (13-14).

The children have “come to know him” (13c). But the fathers "know him who is from the beginning" (13-14). What's the difference? When John addressed the fathers his emphasis is on a history with God. He focuses on the passing of time. The mature in Christ have learned, more than anything else, to frame the circumstances of the present and the unknown challenges of the future in the context of the lessons of the past.

There are great blessings in this approach. The mature don't make as many rash decisions. They don't rush their opinions about life and the work of God. They don't panic with what is presently unexplainable. They have learned not to judge God by isolated events. They have gradually learned (because there’s no other way to do it) to not just see the present activity, or apparent inactivity of God, but to look back and trace the path of God.

When you’re young - like children - you tend see life constantly through the lens of the present - one event at a time. And if you isolate the events of life - if you must have some simplistic, pat, packaged meaning for every single thing - and if you need every answer this instant - then you never will spiritually grow up. You will spend your whole childish life feeding misconceptions about God.

"All things work together for good" Yes, that’s Biblically true. But not everything individual thing is good. Bad things happen. Yet, the promise is God is so wise and so good and so powerful that He takes all the isolated events of my life and yours and works them all together for our growth in Christ. That’s the mature outlook. The mature in Christ aren’t shaken by every headline. Their beliefs aren’t wiped out by the latest best-seller. There's an understanding of the big picture and plan of God.

Without ever using the term, I’m sure the Psalmist was describing the mature viewpoint when he spoke of the man who is “....not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord”(Psalm 112:7).


1 John 2:13-14 - "....I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one....[14]....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.

There's such a beautiful and important balance here. The Christian life is not just enjoying forgiveness or even resting in the character of God. There are battles that must be fought. The deliverance from the guilt of past sin must lead to ongoing deliverance from the power of present sin as I resist the influence of the enemy on all fronts of my life.

How can I win those battles? Where does strength come from?

1 John 2:14b - "....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.”

The Christian life isn’t just believing. It isn’t even just knowing. There is much to resist and much to overcome. Hear that phrase, A....the word of God abides in you.” Some translations say Athe word of God lives in you.” That captures it brightly. It’s not just that they’ve read the word. They don’t just know it. They use it. It lives in them the way electricity lives in a glowing light bulb.

Perhaps the best way to explain those words is to look at their opposite:

1 John 1:10 - "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

This is not denying God's word. And it’s not even neglecting to read God's word. This is something different. This is what I don't do at a certain point when the word of God disagrees with my present view of things in my own heart. And what I don't do is make room for God's viewpoint. I cling to my own instead.

John's point is simple. Strength comes from allowing the word to live - to dominate - to rule and arbitrate my thoughts and motives. That's the inward battle field of my life. That’s where the Devil must be overcome and my own inclinations must be resisted. AHis word lives in you!"

Of course, John doesn’t mean the children and the fathers don’t have to resist self and overcome the Devil. Clearly, that’s a big part of the Christian life for everyone. But John’s particular emphasis (whether he’s dealing with chronological spiritual age, or spiritual maturity makes no difference to his argument), his particular emphasis with this instruction is on the Ayoung men.” John says young men have particular need for attention to this instruction about “overcoming” all that opposes their growth in Christ.

And here, I think, is the reason. Young men are those who are traditionally at their peak of power, influence and involvement in life. They are the ones most likely to feel pinched for time. They are fully engaged in the seriousness of life. Demands crowd and compete for attention. In our day both young men and young women are just at that point in life where things begin to open up for them. They’re just hitting their stride - making their mark - climbing to the top.

And at this point there's a passion in John's heart. He's now an old man. He’s done with the rat race. He's one of the mature fathers in Christ. But he still has a sharp memory and years of experienced insight burning inside. He knows all about the dangers of the journey.

And if he were alive in our church today he'd tap every young business person - every sharp, energy-filled dynamo just pulling out into the fast lane of life - all who are burning their candles at both ends - and he’d say, "Don't blow it at this point. Don't get sidetracked just when you need to stay the most focused. Some things are more important than you know right now. And deepening your walk with Jesus is one of them"


First, three dangers. If I were summing all this up in a practical way I would hear John crystalizing his counsel to each group in this way:

a) To those young in the faith – “children”

There can easily come the tendency to think the past may be too dark to ever be fully erased. We come to Jesus as we are, marred and bruised by divorce, abortion, homosexuality, or hatred. We’re all bound by habit.

Of course, we never get anywhere renaming these sins or treating them lightly. And John knows that too. But he seems to urge that we do start out in our walk with high confidence in God's ability to give you a clean heart.

b) To those with many years of experience walking with Jesus – “fathers”

It is easy, after many years of experience in the faith, to think I'm at the end of my spiritual journey. After all, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. It can be easy to confuse being solid and grounded in God with just being set in your ways.

Remember, both John and Paul define mature people as those who keep stretching for the mark and reaching for what's ahead. Do mature. Don’t settle.

c) To those brimming with the strength and the fullness of life’s opportunities and challenges - Ayoung men”

It is so easy to forget where the real battles lie. You can easily squeeze God out. The biggest battles aren’t in your company’s head office. The most urgent battle is inside. It’s the battle to keep the word of God living in your heart every day.

And now, one overlooked observation:

I found a thought tucked away in an article reflecting on St John of the Cross’ ADark Night Of The Soul.” The lesson is simple and works like this. John means for us to notice a distinct transition between the three levels in these verses. The most striking transition is that between the children and the young men.

As we would expect, the first stage of development (spiritual children) is marked by the glorious first rush of divine grace and forgiveness. They have made the biggest discovery of life. They have experienced the biggest transition, a transition John in his gospel records as being much like being born. New birth is that big a deal. This is a spiritual awakening with all the proper accompanying senses of freshly minted freedom, joy and personal relationship.

While not denying or belittling any of these realities, John clearly marks a striking transition as he moves into the second phase of development (spiritual young men - and women). This phase is characterized by a growing awareness of battle - a sense of opposition - of struggle against other things. Children don’t fight battles. Adults do.

Please understand. This doesn’t mean the faith is any less genuine or any less precious for the young men and women. But it does mean they have moved beyond the point where the word of God is merely received. And John seems to hint at this fact by the way he moves on, in the young men and women, to describe how the word of God is not merely received with joy and thanksgiving, but is integrated (Athe word abides in you....”). When they were initially saved they were only required to give their assent to the truth. Now they must wield the sword in battle.

This is a huge transition. It effects the way you perceive your spiritual state. The same gracious presence of God can be sensed differently in different seasons of maturity. And great grief and confusion can result when John’s words aren’t taken seriously.

In the early stages God’s presence is understandably measured almost exclusively by the extent to which His presence was sensed or felt. And God, like any good parent, accommodates His children, much like you would your own infants, with large measures of His loving embrace.

And as long as they are just children, it’s understandable that they may well long just for the sense of God’s presence, - a divine hug - actually more than they long for purity and Christ-likeness. This is because Christ-likeness will almost always feel anything but soothing and pleasant. It’s as they grow that God begins to reveal His love more creatively and constructively. He longs to shape more than He longs just to soothe.

John is saying it may well be natural and understandable for the spiritual child to long to feel good spiritually. And God is very gracious to all of us in this way at different times for our entire walk with Him. But just as you expect your own children to know your love more deeply as they mature in life, so Father God expects His children, as they grow into manhood, to not only enjoy His forgiveness but to engage in His kingdom.

Remembering this will help you through all those times when the word of God and prayer and worship and, indeed, all of your walk with Him, begins to feel different than it did when you were first saved. You may not be backsliding at all. You may just be growing up.