As I read John’s words here to his different readers, it strikes me that there are different stages that we go through in our Christian lives.
First, as children.
I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (12)
I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. (13c)
I think that when we first become Christians, two things strike us above all things.
First, that God has forgiven us.
So many of us come to God weighted down by our sins. We see what a mess we have made of our lives because of our choices, and in our desperation we turn to God. And John tells us, “Your sins are forgiven.”
I think of the woman who came to Jesus, a woman who had been burdened by her sins, weeping and wetting his feet with her tears. And Jesus said to her gently, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-50)
That’s the joy that all new Christians know.
Second, we come to know God as Father. It’s a theme that John will come back to later in this letter. (3:1-3)
The thing is, we don’t come to know God first as the awesome other-worldly being that transcends the universe. As the great King of all kings. As someone so far removed from us that we couldn’t possibly draw near to him.
Rather, we come to know him as Father. As someone who is approachable because he truly loves and cares for us. As someone who is never too busy for us, but will stop whatever he is doing when we come to him because he delights in us as his children.
But as we grow as Christians, we don’t remain mere children. We become mature and strong.
So John says,
I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (14b)
In other words, as the word of God lives in us, as we get beyond the milk of the gospel and take in the solid meat of the word, and by our constant use of it train ourselves to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:12-14), we overcome the evil one and all his attempts to destroy us.
We learn to recognize the false teaching he throws at us to lead us astray from God. And we learn to overcome the temptations to sin that would destroy us. We will see more of these themes throughout the rest of this letter.
Finally, as we become mature in our faith, we start to see God as he truly is. John writes,
I write to you fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. (2:13a, 2:14a)
As C.S. Lewis put it, the more we grow, the bigger God becomes to us. Not because he actually grows bigger. But because we see him more clearly as he truly is. We see that he is not just our loving Father, but the creator of all things and ruler of the universe. That he is the eternal one, with no beginning or end. And we bow down at awe of him.
But we will bow, not just because of his greatness. But because of the fact that as awesome as he is, he still loves us and calls us his children.
Because at the end of the day, no matter how much we may grow and mature as Christians, we will never outgrow our Father or our need to see him as such.
So each day, let us grow in the grace and knowledge of him who loves us and calls us his children.