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I John 2:12-14

1 John 2:12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you on account of His name.

 13 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.



Our text this morning continues our study of John’s first general Epistle.


Now remember, the Apostle John is writing to a group of churches under his care in order to counter the threat of false teachers who are distorting the Gospel by both their teaching and their living.


Notice then the story thus far: in part 1 John opened his epistle by turning our eyes to Christ and the unchanging Gospel that He sent the Apostles to proclaim. Not only that, John reminded his readers of two vital aspects of the Apostles’ Gospel/teaching, which his readers will need as they move forward to confront the world’s false teachers (God is light with no darkness; and we all sin).


In part 2 of the Epistle (chapter 2:1-11), John turned to apply this Apostolic teaching to the first false teaching that is troubling his flock. Notice then John says that he is writing in order that his readers won’t sin anymore (2:1). In other words, unlike the false teachers’ claim, it matters how we live. Therefore, instead of denying or ignoring sin, we are to turn to Christ, confessing our sins, and seeking a grace that both forgives and heals us.


In our text this morning John turns to apply the two key points of the Apostles’ teaching to the second concern raised by the false teachers.



Verse 12

Notice at once, for the second time in his epistle John alerts his readers that what they are about to hear is one of the main reasons he is writing this letter to them FN#1. John says I am writing to you because. In other words, what follows in this section is John’s second application of the Apostles’ teaching to the threat brought about by the false teachers. However, notice the surprise: notice how John begins his second application: John does not start with some theological issue or doctrinal correction. Instead, John begins by fortifying the believer’s heart. That is, in the face of the false teachers’ abusive and demeaning approach, John reminds his readers of the great assurance and confidence that is theirs in Christ Jesus. Notice then how John addresses his flock: he calls them little children. Importance: the Greek term here for “little children” is used throughout John’s writings as an expression of tenderness and affection (just like in English- little Johnny)FN#2.  In other words, in John’s address we see a reflection of the genuine love/tenderness that God has for His people. Not only that, this love/assurance stands in stark contrast to the false teachers who leave their follower spiritually uncertain and insecure in their standing before God FN#3.  

          Next, notice the first assurance that John gives his flock: John says your sins are forgiven on account of His name. Importance: remember the false teachers who are troubling John’s flock maintain that a person’s standing/acceptance before God depends upon them accomplishing the particular brand of spiritual enlightenment that these false teachers are peddling. Not only that without this enlightenment together with the false teachers’ mediation/approval, a person’s eternal standing/ acceptance before God remains hazardously uncertain/in jeopardy. Notice then the fortification/assurance John provides: John says he is writing because the believer’s sins are forgiven. In other words, there is nothing outstanding that God requires; nor is there anything that separates or jeopardizes the believer’s standing/acceptance before God. Instead, God has provided all that God requires. Not only that, notice the source/grounds of the believer’s security. John says our sins have been forgiven on account of His name FN#4. In other words, our security/standing before God is not based on our efforts nor is it dependent on the approbation of some false teacher. Instead, it has been secured at once, in full, by Christ and Christ alone. Stepping back then, notice the first assurance that John provides his readers (both then and now): in the face of the false teachers who leave their followers spiritually uncertain and insecure, John assures his flock that they are God’s adored children, whose acceptance/standing has been secured in full by God’s own Son.



Verse 13

Next, notice the second assurance John gives his flock. John says I am writing to you fathers. However please note: John is not writing to different groups within the church, who are distinguished by age and/or role. Instead, John is using three different depictions to describe things that are true about each and every believer. How do we know? First there is a verbal mirroring among the groups that points back to salvation as the common source of each description FN#5. However, the primary indication we have that each depiction represents all believers is that the assurance that each group enjoys is something that is common to every believer. Notice the result: John uses each one of these depictions to tell us something different about who we are in Christ. As such, each depiction provides further assurance against the claims of the false teachers. Notice then John begins verse 13 by addressing his flock as Fathers. Why? Notice, if the depiction “little children” underscored God’s affection, acceptance, and care of the believer, then “fathers” underscores the believer’s spiritual authority and witness before the world. Notice then the assurance John gives us as fathers: John says he is writing because we know Him who has been from the beginning. That is, we know Jesus, who is eternal God, sent by God, and who is the definitive revelation of God (1:1) FN#6. In other words, there is nothing about God or what God requires that Jesus, God’s own Son missed or left out. As such, the believer does not require the speculations, augments, or approval of any false teacher. Instead, it is the believer who stands before a dark world as lights, spiritual leaders, and moral authorities. Not only that, by describing believers as fathers, John continues the affectionate and familial picture of the body of Christ. Thus, in place of the manipulative, abusive, and self-centered leadership of the false teachers, believers (as spiritual fathers) are to reflect God’s love and truth to others and the world. Importance: notice the point: John knows that by simply turning your eyes to the Gospel and remembering who you are in Christ, you will have the very foundation/confidence that you need to defend against the spiritual manipulations and speculations of the world’s false teachers.



Next, notice John says I am writing to you young men. That is, John turns to describe the believer as a vigorous youth, full of life and strength. Notice then the third assurance that John gives: John says I am writing to you because you have overcome the evil one FN#7. In other words, John reminds his flock that Christ has given them victory (inside and out) over the world, the flesh and the devil (that is, over everything that would oppose God and His purpose for His people). Notice then the point: once again, John assures his readers that there is absolutely no need for the false teachers, their assistance, or their approval. Instead, Christ has provided the whole of their salvation, victory, and relationship with God FN#8.




Bottom line: John begins his address of the second major threat presented by the false teachers by reminding every believer of who we are in Christ

·      We are God’s children adored and accepted by God

·      We are spiritual fathers to whom God has made God known

·      We are vigorous youth to whom certain victory over sin, the devil and the world has been given





1] In 2:1 John turns to apply the Apostolic teaching that he just reviewed in 1:1-10. As such, he shifts from the “we” of the Apostles (we have seen, we have proclaimed) to the “I” of application (I am writing in order that). Not only that, in 2:1 as John turns to address his first concern and give his first point of application, he uses the very formulation that we find him repeating here in 2:12.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that

2:12 I am writing to you, little children because

In other words, once again John alerts his readers that what they are about to hear is one of his main reasons for writing and one of the main ways he is going to apply the Apostolic teaching to the trouble that the false teachers are causing his flock. In fact, the slightly abbreviated version of John’s formulation in 2:12 indicates that John expects his readers to recognize it and understand what it means (i.e. the second main point of the epistle is about to begin).



2] τεκνίον ( little child) is a diminutive of the standard Greek term for child (τέκνον). It used 7x in the New Testament, all of which occur in John’s writings. The first occurrence is in John’s Gospel where it is used by Jesus to address His followers (Jn 13:33). It seems that John picks up on the expression and its tenderness from Jesus and then uses it himself 6x in this Epistle (three of which occur in chapter 2).



3] In reality this love and assurance stands in stark contrast to any false teaching that takes your eyes off of Christ and the true Gospel and places them on self and performance. In fact, a main indication that a false or partial Gospel has crept in is that  it leaves its followers spiritually uncertain and insecure in their standing before God



4] Two points: first, “His name” refers to Jesus (the name by which God has made Himself known through His Son- I John 3:23). 

Second, in I John, “name” is used 3 times in connection with Jesus (2:12; 3:23; 5:13). In each case it points to more than just the surname by which Jesus is known. Instead, it points to:

all those things which, in hearing or recalling that name, we are bidden to recognize in Jesus; thus it denotes "his Messianic dignity, divine authority, memorable sufferings, in a word the peculiar services and blessings conferred by him on men," Thayer’s Lexicon, ὄνομα, entry #2

Simply put: the phrase “His name” points to both the person (Jesus) as well as the mission/work that God sent Him to accomplish (thus the Christ). The result is that when John says we are forgiven on account of (on the basis of) His name, John is telling us that we are saved by Jesus, the Christ sent by God to redeem us.



5] A key component for understanding John’s epistle is to pay attention to the verb tenses he uses. Here is no exception. In fact, a primary clue/indicator that “children, fathers, and young men” describe all believers (and not various groups within the church) is the verb tense that John uses with regards to each. Notice then the verbs in verses 12-13 (forgive, know, overcome) are all Intensive (Resultant) Perfects. Importance: the function/nature of the Intensive (Resultant) Perfect is to point to an ongoing state or condition which has arisen from a completed action in the past. In the case of each one of our verbs, salvation is the common source/origin/action from which the resultant state has emerged. In turn, each resultant state is something shared by all believers. The result is that the verbs in verses 12-13 mirror each other both grammatically and theologically describing things that are shared by all believers.



6] The reference to Jesus as “Him who has been from the beginning” is crucial to John’s theology and the point that John is driving home throughout this epistle. In fact, John began his epistle with this very description of Christ.

1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have

heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we observed and

our hands touched, concerning the Word of Life—

Jesus is the one who has always been with the Father and thus is the definitive revelation of God and His salvation. As such, the believer does not require the speculations and misguided theories of the false teachers.



7] John says “I am writing you because you have overcome the evil one”. Notice at once the cosmology that is likely at play in the false teachers’ teaching and which John is likely addressing here: for the ancients, the world (cosmos) was made of three parts: first, you have the corrupted and ever changing material world; second, you have the ethereal spiritual world of the gods located in the sphere of the unchanging stars; finally, you had a middle layer of the moving stars which was inhabited by demons and mal-intended spirits. Thus, to pass from the corrupted material life of earth to the pure spiritual life of the gods you had to pass through the realm and harassment of demons. As an early form of a paganized Gnosticism, the false teachers would have shared this cosmology. Thus, it is very likely that a part of their claim is that their assistance and their enlightenment provided safe passage from the material world, through the demons, to God. In turn, without their assistance, one would never make it past the demons. As such, John writes his flock to remind them that Christ has already overcome not just demons but the very prince of all the demons. As such, the believer’s future, his security, and his access to God has but one and only one deciding factor, Jesus God’s own Son.

            However, even though this cosmology is very likely behind John’s assurance in verse 13, I did not include it in the sermon itself. The reason is that such a reading requires us to build our case and then read this entire portion of the verse in light of things not mentioned by the text. As such, I have treated “you have overcome the evil one” in a more general sense, which certainly allows for the cosmology of this footnote but is not dependent on it. Regardless, either way, John assures his readers that Christ has provided victory (inside and out) over the devil and all that seeks to oppose God and hinder their walk.



8] One final note: notice the Gospel in the verb tense: the verbs used throughout verses 12-13 (“overcome” “forgive” and “know”) are all in the Intensive (Resultant) Perfect tense. Importance: in the Greek, the perfect tense is far more vibrant than it is by the time we reach current English usage. In fact, the King James Bible is a good point of reference for checking Greek perfects translated into English, since during King James’ day the English perfect was far more robust than it is today. Regardless, the Greek Intensive (Resultant) Perfect is used to denote a current state/condition that is the result of an action already completed (which in this case is the Cross). In other words, the comprehensive salvation and victory that the believer has received is not simply a matter of the distant past; nor is it one that will only kick in in the far off future. Instead, the perfect tense points to a victory (forgiveness, knowing, overcoming) that has already been secured/accomplished in the past and which is even now at work unfolding to its certain fullness. Simply put, it is a victory that is the believers right now. Notice then the point: once again, John assures his readers (then and now) that in no way do they require the assistance or approval of any false teacher. Instead, Christ has provided the whole of their salvation in full.











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