Title: A Belated Greeting
Text: I John 2:12-14
FCF: We often struggle with obeying the Lord by Faith.
Prop: Because we have been assured of our new identity in Christ, we can do whatever God calls us to.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I John chapter 2. Last week we saw another aspect of those who are genuinely followers of Christ. We saw two weeks ago how those who are in God mimic His Son. And last week we saw, as an application of mimicking Christ, how those who are in Christ love other believers like Christ loved them. We looked at I Corinthians 13, and it just so happened that the TableTalk Magazine dealt with I Corinthians 13 all week. So I hope that you were given wonderful supplemental material to the sermon last week, as you analyzed if this supernatural love is present in you to a progressing degree.
Today, John pivots his letter. When we looked at the outline of I John, we talked about how John structures his book in 4 waves. Each wave is essentially repackaging the same test of genuine fellowship with God in 4 unique expressions. John is nearing the end of the first wave. And so, he gives us the introduction to his letter. Everything that has come before this was a necessary prologue to get us to the heartbeat of his letter.
Essentially 1:1-2:11 has been to specify exactly who he is writing to. He is writing to these kinds of people. And if you make it through verse 11 and realize that this is you… then what John says in 12-14 is a personal, albeit belated, greeting of purpose to you.
This personal greeting serves as the spring board, not just for the rest of his letter but also for a final challenge that he has for his readers before he starts a second wave.
What we find here is incredibly encouraging. But, unfortunately, there are several interpretational difficulties in this passage. As your pastor, I cannot simply ignore them, nor can I simply tell you what I think. It is my duty to make you aware of these interpretational challenges. However, it is also my duty to relay what John is saying to his readers and thus, what God is saying to us. And to do that clearly and concisely.
The fortunate thing is, that when the dust settles, and we come back up from the interpretational problems no matter what direction you turn on the details – the meaning is clear. John desires his readers to be GREATLY encouraged and to face all that he is going to tell them, with confidence that Christ in them can see it done.
So with all that in mind, let’s begin reading in verse 12 of chapter 2. I am reading from the NET which you can follow in the pew bible starting on 1372, or whatever version you have. If you don’t have a bible of your own, please take a pew bible home with you today.
So again – much to get to today. Let’s get crackin.
I.) Because your sins have been forgiven, you can do what I am asking in this letter. (12-13)
a. [Slide 2] 12 – I am writing to you, little children, that your sins have been forgiven because of his name.
i. John clearly sets up, what will be, 6 statements of purpose.
ii. Although this is quite a beautiful greeting by John to his readers, it is also quite baffling to interpreters. As I mentioned there are 4 major difficulties of interpretation in these 3 verses.
iii. The first two of which we will notice right off the bat in verse 12.
iv. The first and most obvious to even casual readers is the threefold description of his audience.
v. [Slide 3A] He writes to children, fathers, and young people or young men.
vi. So what are we to make of this?
vii. There are three basic positions we could go with.
1. [Slide 3B] That these are three different classes of people.
a. Age – That John is writing to very young readers, adolescent readers, and the elderly. But this certainly has not been in view up to this point. Furthermore, why is it more necessary for the young children to be told that their sins are forgiven and not the elderly?
b. Spiritual maturity – John is writing to baby Christians, growing Christians, and mature Christians. This is a very attractive interpretation, but it inherits the same critique as the first. Why do baby Christians need to be reminded of their forgiveness but growing Christians or the mature Christians do not? Are we to assume that they add John’s statement for them to what has already been said? This could be.
2. [Slide 3C] The second opinion is that this is actually two groups of people. How do you get two out of 3?
a. The point here is that following John’s previous treatment of the term, children, his address to the children includes all his readers. What follows then are two subpoints of that.
b. And so the difference in opinion is over whether the fathers and young men represent age or spiritual maturity.
3. [Slide 3D] The third opinion is that this is John expressing 3 aspects of his readers
a. The term “children” is applied to all his readers, as they are like children in their faith, in humility and dependence, that they have been forgiven of their sins as they shed them from their lives.
b. The term “fathers” is applied to all his readers as they, like older men, are staunchly rooted in their growing knowledge of Christ.
c. The term “young men” is applied to all his readers as they tenaciously battle the forces of darkness.
d. So the descriptions serve as unique aspects of their existence in Christ.
viii. I have somewhat of a hybrid opinion. That John designed this to point us back to what he has talked about previously in the letter. The other terms he uses besides children, still represent all his readers but serve as two components of the previous teaching to which he is referring. If you don’t understand yet, I’ll make it clear in a bit here.
ix. [Slide 4] So by children here, John makes a special association between their humility and childlike faith in receiving the gospel of Christ. They are not just children but his children. And he is writing to those whom he loves, these humble and dependent ones to give them assurance of something.
x. But what?
xi. That brings us to the second interpretational challenge in the passage.
xii. [Slide 5A]The word translated “that” in the NET is translated in almost every other version “because” and this is the center of the discussion.
xiii. This word, like most conjunctions in Greek, can be quite fluid in it’s meaning. Context helps us in most cases to determine exactly how it should be translated. But here, context doesn’t quite help us.
xiv. There are three major ways that this word can be translated.
1. [Slide 5B] That – as here in the NET.
a. This translation would mean that the message that John is writing to his readers in this letter is being spelled out in each of the 6 clauses.
b. So John is attempting to summarize his entire letter for his readers with these 6 purpose statements.
c. Looking broadly over the teaching of I John – we would be forced to conclude that this is indeed a relatively thorough summary of the message of the book.
2. [Slide 5C] Because – as it is in many other translations.
a. This translation would mean that John is writing this epistle because he believes his readers are this kind of person.
b. The message of the book is not to communicate these things, but rather that these things are what caused him to write to them.
c. Thus they are able to do as he asks them to because all this is true of them.
d. Theologically this is true. Certainly, all that John is asking could not be possible unless they are genuinely believers.
3. [Slide 5D] Sometimes this word is used as quotation marks
a. We have actually seen this in verse 1:5, 8, 10, 2:4 – When John says, “the one who says” after this he has this word “that.” We don’t translate it there because it is clear that he is quoting something.
b. The verb “to write” can be treated the same way.
c. And so what John is saying is not that he is writing that or because… We would translate it this way.
d. I am writing to you little children, “Your sins have been forgiven you for the sake of His name”
e. This actually accomplishes both of the previous things. It not only expresses that the letter is to communicate this purpose, but also that these things are true of them.
xv. This last interpretation is the one I favor.
xvi. So putting all this together, we can finally try to understand verse 12 as a whole.
xvii. [Slide 6] I am writing to you, my readers, you who are humble and childlike in your faith, “You have been and remain forgiven of your sins for His name’s sake”
xviii. We who are placed into Christ, in whom all our faith rests, are forgiven, not for our sakes, but for His name’s sake. Because His name is precious to the Father. And for Christ’s name, The Father has forgiven all who are in Christ.
xix. This is what it means to call on the name of the Lord! It is in His name, by His work, and through His sacrifice alone that we are forgiven. Not by our choice, faith, repentance, or any other means that we offer but only by His name. We cast all our hope on His name. Because our name is worthless.
xx. John wants his readers to know that they have been set free of their sin for His name’s sake.
xxi. And if you recall, what was the message of I John 1:5-2:2? It was the gospel that God is light and in him there is no darkness. But man is a child of darkness. And thus, true believers are evident by their new relationship to sin. They flee it, agree with God about it, and are cleansed of it by the intercession and atonement of Christ.
xxii. Thus, John’s opening words here in verse 12 serve to quickly summarize all of what he said through verse 2:2.
xxiii. Now John breaks that down into two components.
b. [Slide 7] 13a – I am writing to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning.
i. Fathers, being another way to refer to his readers in the sense that they are wise, grounded and unshaken. But what does he declare to them?
ii. You have known and still know him who has been from the beginning!
iii. Although this could refer to God the Father, as we will see later, the two are distinct in this context. More likely, this is referring to the Word of Life that John spoke of in the introduction to the entire book. Whom, he said, was from the beginning. This is Jesus Christ – The Word of God.
iv. John is writing to his wise and faithful readers, those who staunchly hold to the truth and he wants to assure them that they know this Christ who he has described as their intercessor and atonement.
v. They know Him intimately. They know Him relationally.
vi. And so, still within the confines of 1:5-2:2, John declares to those firmly rooted, that they know Christ, their intercessor and atonement for their sin.
c. [Slide 8] 13b – I am writing to you, young people, that you have conquered the evil one.
i. Young men, being a way to refer to his readers in the sense that they are energetic, tenacious and growing. They have fire in their veins. They have grit.
ii. And he writes them to tell them what?
iii. You have conquered the evil one!
iv. God will crush Satan under your feet! The gates of hell shall not prevail against Christ’s church! And the schemes of the evil one, even his temptations in which you succumb, like we saw in 2:1 and 2 – will only serve to refine you!
v. And not just you, but God’s elect from the whole world!
vi. There is no stopping the church of Christ.
d. [Slide 9] Passage Truth: What a rally cry for his readers. He gives them three statements of assurance. You have been and continue to be forgiven of your sin. You have known and continue to know Christ. You have conquered and are continuing to conquer Satan and his forces of darkness. This IS you! Christ’s true church – you – cannot be undone by sin, heresy or Satan Himself. For His name’s sake – His church will endure. Nay. It will thrive.
e. Passage Application: Do you think that John’s words had a positive effect upon those to whom he wrote? How do you feel after hearing such things? I don’t know about you – but I feel pumped. No doubt His readers felt the same. They were ready for anything John was about to tell them, because they were confident that there was nothing, he could ask them to do in the will of God that they could not do.
f. [Slide 10] Broader Biblical Truth: This message is for us also. If you have made it this far, and have been comforted by the message of John. If you have come through verse 11 and have found assurance of your identity in Christ because you have been changed. Your view of sin has turned to hatred, your view of God’s law has turned to love, and your love toward others who are of Christ has grown in supernatural ways… then this message is for you. You are freed from sin for Christ’s name’s sake. You know Christ. And you have routed the forces of the evil one. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the church of Jesus Christ. And that means you. Nothing God desires of you can be undone by sin, heresy, or Satan.
g. Broader Biblical Application: Much of I John so far has been introspection. Much of I John’s application for us thus far has been to assess whether or not we are of Christ. John pivots here. He tells us, for those who have made it this far, that we have passed the test. That doesn’t mean we are done. He has 3 more ways of presenting the test. But it does mean that we are ready to receive exhortation from him. John is about ready to give a command to his readers. A command that only now are they prepared to hear. And so for us, since we will stop short of that command today, the application is simply this. To believe what John is saying: that whatever he is about to command is achievable by those who are in Christ, because they are in Christ.
[Slide 11(blank)] But John is not actually done pepping up his readers. Perhaps you feel pretty pepped up. Well prepare to be taken up a notch. John is about to crank it up to 11.
II.) Because you know God, you can do what I am asking in this letter. (14)
a. [Slide 12] 14a – I have written to you, children, that you have known the Father.
i. As a minor note, although the NET starts verse 14 here, as do several other modern translations, most translations are still in verse 13.
ii. In any case careful observers notice two things in this next purpose statement that are perplexing.
iii. First there is a shift in the tense of the verb – from “I am writing” to “I have written”. Second, it seems as though John repeats himself here.
iv. So, let me deal with these in reverse order.
v. [Slide 13A] Why do we see repetition here?
1. [Slide 13B] Some have suggested that John lost his place, or was interrupted, or perhaps even this was two pieces of the letter put together without smoothing over what was being said. All of these explanations are without any evidence. They are at best suggestion.
2. [Slide 13C] Some have suggested that John repeats what was said to add emphasis. This could be, but I think we need to ask ourselves a question…
3. [Slide 13D] Is it truly repetition? Certainly, what is said of fathers and young men are more the same than they are different. However, what is said to the children is very different. Not only is the statement of assurance different, but the word John uses to describe them is a different word for children than he used before. It seems that the writer is trying to tell us that this is not mere repetition.
vi. [Slide 14A] Adding to that, this issue with the tense of the verb being changed. From I am writing to I have written or I wrote. What is the significance here?
1. [Slide 14B] Some have suggested that John is referring to his gospel that he wrote before. But if this is true, there is very little for us to go on to believe it.
2. [Slide 14C] Some have suggested that what John wrote about in the present tense is of things still to come, and what John wrote about in the past tense is about things he has already covered. But as we saw in our last point, John addresses in the present what he has already talked about in the letter.
3. [Slide 14D] Some say that this is a way for the writer to say the same thing as before but from the perspective of the completed letter, even though it is not written yet. Almost as if John is saying, when you receive this letter this is what I wrote it for.
vii. In all of this, I think John is changing the tense and switching up things ever so slightly so as to communicate that he has similar encouragements but directed toward a new body of truth.
viii. Before we saw how John seemed to be referring to the content of I John 1:5-2:2 in his statements to the little children about their relationship to sin.
ix. [Slide 15] And so as John switches tenses here, I think we see a new target of previous content, on which to place some of the same assurances.
x. John says, I wrote to you and then he uses the word for children that denotes a boy or girl. A youngling. Someone who is immature in age. Although I may be putting too much in here, perhaps John is indicating ever so slightly the need in them for discipline and perseverance.
xi. And so John says I wrote to you children, “You have known and continue to know the Father”
xii. Now that is a curious thing to say of his readers. Simply because he just addressed this very thing in 2:3-11. How do we know that we have come to know God? We keep His commands and Word.
xiii. And so John now draws his readers attention (through various grammatical stylistic devices) to change the content in which these assurance are to be applied. Specifically to 2:3-11.
xiv. You have come to know God! You are keepers of His commands. You are keepers of His Word.
b. [Slide 16] 14b – I have written to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning.
i. You firmly grounded and faithful ones, you have known Him who has been from the beginning.
ii. This is an exact repetition of what was said before, but as we said, it is aimed at a different body of information. Which is, that the way we know we are in Him is when we mimic His Son, from verse 6.
iii. And so, John writes, you have come to know and continue to know in an intimate way, the Son of God. You are mimickers of Christ.
c. [Slide 17] 14c – I have written to you, young people, that you are strong and the word of God resides in you and you have conquered the evil one.
i. Finally, John says to his energetic, fiery, tenacious readers that they are strong in the word of God and have conquered Satan.
ii. Again referencing the obedience to the Word, to the extent that they keep the law of God – yes even to love their fellow believers, from verses 5 and 7-11.
d. [Slide 18] Passage Truth: So although my conclusions about where these assurances are aimed are cautious ones, what I can be certain of is this… John wants to tell his readers… You have known and continue to know God. You have known and continue to know Christ. You are strong because God’s Word dwells in you and you have conquered and are continuing to conquer Satan.
e. Passage Application: Wow! To a bunch of believers who were told they were missing something. To a bunch of folks who were left behind as a rogue group went off claiming to be the true Christians… this would be an amazing message. Wouldn’t it?
f. [Slide 19] Broader Biblical Truth: And for us then, we need to hear this truth sometimes. Oftentimes the Word of God challenges us. We often walk away feeling as though we are a great sinner. And we should. But if we do not also walk away and realize that Christ is a great savior, then we are only getting half the message. We walk away from God’s word and know that there is nothing good in us. And yet, somehow, we are more like Christ today than we have ever been. Somehow He is refining us, even though we feel farther from Him. But it must be this way. Do you think play DOUGH undergoes no pain or pressure as it is pressed into the mold or passed through a sieve? Do you think water does not fight against the ice-cube tray as it is slowly frozen into place? All who are being conformed to the image of Christ will paradoxically understand that they bring nothing to that activity except their out of image self. And the more we are pressed in… the more we feel the pain of our deformity being corrected.
g. Broader Biblical Application: So what an encouragement to be shown this truth. That in hating sin, in fleeing sin, in loving God’s law and keeping it. In loving other believers with the love of Christ, we gain these absolute assurances. That we have known God and His Christ and continue to know them. That we are strong in the Word and have conquered and continue to conquer Satan and His forces. That Christ’s church will not be stopped! With this assurance, we can go forth and do, not just what John will call us to in the next couple verses, not just what John will call us to in the rest of his letter, but everything that God desires of us is achievable because we are in Christ. And for His name’s sake, God will conform us into His image.
[Slide 20(blank)(end)] So how do we apply this text to us today?
You know I think sometimes as believers we can succumb to the lies of the evil one and honestly start to believe the lie of “I can’t”. When we think about it, it is the same lie he told Eve in the garden.
God has this magnificent plan for His children, in that he will teach us his ways, and show us how to live for Him. But the serpent comes in and says… has God said? He isn’t going to do that for you. You can’t get there with Him. But what you can do, is you can reach out your hand and take it for yourself right now.
And so we succumb to two versions of the same lie. First, we either doubt that God will enable us to be and do what He commands through His grace, given by Christ and His Spirit. We throw our hands up when God expects so much of us and say… I can’t do that! In this with our lips we speak truth but with our heart what we are actually saying is – God you aren’t going to keep your promise. It is true that we can’t do it – but what is not true is that God will abandon us to do it on our own. He knows we can’t.
The second version of this lie is that we sometimes convince ourselves of the possibility of doing as God asks without Him. I can just reach out my hand and take it. Then I will be like God, knowing good and evil. Then I will fast track my way to what He is showing me. When in reality we know that nothing God has asked of us is attainable except through the grace that He provides. And He provides it to us liberally, but not to those who try to earn it. It is given to those who operate by faith. Faith cries out for help.
In both of these lies we see flavors of anti-law. In both of these lies we see flavors of legalism. They are expressions of the same doctrine of Satan that he has preached since the garden.
But faith is means by which God offers us grace. Faith in Christ’s finished work. Faith in Christ to grow in grace. Dependence on God, the Father, Son and Spirit for all we need. The whole Godhead is involved in our sanctification my friend.
Faith doesn’t try harder. Faith cries out in desperation. Faith doesn’t pull itself up by its bootstraps, faith recognizes that we aren’t wearing boots, and our legs are broken, and we are in a pit, and there is 10,000 lbs of rubble on top of us, oh and we’re dead… Faith cries out for the life of Christ.
Faith understands that if we are in Christ – Our sins have been forgiven, we know God the Father through Knowing His Son Jesus Christ. We have inherited the Spirit of adoption that joins with our voice to cry out with us ABBA, FATHER!
Faith knows that as one united with Christ, we gain strength when we remain in His Word. And when we remain in His Word, we are given enough of His power that we have conquered and continue to conquer all schemes of the Evil One!
When given a command of God Faith never says – I CAN’T! It says – LORD HELP!
This is exactly what Paul was saying when he wrote “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me!”
Anything God commands is achievable in His Son… why? Because His Son has already done it! His Son continues to be our intercessor, our advocate, our atonement, and our example. He is the Word in which we dwell richly. He is the Light in which we walk. He is the Bread in which we are sustained. He is the Life that we now live.
He is the Good Shepherd. We are His Sheep. And His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him! You, Christian, you will be perfected! You are being pressed into the mold of Christ. Anything He asks of you, will be done in you.
It won’t be a painless process. It won’t be easy. We will see ourselves for who we truly are. But we will also see Christ for who He truly is. And remember, it is Christ that lives in us.
If you are believer today – this is a great comfort. That He who began and good work in you, will continue to perfect you until you are perfected. This is the core of the gospel! And it means whatever He asks of you, He calls out – Cast all your cares on me – for my yoke is easy. My burden is light. God demands perfection, but He has united us with His perfect Son.
But if you are not a believer today – perhaps you understand now why you continue to fail to hate sin, love God’s law, or have any semblance of Christ-likeness. You have too much you (meaning any amount) and you have not enough Christ (meaning none). Cry out to the Lord, oh sinner. Beg Him for His Son to be in you. To live in you and thus bring you to life. If you cry out, God promises that He will hear those who diligently seek Him.