The Three Stages of Spiritual Maturity: Spiritual Fathers
Published May 22, 2023
In 1 John 2:12-14, the apostle John presents three stages of spiritual maturity to help affirm that his readers are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and to exhort them to grow in their faith. Previously, we’ve looked at the first two stages that John wrote about – spiritual children and young men. Now we come to the final stage of spiritual maturity: Spiritual Fathers, which John describes in verses 13 and 14.
The Spiritual Fathers are those in the church who are the most spiritually mature. (Note that everything previously stated about the markers of spiritual children and young men applies to the Spiritual Fathers as well.) Spiritual Fathers have been forgiven; they know the Father; they are spiritually strong in faith; they know the Word, and they have learned how to find that way of escape when temptation comes along. These spiritually seasoned individuals aren’t perfect, but they understand how to fight the good fight of faith and apply it as a way of life.
We see one trait that is repeated of those who are spiritual fathers: they “know Him who has been from the beginning.” The “Him” John is referring to is Christ. But when John talks about knowing Christ, we must automatically add that if we have the Son, we have the Father; and if we have the Father and the Son, then we also have the Spirit.
The point John is making is that true spiritual maturity settles here: in an intimate, deep knowledge of the true and living God through an abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.
What happens between the stages of being a young man and a father?
At some point as a spiritual young man, you are in the midst of the battle, and you begin to understand the devil’s tactics; you become wiser to his schemes, and you know how to handle God’s word, understand how to employ prayer, put on the armor of God, and deflect the fiery arrows of the devil with the shield of faith. Something begins to become clear to you in a way it hasn’t before!
This whole battle, fight, salvation, my sins forgiven in justification, overcoming Satan in sanctification – it’s not really about the battle, and it’s not really about what has happened in the past. It’s ultimately about knowing Christ.
As you draw near to God in His Word, as you begin to overcome sin in your life, and as you grow in holiness, you begin to see more and more of who Christ is. Christ becomes all-consuming in your life. EVERYTHING then is about knowing Him. So you begin the process of growing out of being a young man into being a spiritual father.
And as you grow in your knowledge of Christ, you develop an intimacy with the Savior that defines your entire Christian experience and your whole existence. You begin to understand the significance of what Paul says when he talks about us being in Christ. You begin to understand what John means when he describes abiding in Christ. It’s more than a theological concept; it’s an experience of knowing the Savior in a deep, personal, intimate way.
This is the pinnacle of spiritual maturity because there is nothing beyond knowing Christ in the life of a believer – much less the life of anyone in this world. Knowing Christ is not a means to a greater goal; knowing Christ is the goal. And when our Father calls us home one day, we will spend all eternity knowing Him more and more.
This is how Christians grow. They start off as spiritual infants, knowing their sins are forgiven and who their Father is. Then they dive into the Word; and as they get into the Word, the Word gets in them; they become strong in faith, and they learn how to overcome the evil one. And then, as they learn to walk in holiness, they develop an intimate knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that knowing Him defines everything about them.
My question to all Christians today is the one that John set out to answer in this brilliant pastoral passage, nestled in between his tests of salvation and the first imperative of the letter: do you desire to grow spiritually in the Lord? Where are you today – are you a spiritual child? A spiritual young man? Or a spiritual father? What steps will you take to grow? If you are saved and your sins forgiven, Christian, you are called to grow in your faith, in spiritual maturity, and more into the likeness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.