The Test of Experience

1 John 2:12-14

Some things in life are simple. Other things are complicated. Just when you think you’re getting a handle on it, things change and it gets complicated. One thing to anticipate in heaven: not needing to try and find balance between this and that, on the one hand / on the other hand. Charting a proper course between extremes is part of life and Christian life; Apostle John trying to help his readers achieve that, a right understanding of truth that avoids both false hope and despair.

Pain and struggle evident in lines from “Fiddler on the Roof”:

“Papa. I beg you to accept us.” “Accept them? How can I accept them? Can I deny everything I believe in? On the other hand, can I deny my own daughter? On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith, my people? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break. On the other hand… No. There is no other hand.”

John, sensitive to his audience and how they might receive his instruction, pauses in his train of thought to give encouragement to three groups of people. In his correction of error, must not drive them to despair. So,… encourages them on basis of experience – from his vantage point (and from theirs), looking back over their Christian walk, what shows clear evidence of their fellowship with Christ. Should go without saying but will say anyway: experience not an infallible guide, John doesn’t intend it that way. However, it can give significant reassurance to one in doubt. We use it all the time especially with children: yes, can do it, done it before, can do again.

A. need for encouragement

John (one through whom Christ speaks) has said hard things

primary topics:

character of life – walk in light or dark

attitude toward sin – denial or confession; desire to continue in it or avoid it

obedience – keeping or disregarding commands of Christ

conduct toward brothers – love or hate

easy for any Christian to find areas of shortcoming

point to time or circumstances and say “I wasn’t…” “I didn’t…”

begin to wonder “what is my true state”, “am I child of God”

John has more hard things to say

things that will require effort

living in way pleasing to God is work, really hard work at times

all sinful tendencies don’t magically disappear when born again

don’t believe that, Apostle Paul declared during 2nd half of ministry: Phil. 3:12Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”

things that may require significant change

change is hard – way of life, habits, thought patterns, worldview

that’s why expression “stuck in a rut” makes sense – it comes easily

and people tend to resist change, especially as patterns more deeply “embedded”

not talking about change for sake of change, anything has to be better than way it is now

it’s about change necessary for us to become more like Christ

John must provide antidote for doubt and despair

OK to get a little shaken up – stirred out of complacency

also proper to “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified.” (2 Cor. 13:5)

work of good pastor not to destroy genuine faith

remember what was said of Lord Jesus:

Isa. 42:3 A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.

but to strengthen and encourage

Luke 4:18 “”The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

B. three groups

described in terms of age

not necessarily equivalent to chronological age

targets ages and stages of spiritual development

Paul took saints in Corinth to task: 1 Cor. 3:2I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able”

author of Hebrews give further detail: Heb. 5:12-14 “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

little children

John not rebuking, simply taking into account varying levels of maturity in audience

new converts

just starting out, new to Christian life as personal experience

still needing help to do and understand many things – “unskilled in the word of righteousness”

easily encouraged, also easily discouraged


seasoned mature Christians – able to process solid food

skilled in handling the Word, for own use and to teach others

solid, well-established foundation

those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ESV

veterans, time- and battle-tested, wisdom and experience to serve as good models, mentors the way Paul described:

Phil. 3:17 “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”

young men

‘tweeners, partly mature but still immature in ways

many great insights, ability to think outside box, needing experience and wisdom

C. three evidences


true for all ages/stages, part of Christian experience from moment of new birth!!!

both objective and subjective truth

Bible says: in Christ we have redemption and forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)

experience peace (Rom. 5:1) and reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-18) only possible as result of forgiveness

more important, basis for forgiveness and assurance of it rests on someone else

“for his name’s sake” – echo of what Paul declared Eph. 4:32 “God in Christ has forgiven you”

we are forgiven because of what Christ has done in our place, on our behalf (not what we have done on own behalf)

first of incredible river of benefits that are ours because of Christ

2 Cor. 12:9 “I will boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me

Gal. 6:14 “God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”

all true believers have experienced God’s forgiveness, he gets the glory, he is ground of our assurance

fellowship (intimate knowledge)

know him as Father

said of both little children (13c) and twice of fathers (13a, 14a)

think about how relationship with good earthly father grows / matures over time

little children recognize voice and have implicit trust in father – Matt. 18:3unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven”

know his character

further progression identified in words to fathers

older children given more responsibility, have better grasp of father’s expectations

adult children begin to act like parents, perhaps using same mannerisms, expressions

comes about because of time spent together, going far beyond simple acquaintance / beginning relationship to intimacy

used illustration before: avowed atheist attended particular church with wife for a time; on last Sunday there, told pastor he had come to believe there was a God. Pastor asked why, response: “I’ve met his people.” Powerful testimony to existence and activity of God present in mature believers.

fighting strength

time of life when have strength, energy, endurance to meet great demands

God usually gives little ones to young parents

ones in field fighting and winning military engagements are young men

strong in the fight

have overcome Satan – habit of life shows have left behind previous ways

have had victory over sin, no longer enslaved to it, in bondage to it; it’s power over them broken

once powerless to overcome sin, now fighting against it and winning

strength in the Word

secret of strength – Word of God illuminated and applied by Spirit of God within people of God

God’s truth ingested and digested and stored away builds up and makes strong

failure to overcome not due to lack of resources – due to lack of use, dependence on God

Pull out photo album of Christian life – do you see there these marks of experience John has described? Have you experienced God’s forgiveness? Take heart! You are a Christian. Have you experienced and do you know God as your heavenly father? Take heart! You are his child. Have you overcome sin and Satan and do you continue to fight against them? Take heart! God’s Word and Spirit dwell in you. Now, before you start to swell up and strut, remember whose power achieved all that – it’s power of God working in and through each one of his children. And it needs constant replenishment cuz we can’t succeed without it.


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