“I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His names sake.”
Verse 12 begins a new division of 1 John. As we divide the physical family into children, teens, and adults, so John sets forth stages of spiritual maturity.
It is one thing to fellowship with God, but it is another thing to grow as a Christian. Spirituality is one thing (1 Co 3:1), but maturity is another. Addressing the issue of maturity, John speaks of three stages in our spiritual development.
John sets forth six parallel statements emphasizing the assured standing each of the three types of Christian has before God (perfect tense). The Greek present tense emphasizes the present consequences of a past event. God gives His commitment to us at every stage of our spiritual development.
I write to you,
The formula, “I write to you,” occurs once in verse 12 and three times in verse 13. In verse 14, John says, “I have written to you,” twice.
John writes to assure new believers that they are part of the family of God. Later in verse 13, he writes of the new Christian’s early walk with the Father,
“I write to you, little children,
Because you have known the Father.”
There are only two families as far as God is concerned: the children of God and the children of the Devil (Jn 8:44). The term “little children” means born ones. They are brand new babies in Christ. They are in the family of God but barely. We get into the family of God by birth (Jn 3:7).
John addresses different ranks of believers in the church: “little children,” “young men,” and “fathers.” “Little children” refers to new converts. “Young men” conveys those in the process toward maturity. Finally, “fathers” implies the mature in faith.
These three groups of people do not correspond to physical age or sex. It is possible to advance in years and yet be immature spiritually. A younger person can be mature.
The word “little” may mislead us in the title “little children.” This title is just one word in the Greek meaning born ones. It may be a general title for all God’s people. This term has nothing to do with age or size. It is a title of a relationship. If you have eternal life, you are part of God’s family.
Of the nine occurrences of the title “little children,” John uses it eight times. Paul uses it once (Ga 4:19). John uses it only once outside 1 John (Jn 13:33). All other occurrences are in this epistle (2:1,12,28; 3:7,18; 4:4,5; 5:21). Another term translated as “little children” occurs in 2:13, 18, meaning babes or very young children, which is not the same idea.
Whenever a person comes to Christ, they are “children” in the family of God. It makes no difference whether they have grown in grace or not. It does not depend on their growth in Christ, for they are God’s children. Spiritual birth is common to any Christian.
God’s aim for each believer is that he passes through the phases of spiritual development until he grows up in Christ.
Not all Christians are of the same stature and caliber. There are baby believers, teenage believers, and full-grown Christians. Children are novices in the Christian life. Novices need to know rudimentary truth such as the nature of God’s forgiveness of their sins.
We need to change the diapers of new Christians occasionally because they manifest a pattern of anger, hatred, and bitterness (1 Pe 2:1,2; 2 Pe 3:18).
There are three phases to spiritual development: babyhood, teenage, and adult. Spirituality is one thing, but maturity is another. It is possible to be spiritual but not mature. It is also possible to be mature but out of fellowship with the Lord.
Spiritual babes are immature believers. These believers walk more out of fellowship than in fellowship with God. They zig then zag. They do not walk on a straight course of spiritual development. The one thing that characterizes their Christian life is instability. They rarely confess their sin. They compartmentalize their sins. They are afraid to face them. They may feel sorry for their sins, but they do not genuinely confess them.
Christians who truly confess their sins realize that God fully judged sins in Christ. The judgment of our sins occurred 2000 years ago on the cross. Confession accepts this by faith. It is not our emotion about the sin but our faith in what Christ did about the sin that matters to God. That is why if we judge ourselves, God will not judge us.
The principle of double jeopardy comes into play here. If Jesus died for my sins, I do not have to die for them. I do not have to pay the price for my sins because Jesus already paid the price.
Spirituality is equivalent to the words “know” or “fellowship.” Fellowship begins with sins confessed. There can be nothing between the soul and the Savior if we are to fellowship with Him.
A mature person is someone who applies truth to experience in a maximum way. A person who takes a maximum number of principles from the Word of God and applies them to his experience along the way is mature. Many Christians refuse to grow up spiritually because they do not want to find the principles nor apply them to their lives.
Some believers live in undeveloped childhood. Though they may be Christians for 20 years, they are still babes in Christ because they spend so little time in the Word of God. If they read the Bible at all, it is not to discover how they can change their lives. They do not connect their problems to the principles of the Word.