In these verses, John mentions three levels of spiritual growth – children, young men, and fathers. Those in the category of children are marked by two spiritual blessings: they enjoy forgiveness of their sins and they appreciate the benefits linked to membership of the family of God. From a doctrinal point of view, we can say that the mark of a spiritual child is that he understands and enjoys the doctrines of justification and adoption.
This understanding is to be expected. After all, he has probably been through a period of conviction of sin in which he realised that he was not forgiven and was not a member of the family of God. Through the gospel he understood how a sinner could be forgiven (justified in God’s sight through the life and death of Jesus), and he repented of his sins and trusted in Christ. If the teaching he is receiving is adequate from a biblical point of view, he will also understand that he is now a member of the family of God.
This experiential knowledge is marked usually by a sense of gratitude and wonder, especially as he is now aware that he is undeserving of such spiritual blessings. This is the focus expected to be seen in the individual who is a new Christian.
Of course, the person classified as a ‘child’ does not remain static in his spiritual experience. Even as a child becomes an adult, so a new believer becomes mature. Yet he does not forget those blessings because they are not childish. Instead he will discover that the riches located in the doctrines of justification and adoption will enthral his mind, warm his affections and stimulate his behaviour throughout his Christian life. Or he should do so.
Tomorrow, we will think about the next stage mentioned by John, that of young men.