The Three Stages of Spiritual Maturity: Spiritual Young Men
Published May 15, 2023
We are currently looking at the Apostle John’s stages of spiritual maturity, which are children, young men, and fathers – as outlined in 1 John 2:12-14. Last time, we examined the stage of spiritual children and found that we all begin the Christian life in this stage, regardless of the age the Lord saved us. There are also two markers of this stage: our sins have been forgiven for the sake of Christ’s name, and we know our Father.
Today, we will jump to the Spiritual Young Men that John introduces in verses 13 and 14. John puts this stage last, but we will cover it now to help readers see the process of spiritual growth.
Why does John put this stage last? The reason is for emphasis because the young men are typically the ones who are in the heat of the battle. The fathers are going to be giving direction and oversight, but the ones in the arena of spiritual warfare are often the young men. John wants to especially highlight them because of their significance to the success of the mission in the spiritual war.
There are three characteristics of spiritual young men in this passage: they are strong, the Word of God abides in them, and they have overcome the evil one.
First, notice that those who have moved from being spiritual children to spiritual young men are strong. One critical difference between children and young men is the level of strength. The word John uses for young man in this verse typically referred to a young man between 22-28 years old. These are not young men in the sense of being teenagers, but these are adult young men in the prime of their lives, physically speaking. That’s why John says that they are strong, because they have moved from being spiritually weaker to spiritually stronger.
We see examples of this in the Old Testament with young men that God raised up who exhibited immense spiritual strength. For example, in the book of Daniel, we meet four young men, who are referred to as “youths.” These young men are immensely strong, maybe not physically per se, but spiritually. Daniel refuses to eat the king’s food along with his three friends; and his three friends later evidence such spiritual strength that they accept the king’s decision to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than bow down and worship an idol. Clearly these are not spiritual infants, but spiritually strong young men!
John is saying here that young men are strong in faith. Spiritual young men have come to the point of being willing to take risks for the sake of the kingdom. They are willing to lay it all on the line for the glory of Christ, trusting that Christ is at work in and through them.
The primary reason they are strong in faith is because the Word of God abides in them. (Note that this is the key to moving from spiritual childhood to a spiritual young man.) What causes growth in the life of a Christian is not personal experience in the world but allowing the Word of God to abide in you. We observe this fact in Psalm 119:9, where the young man is the one who not only has read and studied the Word but now has the Word abiding in him. And again in verse 99, how the Word of God abiding in the psalmist caused spiritual growth, gave him spiritual wisdom, and allowed him to be strong in faith and obedient to the Lord.
Do you want to know why so many Christians never seem to become strong in faith and do mighty and powerful works for the Lord? Why do we have so many spiritual babies in the church and so few spiritual young men who are willing to take up the sword of the Spirit to go to war with the devil?
The answer is because we have Christians who have only a cursory relationship with Scripture. The Puritan Thomas Watson wrote, “Leave not off reading the Bible till you find your hearts warmed…. Let it not only inform you, but inflame you.” This is one of our great problems in the church today: we have too many among us who have been informed by the Word of God, but never inflamed by the Word of God. We have heads that are full of truth, but hearts that are cold as rocks.
If you would grow to be strong and leave spiritual childhood behind, you must be in the Bible until the Bible is in you. Once that happens – once your heart has been set aflame by the Word of God and the Word lives in you, you’ll also manifest the third trait of being a young man in the faith, overcoming the evil one.
The Bible is very clear, especially in Ephesians, that our battle is not against flesh and blood. We are not battling merely earthly enemies. We have mighty, powerful enemies, but we can overcome them when we are strong in faith and the Word of God abides in us.
Herein lies another key difference between the spiritual child and the spiritual young man: victory over the devil and victory over the flesh. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:14 that children are like those tossed here and there, weak, unstable, easily moved, and easily deceived. Spiritual children might struggle a great deal against the devil because they are still babes in Christ. But we are not to remain children. We are to grow up; we are to mature, and we are to become strong in faith – so that we overcome the evil one and so that we aren’t blown around by every false doctrine and every temptation.
So here is the test for spiritual young men: Have you moved beyond the basics? Have you moved to a point where the Word of God, from beginning to end, has gripped your soul? Have you become strong in faith because the Word of God abides in you and has set your heart on fire for Christ? Are you seeing evidence of that reality in how you overcome sin in your life, how you respond to false teaching and false doctrine, and how you deal with temptation?
If you’re not here, then you need to be in the Word, and you need to find someone or a group of people who are further down the road than you and can disciple you and help you grow. But if you are here, then you need to find others to encourage who are not as far along the journey as you are.
Next, we will look at the final stage of spiritual maturity that John presents to us: the Spiritual Fathers.