Three Stages of Spiritual Growth

Title: Three Stages of Spiritual Growth

Bible Book: 1 John 2 : 12-14

Author: Gil McKee

Subject: Spiritual Growth



As I began to prepare the next section of verses in our study of 1 John this week, two things immediately jumped out at me as being nothing less than the timing of God. First, is the fact that today is a day we scheduled many months ago to emphasize children’s ministry. And as we will see, John begins the twelfth verse of this second chapter by saying, “I am writing to you, little children…” We’ll get back to that in just a moment.

But then a second thing occurred to me about the timing of this passage. And that is the fact that on Sunday nights we are studying together the fundamentals of spiritual growth. And in our text this morning John seems to be addressing three distinct stages of spiritual growth. Notice what he says. Read Text.

What really catches my ear and eye in these verses is John’s use of the terms, little children, young men, and fathers. And when John uses these terms he is not talking about chronological stages of life; he is talking about spiritual stages of life. In other words, he is talking about three very specific stages of our spiritual growth and maturity. And with each stage he gives a couple of characteristics associated with that particular stage of spiritual growth.

The first stage he identifies by the term, little children. I have chosen to call this stage…

I. The Stage Of Newborn Infancy

Notice what John says about this stage in verses twelve and fourteen: “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name…I am writing to you, children, because you have come to know the Father.” 1 John 2:12, 14a (HCSB)

It’s worth noting here that John uses two different words for children in these two verses. The word translated little children in verse twelve is a word that is commonly used in the New Testament to describe Christians in general as the children of God. This is how we know that John is speaking spiritually not chronologically.

Of course, the most basic thing that can be said about any child of God is that his or her sins have been forgiven. That is exactly what happens when a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ. Their sins are forgiven. And John adds an important phrase: “on account of His name,” that is, the name of Jesus. Other translations make it even clearer by saying, “for His name’s sake.”

In other words, when a person is saved and forgiven of all their sins it is not because of their own worthiness or merit, but for the glory of God’s name. As one writer puts it: “God saves sinners because it pleases Him to glorify His name by manifesting His superabundant grace, mercy, and power.”

But then in verse fourteen John uses a word simply translated, children. While the word in verse twelve refers to all the children of God, this word refers specifically to young children who are still under the instruction, care, and guidance of their parents. And John says of them that they have come to know the Father.

You know, when a newborn baby comes into the world and joins his new family, he doesn’t know much and can’t do much. But as he learns to recognize the faces of his new family he begins to call out to them. And although I know it must frustrate a mother it seems that the first words out of his mouth are DaDa.

In fact, this is exactly what the apostle Paul was talking about in the eighth chapter of Romans. He said that we “have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” Romans 8:15 (NASU) The word, Abba, is the Hebrew word for DaDa.

Like a newborn infant, when a person is born into the family of God they don’t understand all there is to know about their new life. Most new Christians can’t give a theological explanation for what has happened to them or what the difference is between Jesus being their Savior and His being their Lord. They are spiritual newborns – spiritual infants.

But infants are not intended to stay infants forever. In fact, infancy is hard to live with over a long period of time, isn’t it? How many of you new moms and dads want to continue getting up two or three times a night to feed that new baby the nest five years? How many of you want to continue changing dirty diapers for the next five years? How many of you want your child to still be only saying, DaDa, five years from now?

No…none of that would be normal. Why – because an infant is expected to grow and mature. It’s the same way with a spiritual infant. God doesn’t intend for his children to remain in the stage of newborn infancy forever. Which leads us to a second stage…

II. The Stage Of Strong Intensity

John describes this stage of spiritual growth in the latter parts of verses thirteen and fourteen: “I am writing to you, young men, because you have had victory over the evil one…I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have had victory over the evil one.” 1 John 2:13b-14b (HCSB)

In contrast to newborn infants and children, John now identifies young men as Christians who are no longer babes in the Lord but are strong and have overcome the evil one because the Word of God remains in them. These are Christians who are no longer ignorant of the Word of God and have grown in their knowledge and practice of the Word.

They have outgrown much of their spiritual childishness and immaturity. They have moved beyond the elementary struggles of a new life in Christ and have adopted a biblical worldview. They have developed a mature love for the truth and sharing that truth with others. This is a stage of intense spiritual growth and maturing. And because of their growth, they have won significant spiritual victories over the evil one.

It is vitally important here to note that God’s Word is the divinely designed instrument of spiritual growth. In fact, it is impossible to grow up and mature as a Christian unless the Word of God remains, or abides, in you. (REPEAT POINT 2 SLIDE)

This is why Satan fights us so hard in the matter of Bible study and building our life around the centrality of the Scriptures. This is why there continues to be such an assault on those who would hold up the Word of God as the sole authority of their lives.

We saw a graphic example of this last week in the Miss USA pageant through the liberal media assault of Carrie Prejean, Miss California, following her defense of the biblical view of marriage as being between a man and a woman. If you’ve not seen it or heard about it…Perez Hilton, an openly gay man and activist for the homosexual agenda, who was serving as a judge for the pageant, asked Miss California, a born-again Christian, if she thought every state should legalize same-sex marriage. And when she stated that she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman, not only did it probably cost her the Miss USA crown, but Perez Hilton used her statement as an opportunity to verbally assault her in a blog website following the pageant. His abusive language and comments about Miss California following the contest should have made one thing crystal clear to anyone who is truly interested in the truth.

And that is this: Those people in our country who are trying to shove same-sex marriage and the homosexual agenda down our throats while at the same time accusing Christians of being intolerant and judgmental bigots…are in fact themselves the most intolerant people on the face of the planet. And you know why? Because those who are behind the assault on Judeo-Christian values in this country today are not interested in their personal opinions and views simply being tolerated; they want their views to be totally embraced and accepted by everyone. And if someone, like Miss California, holds a different view, especially a Judeo-Christian view, and is courageous enough to kindly, yet forthrightly, voice his or her opinion on the issue, then that person is openly mocked, scorned, and criticized for exercising their freedom of speech.

Twice in these verses in 1 John 2, the Bible speaks of young men who are grounded and rooted in the Word of God having victory over the evil one. There is a certain stage of spiritual growth and maturity that can only be achieved when we become people that are grounded and rooted in the Word of God and have as our sole authority the truth of that Word. That’s why John said in verse fourteen: “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s Word remains in you, and you have had victory over the evil one.” 1 John 2:14c (HCSB)

Listen, we will never have victory over the evil that is bombarding and overtaking our nation today until we return to the principles and convictions of our forefathers that were rooted and grounded in the Word of God. We need Christians in this nation today who have moved beyond the stage of newborn infancy to the stage of strong intensity!

And then third, John identifies…

III. The Stage Of Mature Intimacy

This is a stage of spiritual maturity that represents a lifetime commitment of obedience and intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

John uses the term fathers to refer to this stage of spiritual growth. And he says the same thing twice in verses thirteen and fourteen: “I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the One who is from the beginning…I have written to you, fathers, because you have come to know the One who is from the beginning.” 1 John 2:13a, 14b (HCSB)

The phrase, have come to know, is very important because it refers to more than simply an intellectual knowledge but a knowledge that is characterized by intimate experience and relationship. This is a stage of spiritual maturity where a person moves beyond simply defending their knowledge of truth to pursuing that intimate and deep relationship with the God from whom all truth comes.

Those who enter the stage of mature intimacy are those who have committed their life over the long haul to an intimate and obedient relationship with Jesus Christ. They have walked with God long enough and intimately enough to bear the fruit of righteousness in daily living.

In fact, before we close this morning let me quickly mention four characteristics that will be seen in the lives of those who have entered the stage of mature intimacy.

A. Christians In The Stage Of Mature Intimacy Reproduce

Being a man doesn’t make you a father. Having children makes you a father. The first test of spiritual fathers is do you have any spiritual children? Have you personally led someone else to faith in Christ?

Jesus said it this way in Matthew 28: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20 (NASU)

If you are not reproducing and making disciples then you have not yet become a spiritual father.

B. Christians In The Stage Of Mature Intimacy Instruct\

The writer of Hebrews said it this way: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature.” Hebrews 5:12-14 (NASU)

Spiritual fathers refer to Christians who have matured to the point of being able to pass along the truth of God’s Word to others. You may not have the specific gift of teaching or even necessarily be a Sunday School teacher or Bible class instructor. But a sign of mature intimacy is the desire and ability share the Word of God with others.

C. Christians In The Stage Of Mature Intimacy Model Maturity

The apostle Paul said it this way: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)

Spiritual fathers live an exemplary life. They set a Christ-like example. Someone might say, “Well, I don’t follow people.” Yes you do! The question is, “Who are you following? Whose example are you modeling?” The Bible says that Christians who are in the stage of mature intimacy follow the example of Christ and model spiritual maturity.

D. Christians In The Stage Of Mature Intimacy Love

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul said that when you boil it all down, the Christian life is about faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love. When Jesus was once asked about the greatest commandment He replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

I think all of us would agree that there was a reason Jesus answered that question the way He did and I also believe there is a reason why He put those two commands to love in the particular order that He did. Of course, all of us understand that our love for God is to be first in our life. But I believe Jesus included the command to love others with it because a person who loves God with a mature intimacy will also love others.

A Christian in the stage of mature intimacy will love others as much as he loves himself. That means we will be just as concerned about the salvation of our lost neighbors, friends, and family members as we are about our own. We will not be satisfied and content that we are going to heaven while we know countless others who are not.

That’s why we have been praying for our lost friends and neighbors and family members since September. That’s why we are inviting as many of them as possible to the T-Town Block Party next Sunday morning. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that those in our church who truly love the Lord intimately and love others as much as they love themselves are the ones who have taken this emphasis the most seriously.

They have prayed and prayed and are inviting the lost to come next Sunday because they understand that to love our neighbors and friends and family members as much as we love ourselves is second only to our love for God; and is in fact, a product of our love for God. And there is no greater expression of love than to share the desire of God that none perish but all would come to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.

So let me ask you something this morning. What stage of spiritual maturity are you in? Are you still in the stage of newborn infancy or can you say that you are moving toward strong intensity? If you have entered that stage of strong intensity are you moving toward that stage of mature intimacy?

Whatever stage you are in, God can begin taking you to the next stage if you’re ready. Maybe you’re not even a newborn yet because you have never been born again by accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior. That new birth can happen today and you can begin your journey of spiritual growth.

1 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary:1-3 John (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007), 73

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