As we move further into understanding our spiritual age it is helpful to know that some things speak to our situation regardless of our age or level of spiritual maturity.
1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2 (NKJV)
Here John is using the term little children to affectionately refer to believers in general. So what can we know about ourselves? John’s desire is that believers would not sin, however he wants us to clearly know that if we sin we have Jesus as our Advocate, He can represent, or ‘re-present’ us to the Father clothed in His righteousness. Why, because He is the propitiation for our sins. This is not a word that is commonly used either in our culture or the church. In fact most modern translations use the term ‘atonement.’ Yet it fails to capture the depth of what propitiation means. Atonement means more the payment of a price for failure, we atone for something. Propitiation is the turning away of someone’s wrath. Jesus took the Father’s wrath on our behalf and so turned it away from us.
John’s point is that while we do not have to sin, when we yield to the desires of our flesh and give in to sin, we can turn to Jesus. His sacrifice was the ultimate act of intercession on our behalf before the Father and creates a continual open access to the throne of grace, the veil has been rent. Jesus already experienced the Father’s wrath for whatever sin we may have committed. If we fall we are to get up and look to Him, not our sin, because Jesus has paid the price for the sins of the entire world.
John moves onto something that many in the modern church now falsely see as optional – obedience!
3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. 1 John 2:3-6 (NKJV)
John’s point is that if we have truly encountered and become intimate with Jesus something has happened deep within us, we now want to obey Him. There is a major difference between warring with sin out of a desire to walk in obedience and choosing to sin because we see obeying Jesus as optional! The concept of knowing Jesus here is being aware of Him and having a relationship with Him because He lives within us. It is an experiential knowing. As we learn to draw near to Him and know His heart we keep His commandments. All of which are summed up by walking in love through drawing on the grace/strength He supplies.
In the next two verses John’s point is that walking in love is not really a new commandment but has always been part of knowing God.
7 Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. 8 Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. 1 John 2:7-8 (NKJV)
John now moves to illustrating what it means to obey Jesus commandments.
9 He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11 (NKJV)
If we do not genuinely care for others we are not walking in love. This does not negate the place of disagreement and conflict; that happens, it negates the place of hatred and a refusal to pursue reconciliation and wholeness. John’s references to light and darkness in verses 7 – 11 take us back to Gnosticism. The Gnostics taught the need to be ‘enlightened’ and this happened through a relationship with an ‘enlightened’ teacher. John started addressing this in chapter 1:5-7 when he told us God is light. He reinforces that point here. The true light is Jesus and He is already shining. We need not look for some special teacher, we only need to look to Jesus and know that if we are in a right relationship with Him we will love our fellow believers, evidence that we already have the true light, Jesus, within us.
If we walk in the light there is nothing in us to cause others or ourselves to stumble. The enemy has no foothold in us because we are being constantly cleansed by Jesus shed blood and are thus a light to others also.
John now gets into an overview of spiritual maturity. This is our assessment tool, the first being are we walking in love. Some may object that we are not to focus on ourselves, I agree we are to focus on Jesus. However, if we are seeking to find a destination on a map the starting point is knowing where we are currently. The maps in malls are of little use without that vital piece of information, ‘You are here.” In fact Paul exhorted the Corinthians to examine and test themselves to see if they were really believers.
5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified. 2 Corinthians 13:5 (NKJV)
One way we test ourselves is by the truth of scripture to our lives.
12 I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. 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 wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. 14 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 (NKJV)
The phrase ‘little children’ is the term of affection John uses to refer to all believers. His point is that if we have been born again our sins have been forgiven, period! While questioning whether our sins can really be forgiven because they are so awful may masquerade as humility it is very simply pride. What else could we label a refusal to believe His sacrifice was sufficient for ‘our’ sin?
Moving on from all believers John addresses fathers (this includes mothers), those who are spiritually mature, then young men (this includes young women); those who are growing but have not yet matured. John finally addresses ‘little children’ using a Greek term that does in fact refer to the very young or immature. The NKJV translates them as the same in English but the term ‘little children’ is different in verses 12 and 13.
If we look at the whole passage John is telling us that we all have our sins forgiven for the sake of Jesus name. That is, the Father is honoring His covenant to forgive sins through repentance and faith in Jesus. The spiritually mature, the fathers and mothers, are those who have come to a place of maturity through intimacy with the Lord. They understand power but have experienced and focus on relationship because this, our highest calling (Phil. 3:10), reaches back and touches eternity and the Father’s heart desire to have fellowship with those He created in His image. The young men and women are those believers who have not reached the maturity level of the fathers and mothers and whose focus is on power rather than intimacy. The immature believers (little children of verse 13) have known the Father in that they have encountered Him through salvation but they have not yet begun to move on to intimacy. This may be people who have just been born again or individuals who have been believers for years but have never truly pursued a place of intimacy with Him.
We each need to determine where we are at, not as a basis for spiritual pride but as an assessment tool to help us know what to pursue and whether we are pursuing. The one dynamic of spiritual maturity is that we only remain mature by continuing to grow. As Peter wisely wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
17 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. 2 Peter 3:17-18 (NKJV)