The Apostle John knows that this message to his congregation is going to be tough. He has some hard things to say. In the vocabulary of our day, he has some politically incorrect things to say. They will not be easy to hear. Truth is sometimes hard to listen to. However, he wants to assure them, that in spite of the hard things he needs to say, that he loves these people dearly, and wants to encourage them in their faith.
The epistle was written with four primary intentions:
- To show believers how their joy in this life may be full.
- To guard them against sin.
- To warn them about false teachers.
- To give them an assurance of their salvation.
It’s very easy to see that the audience of this sermon; though they were all believers, are in different stages of spiritual maturity. Some he calls “fathers,” some he calls “young men” and still others he refers to as “children”. These are not necessarily specific age groups, the Apostle is referring to, but levels of spiritual maturity.
This morning, I’d like to walk you through those three identifications and talk to you about levels of spiritual growth. But first, let me acquaint you with five misconceptions about spiritual growth.
I. MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SPIRITUAL GROWTH
- the God who gave us spiritual life in Christ intends for that life to grow into spiritual maturity
- He intends for us to grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ
- the goal of spiritual growth is to become more and more like Jesus
- the Apostle Paul, in writing to the Philippian Christians makes this clear
- “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13–14, NIV84)
- what is the goal we are straining toward ?
- it is the prize for which God has called me heavenward
- it is our total conformation to the character of Christ Jesus
- “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6, NIV84)
- the biblical term for this is sanctification and it must be progressive—that is, it must be on-going
- there are, however, some misconceptions about spiritual growth that I want to quickly deal with
A. MISCONCEPTION #1—Spiritual Growth Has Nothing to Do with Your Standing Before God in Christ
- your standing before God was settled when you put your trust in Jesus, who is the Christ
- it is the righteousness of Christ that covers you and allows you to stand before a holy God, totally justified
- “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Philippians 3:8–9, NIV84)
B. MISCONCEPTION #2—Spiritual Growth Has Nothing to Do with God’s Love for You
- God doesn’t love you more or like you better if you’re mature in the faith
- “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” (John 13:1, NIV84)
- the scene is the Upper Room on the night of our Lord’s last Passover with his disciples
- the picture painted of the disciples is not a pretty one
- on this solemn occasion we find them arguing again about which of them will be the greatest in the Kingdom
- they were proud, they were immature, and they were doubters
- yet, Jesus loved them with the full extent of his love
- he cannot love us more because we are more mature
- he cannot love us less because we are less mature
C. MISCONCEPTION #3—Spiritual Growth Has Nothing to Do with Time
- spiritual growth is not measured by the calendar
- unfortunately, there are people who have been Christians for a very long time who are woefully immature in their spiritual lives
- the Apostle Paul, in writing to the Christians at Cornith, had to admonish them for their immaturity
- “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. ... “ (1 Corinthians 3:1–3, NIV84)
- these were believers who should have matured beyond their spiritual infancy
- but they hadn’t because they were caught up in jealousy, factionalism, and worldliness
D. MISCONCEPTION #4—Spiritual Growth Is Not Related to Knowledge
- growing in the faith does not—I repeat, does not—proceed from an accumulation of biblical information
- you can have a Ph.D. in biblical studies or systematic theology and be stunningly immature in the faith
- in fact, the more biblical information you receive and don’t apply, the more deceived you are about your true state of immaturity
- growing in the faith does—I repeat, does—proceed from the application of biblical information
- ILLUS. In 2011 about forty-five members of this congregation committed themselves to reading through the Bible in one year. Praise God. I commend you for doing that. Believers need to periodically read through the Bible. However, when it comes to your spiritual growth, I would encourage you to take one Bible verse a week and meditate on that verse for a period of time every day with particular emphasis on applying that verse to your life.
- growing in the faith proceeds from the application of biblical truth to our lives
E. MISCONCEPTION #5—Spiritual Growth Is Not Related to Churchy Activity
- do I believe that believers ought to be in Church for every service of the Church?
- do I believe that attending every service of the Church means you are spiritually mature in the faith?
- absolutely not!
- but let me quickly add that the odds of growing in your faith are greater when you regularly expose yourself to bible study, worship, preaching, fellowship and prayer then if you do not
- these, then are some of the misconceptions about spiritual growth
- now then, let’s move on to ...
II. MILESTONES OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH
- ILLUS. We don’t use milestones in our culture any more, but we do use milage markers. Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance traveled or the remaining distance to a destination. Likewise, there are spiritual milestones in the Christian life that we need to be watching for. In this passage, the Apostle mentions three of them. The milestone of childhood, the milestone of youth, and the milestone of maturity.
- the Apostle John writes to encourage his congregation in their faith
- “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13, NIV84)
- he didn’t write this epistle to make us doubt
- “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.” (1 John 2:12, NIV84)
- the word children in verse 12 is the same word he uses in verse 1 of the second chapter, and means little born ones
- I think the Apostle John is here referring to all believers, regardless of their age or their spiritual maturity
- that name, of course, is Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith
- this is where every believer’s spiritual journey begins—a commitment of heart and mind, and body and soul to the Lord, Jesus Christ
- all believers have all their sins forgiven
- “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 evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.” (1 John 2:13, NIV84)
- he refers to “fathers”—those who are mature in the faith
- he refers to “young men”—those who are maturing in the faith
- he refers to “children”—those who are immature in the faith
A. “LITTLE CHILDREN”—THE FIRST LEVEL OF GROWTH
- there is an important difference in v. 13 that is very important and does not come through in our English translations
- the Apostle John uses a different word for children in verse 13 then he does in verse 12
- the world children in this case means immature little folk and refers to what we would call preschoolers
- these are ones who know that they are children of God, but that’s about all they know
- they can sing, Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so and fully understand it and appreciate that truth
- but Be Thou my vision O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that thou art: Thou my best thought by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light remains a mystery to them
- who here remembers their childhood?
- “Oh to be a kid again” we sometimes hear ourselves saying
- for many it is such an incredible time
- it is usually a carefree time
- children are often oblivious to what is going on around them—just taking in the moment!
- isn’t that how it was when we first came to Christ?
- you’ve been born again, you’re a new Creation in Christ, you now have this NEW relationship with God—the weight and burden of your sins were lifted—and you felt like you didn’t have a care in this world!
- it’s a time of excitement and rejoicing!
- there is a joy that God is your Father, and Christ is your Savior
- then it happens!
- we begin our walk with Christ—we start to grow in our understanding—and things get a little tougher!
- we find out that, though God forgave our sins and brought us into His family, we still struggle with our flesh and find ourselves falling into old habits and yielding to old temptations
- we realize that there is more to this thing called being a Christian than we first understood
- it is about making Jesus Christ the “LORD” of our lives—every part of our lives
- This Is Typically Where Many Believers Stall Out!
- though they may faithfully attend church every Sunday ...
- though may help here and there with various projects ...
- they never really continue the growth process in their lives
- is this the spiritual plain your on?
B. “YOUNG MEN”—THE SECOND LEVEL OF GROWTH
- here is the Christian who has begun to mature in their spiritual growth
- the Apostle John tells us what these young men are known for spiritually—they have overcome the wicked one
- the wicked one is Satan, the Devil (Our Adversary), the accuser of the brethren, the tempter, the god of this world
- and he has been defeated in the lives of these spiritual adolescents
- they have grown to the point where they are not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21)
- these spiritual adolescents, the Apostle writes, are strong—meaning they are spiritually powerful
- they are spiritually powerful because they
- the Word of God abides in them
- because the Word of God abides in them they have overcome the evil one
- here, I believe is the transition point between being a spiritual child vs. becoming a spiritual adolescent—you gain an appreciation for how important the Scriptures are to your life
- Satan is a master deceiver
- many saved people believe and do wrong things in sincerity, thinking they are right
- but a maturing believer is not so easily deceived because he or she knows the Word of God
- the chief characteristic of spiritual children is ignorance of biblical truth
- the chief characteristic of spiritual adolescents is knowledge of essential biblical truth
- we can win the war against our adversary
- we can be victorious in our battle for spiritual growth, if we will listen to what God is saying to us and get to know Him more intimately in His Word
- is this the spiritual plain your on?
C. “FATHERS”—THE THIRD LEVEL OF GROWTH
- “fathers” are the saints who have known the Lord Jesus for many years and have grown and matured
- John says of these men ye have known him that is from the beginning
- in fact, he says this of them twice
- the implication is that these are believers who have a deep, intimate knowledge of the Lord, Jesus Christ
- they know him as the Apostle had come to know him
- “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” (Philippians 3:10, NIV84)
- they had learned the secret of walking to please God
- “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1, ESV)
- knowing the Scriptures is about more than knowing truth and discovering principles for daily living
- knowing the Scriptures becomes about knowing the God who gave us the truth and the principles
- you begin to plumb the depths of the character of God
I don’t ask you to pray many prayers with me, but as I close this sermon this morning, let me encourage you to pray after me these thoughts: Father, thank you for calling me to be one of you little born-again ones ... Thank you for the forgiveness of all my sins, even the ones I’ve yet to commit ... Father, I pray that I might grow in the knowledge of your Word ... I pray that your Word, that indwells my heart and mind, will give me power over the wicked one. Father in Heaven ... make me more like your Son, Jesus ... by your grace grow me up that I become a spiritual father ... by your grace may I attain to the fullness of Christ ... may I continually be conformed to his image ... Father, make me one through whom you establish your Kingdom on earth.