"I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been 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 evil one." (1 John 2:12-14)I believe that John is describing our grow in God; growing form children, to young men and women, and finally to full grown fathers and mothers. John describes our starting point, our goal, and the intermediate step to reaching our goal. Here are the three stages of Christian life John describes.
Children. The state of being a child is characterized by our introduction to the Father. Through one means or another, we come to hear about the love of God and the forgiveness He offers us. In coming to God, we see Him as, not a demanding and exacting God, but a loving and forgiving Father. Our response in faith to Him secures for us our forgiveness and makes us children of God. "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." (John 1:12) Though we were children of the world, we have now become born again as children of God.
Young Men and Women. As we continue to grow in God, the Word of God finds place and root in our lives. This is not only the Word of God who is Jesus but also the written word of God which records His words and deeds. The word of God strengthens us and teaches us to overcome the evil one. This is both our enemy in the world, the Devil, and also the passions and lusts that wage war within us. The Word of God empowers us and emboldens us to say "No!" to sin and "Yes" to God. We learn to live free from sin as slaves of righteousness. Our inner man becomes the master of our flesh rather than our flesh dictating to our inner man. Though we were once disciples of the world, we are now disciples of Christ.
Fathers and Mothers. In the end, the goal is to know and love God; not as some impersonal force or guiding idea, but as the one who always existed, the one who created us, and the one who will ever love us. As our love for God deepens, our obedience shifts from that which is born out of reason and instruction to that which is born out of love and obedience. We come to a place where we have been transformed through the knowledge of God in the renewing of our mind. We have come to understand a wisdom that is hidden from the world and the immature. We see the world through God's perspective and it colors all we do, think, and feel. Where we once loved the world and all it held for us, we now love God and are content with His will and portion for our lives.
There are two main errors we commit in regards to these stages of Christian growth. One is we fail to progress. We are content with salvation but indisposed to discipline our lives. Many are settled in churches where they hear a salvation message each week but never an appeal for discipleship. Many of these truly love the Father but have never come to know the Instructor. The second error is that we try and skip steps. We want to go from salvation to maturity without the process of maturity. Some proclaim an intimacy with God who have never experienced the discipline of the Word in their lives. They are content with emotions but disdain the hard work for maturation.
God has a plan for our lives from beginning to end. Let us rejoice in the journey as we progress step to step, stage to stage, and knowing to knowing.