STUDY NINE: ASSURANCE – 1John 2:12 - 14

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

John has laid down some very solemn criteria by which true allegiance to Jesus Christ is identified, in contrast to the claims of those who might associate with Christians but in reality are not Christians. These stern clarifications were necessary because of the false teaching that had been promoted by people who presented themselves as Christians, within the group that met together as the church.
In making these distinctions between true and false believers John is expressing the same warning that Jesus himself expressed:

‘Watch out for false prophets ... By their fruit you will know them’ (Matthew 7:15, 16).
‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’ (Matthew 7:21).

Review. What distinguishes true belief from false belief in these verses from John’s letter?
1:6 & 7

1:8 – 10

 

2:3 – 5

2:6

2:9 – 11

 

Even as he has written these stern warnings, John has addressed his readers as ‘my dear children’ – (2:1), and ‘beloved’ (2:7). Now in 2:12 – 14 he gives his readers strong encouragement by affirming his confidence that they do indeed have genuine faith in Jesus Christ. He addresses them as ‘little children’, ‘fathers’ and ‘young men’, and tells them why he is writing to them, and why he has written the preceding verses. In 2:12 – 14 John assures them that he has not written because he has doubts about their faith. Rather, it is because their faith is genuine: ‘I write to you, because ...’ (verses 12, 13 – Present tense), and ‘I wrote to ... because’ (verse 14 – Aorist tense in the Greek). What he is writing and what he has already written is because of his confidence that his readers do indeed have true faith in the true Jesus. He is not expressing doubts about them, but confidence.

Various Bible teachers offer different opinions about the three groups of people John addresses: little children, young men and fathers. Some believe these are age-related distinctions. Some believe they are distinctions in spiritual maturity. While it is possible to see some distinction in spiritual maturity in some of the things John commends, it is also true that the things said of each group are also true of those in the other two groups. What he says to each of them is not necessarily specific to that particular group (as some teach), but is true for every person who has acknowledged Jesus Christ. The repetition of some of the points demonstrates the strength of the certainty that John is seeking to communicate.

A. YOUR SINS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN

In 1:7 John taught that it is those who ‘walk in the light’ whose sins are forgiven. In 1:8 – 10 John stated that it is those who acknowledge they are sinners who sin who are forgiven. In 2:1 & 2 John wrote of the permanent effectiveness of the advocacy and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ by which sins are forgiven. Now he states that he is writing to his readers, whom he addresses as ‘dear children’, ‘because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name’ (2:12). This is something that is true of every believer, not just ‘little children’.

In this verse:

‘have been forgiven’ is in the Perfect tense. The Perfect tense refers to an action completed in the past, and still effective in the present. Something was done, and it remains done. This means that at some point in the past their sins were forgiven, and they are still forgiven in the present.

The only pre-requisite for forgiveness expressed in this verse is that the sins have been forgiven ‘on account of his name’. The basis of the forgiveness was not something within or done by the forgiven person. The basis for the forgiveness is ‘the name’ of Jesus Christ: forgiveness is on account of/because of everything that Jesus Christ is – all that is implied by his name. Forgiveness is because of who Jesus is and what he has done, not on anything the believer is or does.

This reflects what John has said in chapter 1 concerning the necessity of having an accurate understanding of who Jesus is and what he has done.

Look at these verses. How do they connect the name of Jesus Christ with salvation?
Matthew 1:21

Matthew 12:21

Luke 24:47

John 1:12

John 20:31

Acts 10:43

1Corinthians 6:11

 

The bottom line is: that if a person has not received Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh, that person has also not received forgiveness, and cannot be forgiven, unless they change their mind about him and acknowledge him as Lord.

John is confident that his original readers have made this critical acknowledgement of Jesus Christ, and that, therefore, their sins have been forgiven on account of his name. In embracing Jesus Christ they have received not only the person of Christ, but also everything that he did for them as the atoning sacrifice for their sins (2:2) and as their Advocate with the Father (2:1). His name signifies all of that.

The fact that John affirms that their sins have been forgiven means that John is also affirming them as people who are walking in the light, that is, as people who rightly acknowledge that they are sinners who sin, and as people who understand that Jesus Christ is both their Advocate with the Father and the atoning sacrifice for their sins.

B. YOU HAVE KNOWN HIM

John states this second truth about his readers three times:

‘you have known him who is from the beginning’ (in both verses 13 & 14 to the ‘fathers’).

‘you have known the Father’ (verse 13 – to the ‘dear children’).

Again, the ‘you have known’ in each of these statements, like the ‘have been forgiven’, is in the Perfect tense: they had come to know God at some point in the past, and they still know him. John’s readers have come to know Jesus Christ – ‘him who is from the beginning’ (see 1:1) – and in coming to know him they also have also come to know the Father. This is true of every believer, not just of ‘fathers’ but also of the ‘children’, although mature believers will have deeper and broader knowledge than those who are new to the faith.

This knowing the Father and the Son ties in with what John has said in chapter one, where he wrote about ‘fellowship with the Father and with his Son’ (1:3) and ‘walking in the light’ rather than walking in the darkness (1:6, 7). To know the Father and the Son is to know him who is ‘light’ (1:5). To know the Father and the Son is to walk in the light.

As with the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s name, John is again affirming the genuineness of his readers’ faith.

Read these verses. How does knowing God distinguish believers from unbelievers?
Matthew 11:27

John 8:19

John 10:4

John 10:14

John 14;6, 7

John 17:3

Unbelievers simply do not know either Jesus Christ (‘him who is from the beginning’) or God the Father. Believers are people who do know both Jesus Christ and God the Father. To know the Father, to know the Son, is to have eternal life.

Later in his first letter John will have a great deal to say about this knowing, and the importance of this knowing. But here in 2:13 & 14 he affirms his confidence that his readers have come to know both Jesus, and because they know him, they have also come to know God the Father.

 

C. YOU HAVE OVERCOME THE EVIL ONE

When we read ‘you have overcome the evil one’ it is very easy to think that these ‘young men’ to whom John says this twice, are elite, super-spiritual Christians, heroes of the faith, on a different level from ordinary believers. Perhaps, we think, they have been engaged in some kind of spiritual warfare, that they have been in the thick of the battle, that they have been victorious in casting out demons or breaking down ‘strongholds’ or some other similar spectacular, manifestation of evil. Or, perhaps we think, or have been taught, that they have overcome sin to the extent that they no longer sin. (But John has already outlawed that possibility in 1:8 & 10.)

We have to be very careful that we do not put these ‘young men’ on some kind of spiritual pedestal. Later in this letter John again speaks of his readers’ overcoming, but it is not the ‘young men’ he addresses but ‘dear children’ (same word as in 2:12). The truth of John’s affirmations in 2:13 & 14 is probably something far simpler and far more common. But it is also something deeper and more powerful, more assuring than limiting it to the supposed spiritual elite. It is an assurance that applies to every believer.

The verb John uses is nikao, which means to conquer, to prevail, to overcome, to subdue, to get the victory over. It is used twenty-eight times in the New Testament, twenty-three of those in John’s writings – six in 1John and seventeen in Revelation.

Check these verses. Who ‘overcomes’? And what or who is ‘overcome’? How did they ‘overcome’?
(You may need to read the surrounding context to find the answers.)
1John 2:13, 14

1John 4:4

1John 5:4, 5

Revelation 12:11

Revelation 15:2

Revelation 21:7

 

In addition to these verses, at the end of each of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, Jesus says ‘to him who overcomes ...’ then gives a promise. These promises to those who ‘overcome’ are all part of, or connected to, the salvation that has been granted to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.

In 1John 2:12 – 14 it would be wrong to conclude that it is only the ‘young men’ who have ‘overcome the evil one’. The ‘fathers’ would not still be there as faithful believers if they also had not ‘overcome’. The ‘dear children’, are identified as having ‘overcome’ in 4:4. Whatever John is referring to by ‘overcoming’ it is something that is true of all genuine believers.

John’s next two affirmations give us insight into what he means.

D. YOU ARE STRONG
E. THE WORD OF GOD LIVES IN YOU

In 2:13 John simply said ‘I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one’. In verse 14 he puts overcoming as the last in a trilogy of his reasons for writing:

‘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.’

These three affirmations go hand in hand: it is the word of God living in them that makes them strong, and it is the word of God, and the strength resulting from the word of God, that is the basis of and the reason for their overcoming the evil one. They have not overcome the evil one in their own strength, but by the word of God which they have received and believed. It was that word that was their strength. It was that word that made them strong. At the bottom line it is the word of God – the truth revealed in the word of God, and the power of the word of God – that makes them strong, and that overcomes the evil one.

Earlier in this letter John has made some significant statements about the impact of the truth (the ‘light’) in a person’s life. A person who has received/believed the good news about Jesus Christ proclaimed by the prophets:

Has fellowship with the Father and the Son (1:1 – 3).

Lives/walks in the light of that truth (1:5, 6).

Is saved/forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ who is both our Advocate with the Father and the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1:7,9; 2:1 - 2).

Knows that they are sinners who sin (1:8, 10).

Has come to know God (2:3), and that knowledge of God results in observable obedience (2:3 – 6). The light of that knowledge of God also produces love for one another (2:7 – 11).

The word of God, the light, the truth, has produced:

Knowledge of God.
Fellowship with the Father and the Son.
Knowledge of self.
Knowledge of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Confidence in all of the above.
Commitment to obedience.
Love and fellowship with other believers.

On the other hand, the evil one holds a person captive in:

Darkness, ignorance, blindness.
Separation from God.
Deception and false understanding.
Unforgiven sins.
Disobedience.
Hatred.

The one thing that has made the difference is the word of God. It is the truth revealed in and by Jesus Christ, and proclaimed by the apostles, that has rescued believers from the evil one. In the very act of believing the word of God believers have overcome the evil one. By that word, and through faith in that word, they have been redeemed, delivered, from his deceptions, from his accusations, from his dominion. The false perceptions of God and the separation from God that began in Genesis 3 as a result of the evil one’s deceptions have been overturned and reversed by the word of God.

By the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the evil one has been defeated. Christ is in the position of absolute power and authority over both the evil one and his minions. By Jesus Christ his deceptions about God have been exposed and proven false. By Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice and his advocacy/mediation all the evil one’s accusations have been legally disempowered and legally invalidated.

Read these verses about Christ’s victory and authority over the evil one. What do they teach?
John 12:31

Romans 8:33 – 39

 

Ephesians 1:20, 21

Colossians 2:10

Colossians 2:15

Because of their union with Jesus Christ, their substitute and mediator, those who believe in Christ share in his victory over the evil one. They are no longer under his authority, rather, they reign in life with Christ.

What do these verses say about that?
Hebrews 2:14, 15

Romans 5:17

Ephesians 2:6

Colossians 1:13

Revelation 3:21

Just as Jesus Christ is our salvation, so also he is our victory, our over-coming, over the evil one. This is true not only at the moment we initially believed in Christ, but at every moment after that. Faith unites us not only to his sin-bearing death and advocacy with the Father, but also with his resounding victory over the evil one. A careful study of the ‘whole armour of God’ in Ephesians 6:9 – 17 makes this clear. There, every item of the armour is some aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not one item is something that we ourselves have to personally provide, as some people teach. Everything is God’s truth revealed and established by Jesus. Such is the power of the gospel, such is the power of God’s truth, that it not only saves us, but protects us against the wicked schemes of the evil one.

The belt of truth – this is not my personal truthfulness, but the truth of God, revealed and demonstrated by Jesus Christ, who called himself ‘the truth’.

The breastplate of righteousness – this is not my personal righteousness (that would never protect me against the evil one) but the perfect righteousness of Christ, credited to all who receive Jesus Christ, and which Paul stated in Philippians 3 was the only ‘righteousness’ he wanted to know, and for which sake he counted his own personal ‘righteousness’ to be dung.

Your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace – this is the Gospel, which assures us that, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), and that God has reconciled us to himself, making peace through his blood shed on the cross (Colossians 1:10).

The shield of (the) faith – (the Greek text has ‘the faith’) this is not my personal ‘faith’, but the whole content of the Christian faith – ‘the faith’ is ‘the content of the Christian faith’ – that is the truth about who Jesus is and the truth about what he did.

The helmet of salvation – ‘salvation’ is a comprehensive term that includes every aspect of the spiritual salvation – the ‘every spiritual blessing’ of which Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3 – that every true believer already has in Christ.

The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God – (the only weapon, all the others are protective). And it is not a large sword that is used in an aggressive attack; it is a short sword, more like a dagger, used for defence when pushed into a corner. This use of the word of God is what Jesus did when he was tempted – he quoted specific scripture statements to counter the deceptive suggestions of the evil one.

(Read this study for more about the armour of God that protects us against the schemes of the evil one.)

Those ‘young men’, of whom Peter states ‘you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one’, were strong, and overcame the evil one, not because of personal strength, but because of the word of God.

This victory, this overcoming, belongs to all who know Jesus Christ.