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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:In the Father's Family, This Is Who You Are
Text:1 John 2:12-14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 148:3,4                                                                                          

Ps 119:4,6                                                                                                      

Reading – 1 John 2

Ps 71:1,3,9,10

Sermon – 1 John 2:12-14

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 13:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, we all have ways to define ourselves—things that (we say) make up who we are. A lot of people will do this by their job: “I’m a minister. I’m an engineer, or an electrician. I’m a mother.” Or we define ourselves by our interests and hobbies: “I play sports. I love music. I fish.” There’s many ways to define ourselves—just think of your Facebook profile, or what you choose to see in your newsfeed, or the friends you spend time with.

We have another identity too. There’s a way to look at ourselves, and it’s not whatever we see in the bathroom mirror, or the ID we see in our wallet. It’s what we see when we look into the mirror of Scripture. Who does God say we are? What’s our identity in the sight of heaven? In this world there’s really only two families: the family of God, and the family of the devil. You belong to one, or the other. And if we know Christ, then we’re children of God—an identity that has everything to do with all that we do!

Why does the apostle John talk about identity in our text? He’s been warning his friends about the dangers of darkness, and the necessity of walking in the light. In his days there was a plague of false teachers who were denying that Jesus had come in the flesh—they were rejecting the one Saviour, and what He came to do. These heretics had been part of the church, but they really didn’t belong, and that’s why they recently left.

Now, imagine that you were part of a congregation that had just gone through a painful split like that. A bunch of your friends, even some of your family members, had gone along with preachers who were saying different things about Jesus—they’d left, and not come back. Now you sit in church, and there’s lots of empty places around you. Wouldn’t that make you wonder? “What if I should’ve left too? What if they were right, and we’re wrong?”

John wants to encourage the believers. After all his warnings in chapter 2, he doesn’t want them to think he’s doubting their faith. He reassures them, and the best way is to remember who they are in Christ. What’s their identity in him? That’s ours too. That’s what we should consider foremost about ourselves, every day of the week, no matter who we’re with: “I know Jesus Christ. I’m part of God’s family. My sins are forgiven, and my purpose is to glorify him.” That’s our identity, and this is our theme,

Through the apostle John, the Holy Spirit reminds us who we are:

  1. little children of the Father
  2. fathers and mothers in faith
  3. young men and women in battle


1. little children of the Father: What we have before us in 1 John is one of those ancient letters that make up the Bible. For this was a letter written by an apostle of the Lord, and sent to Christians in the first century. When it was first dropped in the mailbox, the church of Christ was still very young. So young that some of Jesus’ first followers were still going around, spreading the Word. That’s what the apostle John was doing, like Paul and Peter: planting churches here and there, then keeping in touch by visits and letters.

So let’s first look at a few features of our text. First, see that John makes six statements, and they all have the same basic form: “I write to you…” or “I have written to you.”

Second, notice that the six sentences can be neatly divided into two sections, because the three groups of people are both mentioned twice: “children, fathers, and young men,” in that order. Or you could break our text into parallel rows: what he says to the children (in verse 12, and the end of verse 13), then what he says to the fathers (in verse 13, and the beginning of verse 14), and then what he says to the young men (halfway through verse 13, and the end of verse 14).

For a third feature, let’s notice that in the first half of the text, John says, “I write to you…” (present tense). In the second half, John has mostly switched to past tense, “I have written to you.” Why does John do this? Probably to emphasize the certainty of what he’s saying. He’s trying to reassure them! This is what he is writing at the moment, and this is what he’s already written (and taught them) in the past. John hasn’t changed his mind about these things, unlike those false teachers who were distorting true doctrine. No, John reinforces what he’s written: children, parents, young people—this is who you are in Christ! It’s not going to change.

So who is John writing to? What I mean is, should we picture the apostle addressing three different age groups in these verses? First pulling aside the really young ones, maybe going into the nursery, and giving them a little message? Then talking to fathers and mothers, and finally visiting the youth groups with a message specially for them?

We shouldn’t picture three age groups in our text, but people at different stages of growing into Christ. Just compare it to how in every family there are different levels of maturity, and these levels aren’t always tied to how old they are. If you look around the dinner table tonight, you know that everyone belongs, but not everyone is the same. One child might be really responsible, and another less so. One child might be very trusting, while another struggles to do that. That’s how it is in God’s family too—by faith we all belong. But through the Spirit we’re each at different places in our walk with the Lord.

There are those whom the Bible calls “infants in Christ,” even newborn Christians. There are those in the church who are just learning what the Bible really says, who are just discovering what it means to believe in Christ.

Besides newborn Christians, you have those in a congregation who are more mature in the faith. Sure, maybe they’re older—or maybe they’ve just had the kind of experiences that develop a person’s dependence on God. Sometimes we speak about people being “old beyond their years.” It’s often trials that stretch and strengthen our faith, like being sick, or facing a challenge in the home. Through the refining of troubles, God can bring a person to deep maturity of faith, and can give them a wise insight into his Word. 

And then you have those John calls “young men” (and women). He describes their ongoing combat with the devil, and he speaks of their strength. One commentator calls them “spiritual warriors.” This is another stage of spiritual growth, that time when we’re first full of enthusiasm in doing the Lord’s will and taking the fight to Satan.

I want to emphasize that the blessings John talks about don’t belong only to one group, and not the next. For example, when he says to the “children” that their sins are forgiven, this is also true of the young men and women too, and of those who are more mature—all who are in Christ are forgiven! And again, when John says to the “young in Christ” that they’re fighting the devil, that’s true of every believer. Those who are new in the faith need to resist the devil, and those who’ve believed for years have to keep on fighting, too. Even so, Pastor John highlights the message that is most important for each group in his congregation. He says the thing that each of us needs to hear!

So let’s go back to those who are fresh to the faith: “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake” (v 12). This is what makes us the children of God: simply, it’s when we believe that God forgives our sins in Jesus Christ. That is the essential message of the gospel. There’s lots of other things to know, but this is the precious core of our faith: that sinners can have peace with God through the work of Christ. And when we teach our children about the Bible, that’s often the first truth that they can verbalize: “Jesus died on the cross for my sins.” That’s a true message, and a saving message.

We mentioned children, but remember that this isn’t about how old a Christian is. Say there’s someone in their twenties who comes to faith through the witnessing of a Christian at work. Or say there’s someone who grows up as part of the church, but he never really embraces what he hears—not until he’s 45 and the Spirit moves him to believe truly. Such believers are just “children” in Christ—and what will they more than likely want to talk about? That simple yet vital message that John speaks of in verse 12: the forgiveness of sins through Jesus!

Some years ago I was teaching a new believer, someone who had grown up Roman Catholic but who had been led to the Reformed faith. We were going through the Belgic Confession together, which he found very helpful. But sometimes after another session of studying the finer points of providence, the marks of the church, and the sacraments, he would say, “Why don’t we talk more about Jesus? Let’s go back to what Jesus said and what He did.”

That single-minded focus on Christ is good. As John says to the newborns in Christ, “Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake” (v 12). All that you have done wrong, everything that once separated you from God, is forgiven—no matter our age or maturity, that’s what we need to know! That should always delight us.

See how this forgiveness is “for his name’s sake.” In the Scriptures, a name isn’t simply what a person was called by her parents at birth, but a “name” stands for the whole character of the person. “Forgiven for his name’s sake” means that we have been forgiven because of who Christ is. The whole basis for our being forgiven is God’s character, his character of justice and mercy as revealed in Christ! Like David prays in Psalm 25:11, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, forgive my guilt.” And God surely will!

In the second half of the text, the Spirit speaks to the children again: “I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father” (v 13). That too, brings us close to the heart of faith. For think about a little child—he feels most secure when he knows his parents are there. If you take the child away from home, or the parents go to Mexico for a week, a child’s going to be uneasy. Mom and Dad are gone, and security feels like it’s been lost. Well, that’s how it is for the one who knows God the Father. When we’re with him, we’re OK. No need for fear. True faith clings to knowing that one thing: God is Father. That’s something never to lose, no matter our age: the confidence that you can rest in the Father. He forgives you, and He cares for you.


2. fathers and mothers in faith: In a sense we should all be children in faith. Recall what Jesus says, “Truly, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). We have to be children, yet every child is called to develop. Peter exhorts us “to desire the pure milk of the Word, so that we may grow.”

In John’s congregation, there were new converts, but also those who’d been Christians for longer. Says John, “I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning” (v 13). Some of us too, have the depth and stability of experience. It comes through living the Christian life, year after year: they are “fathers.” (In the title for this point, I also mention “mothers,” because that’s surely what John intends to say. It’s just like when the apostles write in their letters, “Brothers,” and they mean to include the sisters.) Any church—also this church—will have men and women who’ve grown in communion with God, who’ve learned much about living out the faith.

John could’ve been thinking about his own experience here. By the time he writes this letter, he was probably an old man—a tradition says he was perhaps 100 years old. 100 years—that means for nearly 70 years he’d walked with Christ, and meditated on his glories. Through the passing of time he’d come to know him so well.

To be sure, every Christian knows God. Every believer has learned something about his power and promise. But just because you’ve been a believer for a long time doesn’t mean that your faith is mature. Just because you’re forty, or even seventy, doesn’t mean that your knowledge of God is richer and truer.

That’s because knowing God isn’t an intellectual thing, a matter of accumulating facts and data. Knowing the Lord truly doesn’t just come through going to Bible study, decade after decade. That can be a part of it, but to “know” God is something more. It’s to have a fellowship with the Father that is close and deep. There’s an intimacy with God that can’t be faked or manufactured, a familiarity that comes through loving Him and depending on Him.

It’s like when we know someone really well, a good friend, or a spouse. Maybe there’s someone in your life about whom you can say, even when they’re not with you: “I just know that he would say this. I know that she’d like this.” And you’d be right! You know that by experience, you know it by walking closely with a person.

We also know God by experience. We come to know God better through intense times of praying and praying, and praying some more. We know God more deeply through being refined by hardships and trials, in those moments and months when we learn what really matters: his grace, and his power. We know God more truly through the lessons of service and sacrifice, when we keep giving and we keep loving, not because it’s easy or exciting, but because God says that it’s right.

Maturity of faith is when we say, and when we mean it, “I know that God is faithful. I know his Word is always true.” It’s another of the blessings of being his child, that besides forgiveness, there is this gift of an increasing awareness of God’s glory: “You have known him who is from the beginning” (v 13).

We grow in love for the One who is from the beginning. So who is that, exactly? If we rewind to the very first verse of this letter, we see it. There John says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…” (1:1).

About whom is John speaking there? Jesus Christ, God’s Son. He’s the one who is from the beginning, but who took on our human flesh, so that He could be heard and seen and touched—and then killed. This is the one whom believers can know. Because Christ is unchanging. Even as time hurries on, even as our life winds down, even as this world groans and cries with brokenness, we know who’s been here from the beginning. Every generation can find their refuge in the Saviour who is from everlasting to everlasting.

Yes, childlike faith continues, but with it comes a stability and a permanence in Christ. A mature believer perseveres, because he or she has learned that God in Christ is reliable. And then that mature believer also has a calling. Just like a father or mother in the home, a father or mother in the faith should teach—modeling what it is to be a Christian. By your words, by your witness, by example, by instruction, you should point others to the God whom you’ve come to know. We need this witness—we need “fathers and mothers” in faith to tell us about Christ. We need veterans of the kingdom to encourage us.


3. young men and women in battle: “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one” (v 13). Now the Spirit speaks to those who are not new to the faith, nor to those who have been seasoned by trial or years of experience. But He speaks to those who are full of energy and vigour in Christ. In verse 14 He says of them, “You are strong.” Why is it so good that the young are strong? Because they’re warriors. They’re busy doing battle with the devil; this is the struggle that is particular to them.

Let’s notice how the Spirit puts it: they’re overcoming “the wicked one.” He speaks of a person, a being. We’re not involved in some abstract fight against injustice. We’re not playing a video game against a make-believe villain. This is real. There is someone out there whose only purpose is to seduce us away from God. Satan is aggressive—he’s a terrorist who is trying to injure and kill you, and as many of God’s children that he can!

Now, all believers will speak of the devil’s power. Even those who’ve walked with Christ for seventy and eighty years know very well that Satan keeps tempting, and keeps trying to mislead. Even when the time comes for a Christian to die, the devil can be hard at work, accusing, harassing, getting a person to doubt God’s sure promise.

So it’s not the case that the devil only attacks the young. Yet the young in faith do face a special challenge. They believe in Christ, they’re busy learning his ways from his Word, but they’re vulnerable. They’re susceptible to get off-track. If the devil can just keep them from making a commitment at this stage… If he can just surround them with the wrong people… Get them to marry someone who will hinder (and not help) their service of God… Get them hooked with ways of escape and pleasure and fun… The attacks will continue.

It’s so good then, that this is also a time when God blesses his children with strength. Those who are no longer infants in Christ, but are “young in faith” have an enthusiasm for God’s service. They have a joy in the Word, and a desire to achieve things for the kingdom. Their hands and feet are strong for service. A person in this stage of growth is most eager to take on the burden of following Christ!

I see this sometimes when a young person makes profession of faith, and they have a longing to get involved, to do great things for Christ. Or I see it when a young man becomes an elder or deacon for the first time, and he’s ready with a zealous love, and a spirit of sacrifice. I see it when there are those who have a heart to share the gospel with our neighbours, or to help those who are suffering. That’s a beautiful enthusiasm, a God-given enthusiasm. And it doesn’t have to fade. But it is a unique time, and it puts the devil on the run.

All the same, we could misread our text when it says, “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one” (v 13). Sounds like a done deal, right? Temptations denied, sin under control, victory in hand. But it’s all through Christ—it’s only through Christ. Because Jesus defeated the devil at the cross, he can no longer accuse Christ’s people of wrong. No more do we have to live in the shame of sins we’ve committed. No longer can this enemy enjoy victory after victory over God’s people.

Yet know this: Christ’s great victory is shared only by those who go with him! For the evil one is still so strong. When we’re in this period of growing in faith, in between infancy and maturity, we’re simply not able to continue alone. No, that’s a guaranteed way for you to fail and to fall, when you leave Christ behind, when you leave him out of your struggles. You can have all the electricity in the world, but if you don’t connect to it—if you don’t plug in to it—you’re still powerless and dead. Our power to fight sin, to say no to what the devil is offering (what he’s offering in the bottle, on the computer, in the stores, wherever) is a power that comes only by being near to Christ! You’re not weak if you lean on Christ, you’re strong!

Look at what the Spirit a bit further, “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you” (v 14). Our triumph in Christ is through his Word abiding in us, and shaping our life. So the young need to fortified daily by the promises of the Word. They need to be directed daily by his commandments. Think of Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your Word.” So take that Word, and let it remain in you!

Beloved, that’s the calling for all of us, no matter our age, no matter our place in the Christian journey. To be strong in Christ, and to let his Word abide! The Spirit wants to awaken within us a sense of the love that we owe to God our Saviour. So He says, “This is who you are in Christ. As a child of God, you have access to the greatest power. In Christ, you are heir to the greatest treasure. And you have been given the highest purpose: to live for his glory. Now go, and do so!”  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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