John writes that new Christians (children) grow spiritually and become ‘young men’. A feature of this stage is that such discover the reality of sanctification, which is that they are involved in spiritual conflict with a strong enemy who is determined to get them to fall into sin.
We must always remember that this is the devil’s aim. I’m sure we have all heard the story of the recent convert who woke up one day experiencing evil thoughts. Thinking that there must be a formula for dealing with them he decided to ask an older Christian for advice. The comment he received in reply to his question was, ‘Welcome to the war!’
The mark of spiritual progress, however, is more than experiencing temptation. In addition, those classified as young men overcome the temptations of the evil one. Temptations are inevitable, but victory over them is not guaranteed unless we follow the detail specified here by John, which is that the ‘young man’ has the word of God abiding in him.
John is not saying that the only weapon a growing Christian has is the word of God. Instead he is saying that a proper use of the Bible brings victory. And we know that Paul agrees with his fellow apostle John, because in an earlier letter to the same church as the one to which John wrote in Ephesus Paul instructed the Christians of an earlier generation to put on the full armour of God in order to withstand the devil’s attacks, and a part of the armour is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
In what ways does a growing Christian have to use the word of God in order to obtain victory over the devil’s temptation? Here are two suggestions. First, he has to pay heed to the information and instructions given in the Bible: information includes descriptions of individuals who faced temptation and either overcame it or fell into it; instructions are various commandments that order us to avoid certain things and to practice other things. If we don’t pay attention to such information and instructions, we will fall when the devil tempts.
Second, growing Christians have to pray earnestly to be kept from spiritual failure. It is not enough to know what the Bible says, but we have to pray its teachings into our minds and hearts until we are not only convinced about their necessity, but also full of love to his commandments. Here are three verses from Psalm 119 that indicate what the attitude of ‘young men’ should be: ‘How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word’ (119:9); ‘I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you’ (119:11); ‘I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word’ (119:16).
Tomorrow, we will thing about the third stage, that of fathers.