The following sermon was prepared by Ps Lucas Stoltz. Click here: 1 John 2:12-14, to download or stream the audio sermon, or click here: 1 John 2:12-14. for the video version. Alternatively, you can read the notes below, or follow along as you watch or listen.

1 John 2:12-14, The Assurance of Christian Growth:

  • So we’re back in 1 John and we come across another exciting passage that should comfort us with the knowledge of the Lord’s work in our lives! This morning we get to look at Christian growth!
  • Charles Spurgeon put it this way, “The child of God who was born but yesterday is not as completely sanctified as he will be. He is not as completely instructed as he will be. He is not as completely conformed to the image of Christ as he will be. But he is as completely pardoned!
  • The dying thief found Christ’s mercy in mere minutes, he hadn’t lived the Christian life, and yet the Lord Jesus said to him, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise!” So he had been perfectly cleansed in a moment, however, it is the Christian’s grace to experience growth in the Lord. So today we’ll look at what Christian growth is and isn’t! Because in both cases, we can have the assurance of our growth in the Lord and challenge our pursuit to be more like Him.

1. The Misconceptions of Christian Growth:

  • Text – 1 John 2:12-14
  • Explanation – Many of us are mistaken as we believe our growth is all about doings. However, Christian growth is a privilege. It is becoming more like Christ. Becoming like Christ is the goal and the objective of the process of spiritual maturity.
  • Now, there’s a lot in Scripture about this process of spiritual development and spiritual growth. In Ephesians 4:15, we read how it is important for us to grow up in all things into Him who is the head. So having said that, Christian growth is another way to describe what we call sanctification.
  • Sanctification is an increasing separation from sin as you move more into spiritual maturity, becoming like Jesus Christ. Therefore we should look at some clarifying truths about Christian growth. And I want to firstly say, it has nothing to do with your standing before God in Christ.
  • Our standing before God in Christ is settled upon salvation, that’s also known as our justification. The moment we are saved, God declares our standing right with Him based on Christ’s work at the cross. So when you put your trust in Jesus Christ, the righteousness of Christ covered you.
  • Illustration – That doesn’t change. Colossians 2:10, says, “In Him you have been made complete.” Whether you are a spiritual child, a spiritual young man or a spiritual father, it doesn’t have any impact in your standing before God in Christ.
  • Secondly, spiritual growth has nothing to do with God’s love for you. We looked at this last week. If we go back to John 13, you’ll remember Jesus telling His disciples that He loved them to the end. Which is that Him loved them perfectly. Were they perfect? Nope, they were immature doubters dealing with pride.
  • Yet Jesus still loved them to perfection. Romans 3 tells us that even in our sin, Christ died for us because God loved us when we were enemies. He loves us with a perfect love. He cannot love us more because we are more mature; He cannot love us less because we are less mature.
  • Thirdly, our growth has nothing to do with a time period. At many times we are tempted to believe that when someone has been saved for a really long time, they must be mature. Real quick, there are two occasions, to the Corinthians and the Hebrews, where the writers rebuke the churches as they should have been a lot more mature. But because of jealousy or false teachers, or lacking the pursuit to grow, these people were still referred to as spiritual infants. So time doesn’t necessarily refer to maturity.
  • Application – Fourthly, Christian growth has nothing to do with activity or busyness. You can be busy with outreach programs, and soup kitchens and all kinds of service, and yet, not grow in anyway like Christ. This is where the focus is more on participation instead of being involved. The Mary / Martha account speaks to this. Mary was with Jesus, Martha was busy for Jesus. And yet He said, she missed the good portion.
  • Another misconception about Christian growth is milestones or supposed successes. The size of the church, the size of the Bible Study group, or the Sunday School, these are not signs of maturity. Paul was content with suffering and persecution and weakness and all the rest of it, and the fact that he was content with nothing was the true sign of his maturity.
  • Conclusion – So Christian growth has nothing to do with your standing before God, or God’s love for you, or with nothing to do with time and activity, or even prosperity! The point is, you could be saved for a short period of time and if you are walking in the Spirit, obeying the Word of God, you’re spiritual.
  • If you’re not, you may have been a Christian for 50 years and not grown or matured, which could mean you’re more in the flesh than the spirit. You could say that at any point in the life of a believer, they’re either in the Spirit or in the flesh. You either functioning in obedience to God, walking in the Spirit, or functioning in disobedience to God and walking in the flesh.
  • Bridge – Christian growth is the spiritual development of a person that takes place through walking in the Spirit. The more you walk in the Spirit, the more you’re going to grow. There are a number of ways in which the Bible defines spiritual growth, such as: “following after righteousness,” 1 Timothy 6:11, “being transformed by the renewing of your mind,” Romans 12:2, “perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Corinthians 7:1, and Colossians 2:7 says, “It’s being built up in the faith.”

2. The Theology of Christian Growth:

  • Text – 1 John 2:12-14
  • Explanation – Christian grow is a process of taking in the truth of God and growing on the basis of believing and responding to that truth. You cannot grow spiritually unless you grow in your understanding of God’s truth.
  • So John presents this growth for us in three stages, or three categories that you grow in: children, young men, and fathers. This is because not all of us will necessarily be growing in the same way. These verses are intended to help believers discern where they stand. So John starts with a general statement in verse 12.
  • He writes to true believers, all of them are the little children. He uses teknia, meaning ‘born ones’ – there is no reference to age. It applies to all ages. Yet John is writing to all of you who are the children of God. And he declares a relevant truth that applies to all God’s children, your sins are forgiven. Remember, justification has nothing to do with Christian growth. Justification is positional, you stand in forgiveness.
  • So no matter where you are on the growth level, all believers have all their sins forgiven. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us.” So John adds, “For His name’s sake.”
  • Not because you’re worthy of it, not because you deserve it, because you somehow merit it, but for His name’s sake. That simply means for His glory. That’s the prayer in Psalm 25:11, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” We often doubt our salvation because of sin, however, John says, all God’s children, no matter how much you’ve grown, don’t think for a moment that you aren’t a Christian.
  • Illustration – And that brings us to the three categories of growth in verses 13 and 14. I believe John repeats himself for emphasis. He wants to embed this in their minds. Notice that John doesn’t even tell them they need to progress along. He just acknowledges that it’s a reality.
  • Now let’s start with little children at the end of verse 13. John is not referring to the same children that he referred to in verse 12. Here, he uses the word paidia. Paidia is a word that means a little child. Without any parental guidance, paidai are ignorant, they need to be trained and instructed.
  • So what does a spiritual child know? God, that’s basic knowledge. The distinguishing act of a baby in Christ is to acknowledge God as Father. Little children are more structured by their affections than their knowledge. Kids just love their parents, they don’t analyze them.
  • That’s where it starts. It’s not about information. It’s not about theology. It’s about relationship. Spiritual babies are attached to the relationship more than to doctrine. Now however, Ephesians 4:13-14 says another thing about spiritual babies that’s serious – “Be no longer children tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men, by craftiness and deceitful scheming.” So the little children need to grow into young men soon!
  • Application – the second category is young men – verse 13, verse 14 added. This goes from the relationship to the knowledge. The second category have overcome the evil one. How? “Because you are strong.” How did you get strong? “Because the Word of God abides in you and that’s how you overcome the evil one.”
  • What is the characteristic of a spiritual young man, it is somebody who knows the Word of God. They are equipped with knowledge. Children may be ignorant, but young men have knowledge. They know doctrine. Young men, spiritually speaking, are Christians who have acquired knowledge of the truth and are established in doctrine.
  • The statement that stands out is, ‘‎you have already conquered the evil one.’ Satan is a liar and a deceiver. He works in the false systems. And he does so disguised as an angel of light. So how does a spiritual young man overcome the evil one? Knowing sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is teaching from God about God that directs us to the glory of God. 
  • It refers to all the Biblical truths about God, us, the Gospel, the plan of salvation, etc. if you know sound doctrine, you will not be tempted by lies but zealous of the truth. It means no matter how good someone argument may seem, it doesn’t bring doubt because you hold to God’s Word as the final truth. But spiritual young men, while knowing doctrine, haven’t reached the final stage of Christian growth because he also adds fathers, that’s the third category.
  • Conclusion – This has gone from strength to strength, having experienced the relationship to knowing the doctrine. A spiritual father knows Him, the eternal God that is from the beginning. Listen we have God’s Word to give you information about God, but what was the purpose of that information?
  • Philippians 3 says it is to “know Him.” The third stage of this growth spiritual development is when you don’t just know the doctrine, you know the God who revealed the doctrine. You’ve begun to dig into the depths of the character of God.
  • This is when your relationship with God it’s fuller and richer and fully informed by sound doctrine, intimately knowing God. If you’re a baby, you are so set and just being in the relationship, which is great, it is wonderful. You’re experiencing unconditional love. But you are very vulnerable to false doctrine.
  • Therefore, you pursue becoming a spiritual young man, protecting yourself from being led astray and blown about by every wind of doctrine and carried away by Satan’s deceptions through the knowledge of God’s Word.
  • Bridge – But then you grow as a young man into a father as your knowledge isn’t just about doctrine, you know the God who’s behind it. I mean how can you be a spiritual young man? When you’re strong in the Word. How you going to become a spiritual father?
  • You’re never going to know the God who wrote the Word until you know what He wrote. And as you go over it and over it and deeper and deeper into it, the character of God begins to develop and to grow and expand, and you literally live your life in awe of the wonder of who God is.
  • What makes one who is a spiritual child become a spiritual young man? The Word of God abiding in him? What makes a young man become a father? The Word of God abiding in him! That is the secret of growth because the Word is life itself. The Word is transforming.