In 1 John 2:12-14, John addresses three groups of believers; fathers, young men and little children. These are simply categories for believers at different stages of spiritual growth.
Fathers are those who have progressed to a steadfast confidence in the faithfulness of God. They have meditated on the depths of Gods character to such an extent that they gain a deep knowledge of Him and worship Him intimately. Twice, John acknowledges that they have known God from the beginning.
The second group, young men, are believers who are younger in years and apparently not yet fully mature in their spiritual experience. This is not to say they are immature or “babes”, as Paul would say (Romans 2:20; 1 Cor. 3:1). They have progressed beyond the elemental things of scripture and have gained a greater understand of theological complexities. These are the people who are concerned with doctrinal integrity, defending the church and the Lord against heresy.
Finally, little children are those who are new believers. They are still new in their faith, and their understanding of the deeper things of Scripture is limited. New believers are prone to weakness and susceptible to theological error due to lack of discernment.
It should be noted that much of what we tend to attribute to spiritual growth has nothing to do with it. In his commentary on 1 John, John MacArthur lists 6 things that spiritual growth is not
- Spiritual growth does not determine a believer’s standing before God. The newest believer has the same standing before God as the oldest saint
- Spiritual growth does not affect God’s love for believers. God does not love mature saints more than new saints
- Spiritual growth is not measured by the calendar. It is possible for new believers to be further in their spiritual growth than one who has believed for years.
- Spiritual growth is unrelated to theological knowledge. One can have a lot of theological knowledge and still me spiritually immature.
- Spiritual growth has nothing to do with outwardly successful ministry activity. Some of the busiest people in ministry are unskilled in truth and immature in wisdom that comes from God.
- Spiritual growth is not mystical, sentimental, or psychological. It is not a result of a once-for-all act of spiritual rededication, religious decision, or emotional experience that produces good feelings
“The only way believers can progress on the continuum of spiritual growth is from the life-giving, transforming application of the Word of God in their lives. By reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on, and applying the Bible’s truth in every situation, Christians are transformed into the image of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In which of these 3 stages do you see yourself?