1 John 2:12–14
I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
This is the last Sunday of Prayer Week. The reason we sandwich Prayer Week with a sermon on prayer and a sermon on the word of God is that these are the two great means of grace that God uses to conform us to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10).
The Interdependence of Prayer and the Word
In the Bible, God speaks to us, and in prayer, we speak to him. And the two are interdependent in their effectiveness. The Scripture teaches us to pray and shows us what to pray and how to pray and tells us the basis for prayer and fills us with encouragement that God hears our prayers. And prayer applies the Scriptures to ourselves and others. It turns the word into prayer, and it pleads for help from God in understanding the meaning of the word and living the word. So prayer and the word are interdependent in the way they help us be conformed to the image of Christ.
Strong by the Word of God
The verse that we are focusing on today is 1 John 2:14b, “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” This is the second time John said this. In the middle of verse 13, he said, “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.” So the second time he says it (for emphasis, I think), he doesn’t just say they have overcome the evil one; he says two more things about them: They are strong and the word of God abides in them. I think he mentions both of these because one answers why they have overcome the devil: because they are strong. And the other answers how they are strong: by the word of God abiding in them.
Of course, this is not just true of young men. John singles them out, I think, because he tends to call all Christians children so often (fourteen times in this letter) that he wants to make sure that they know he is aware of the old men (fathers) and young men in the church, and that there is a war to be fought with sin and Satan, and that there is a special role for men in the battle. But the principle is the same for every Christian, old or young, man or woman. The evil one—the devil—is conquered by the strength that comes from having the word of God abide in us.
That is the main point I want to emphasize today: Our strength to triumph over the evil one comes from the word of God abiding in us. If you don’t get anything else, please get this: Your strength to overcome the evil one comes from having the word of God abiding in you—1 John 2:14. My prayer is that this will be an incentive to you this year to become more and more Bible-saturated. May the Lord say of you at the end of 2007, “You are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”
The Victory of the Word of God over Satan
There are two activities of Satan that the word of God enables us to overcome. I think all of his faith-destroying efforts can be summed up under these two activities. One is Satan’s accusation. The other is Satan’s temptation. He accuses and he tempts. He accuses us with the sin that we have already done. And he tempts us to do the sin we haven’t yet done. What John teaches us is that the word of God abiding in us is the way we conquer the evil one in both of these activities. Let’s take them one at a time and see how the word of God works in both kinds of triumph.
1. The Victory of the Word over Satan’s Accusation
First, let’s make sure we see that accusation is one of Satan’s great activities against the believers. The very name Satan means accuser or adversary. And John in particular draws out this meaning in Revelation 12:10-11 and connects it to the word of God:
And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
What John means is that Satan’s accusations fall to the ground—they are conquered—when believers trust in the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, to cover all their sins, and make that truth their testimony even if it costs them their lives. They may die from the persecution, but they are more than conquerors over the accuser. The accusations of the devil are nullified when we are under the blood of the Lamb—that is, when we are “in” the Son of God who died for us.
Jesus Christ, Our Propitiation and Advocate
Now let’s go back to 1 John and see how he says this there. In 1 John 2:1-2, he writes: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (Cf. 1 John 1:7; 3:16).
The aim of his letter is twofold: 1) that we not sin, and 2) that if we do sin, Satan not be able to accuse us in such a way that we despair of heaven and holiness and just walk away into empty worldliness. He reminds us of two things: first, that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for our sins—that means he bore the curse for us (Galatians 3:13; Romans 8:3) so that the removal of God’s wrath is secured (propitiation); and second, that because of this, Christ today is our advocate in heaven before God. In other words, if any accusation comes against us, Christ presents God with the infinite worth of his own blood and righteousness to cover all our sins and successfully pleads our case (cf. Romans 8:33-34). This is part of what John means in 1 John 3:8b, where he says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” By dying for us and propitiating our sins and standing in as our advocate in heaven, he nullifies the effect of any accusation the devil brings against us.
Christ’s Death and Righteousness Are Ours
Now for whom does he do this? The answer is: He is the effective propitiation and the advocate for all who are in him—all who are connected to him so that his death counts as our death and his righteousness counts as our righteousness. Here’s the way John says this in 1 John 2:24: “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you [that is the word of God, and it’s the word of God that overcomes the evil one!]. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” Those who abide in the Son experience the Son as their propitiation and their advocate. If you are not in the Son, then you do not experience him as your propitiation or advocate. And this is true, John says (2:2), not just for our group but for the whole world. Any and all who are in the Son experience him as their propitiation and advocate. And the way you abide in the Son of God is by the word of God abiding in you.
Another way of saying that the word of God abides in us is to say that we believe it. That is, we welcome it and receive it and embrace it and treasure the truth of it. This is what John calls faith, and faith, he says, is what overcomes the world and the devil. Here is 1 John 5:4-5: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
How the Word of God Works
So let me try to put the pieces together so you can see how the word of God works to overcome the accusations of the evil one. Here are the steps we have seen of Christ’s triumph over the accusations of the evil one.
- Jesus Christ, the righteous (2:1), died in our place.
- The wrath of God is propitiated; its removal is sealed.
- Christ is raised from the dead and intercedes as our advocate in heaven on the basis of that propitiation.
- The word of God—the gospel—comes to us and by grace we receive it and it abides in us.
- In this way, we abide in the Christ so that he becomes our personal propitiation and advocate, that is, we experience what Christ obtained for us.
- Satan accuses us of damning sin and tries to destroy us with guilt.
- We—like the young men of 1 John 2:14—overcome the evil one because the word of God abides in us and we are strong.
The Gospel Abides in Us
Don’t minimize the crucial place of the word of God here. We receive it and it abides in us. And by this means, we abide in Christ, and his great accomplishment on the cross defeats the accusations of the devil. We overcome the evil one by the word of God because day by day this word is abiding in us. It is living in us. The gospel—the great story of redemption and the great Christ of redemption and the great God of redemption and the great process of redemption and the great effects of redemption—this gospel, this word of God, is not something believed once and left behind. “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father” (2:24). We believe the word of God and then it “abides” in us. And by this abiding faith in the abiding word, we enjoy the application of Christ’s work and the defeat of the devil in all his accusations.
So, never think you can leave the word behind. Think of the word as living and active. Think of it as your vital link with Christ in heaven where he is your infallible, all-gracious advocate. Become a Bible-saturated Christian. All of the Bible is the word of God. All of the Bible is God’s inspired foundation and explanation and application of the gospel. It is all inspired and all profitable for you. So immerse yourself in it, and let it abide in you so that you enjoy the triumph over the accusations of the evil one.
2. The Victory of the Word over Satan’s Temptation
I said that all of Satan’s faith-destroying efforts can be summed up under two activities: accusation and temptation. John says that when the word of God abides in us, we are strong and able to overcome the evil one. We have seen how the word does that in relation to Satan’s accusation. Now let’s see how it works in relation to his temptation.
First John 2:14b: “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” If the word of God abides in you, you are strong—strong first in overcoming the accusation of the devil, and strong second in overcoming the temptation of the devil. If the devil cannot undermine your faith by accusation, he is relentless in trying to undermine it with temptation.
Temptation and Testing
And temptation is of every sort imaginable. Don’t just think of immoral behaviors. Think of cancer and his temptation to destroy your faith that way. Think of unbearable pain.
Think of the loss of loved ones, and the sickness of your children, and financial hardship, and marriage tensions, and political strife, and natural disasters, and threatening crime, and mob violence. The word for temptation in Greek (peirasmos) is the same for both testing and tempting. The reason is that all temptation tests your faith, and all testing of your faith is a temptation to forsake the faith.
So when 1 John 2:14b says, “You are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one,” it includes: You have overcome the temptation to live in sin, and you have passed the test that might have destroyed your faith.
Overcoming Satan’s Lies
How does the word of God help us do that? I will put it in a very few sentences. Satan tempts and tests in only one way: He lies. And in all his lying, it boils down to two lies. In every test, his lie is: God is bad. And in every temptation his lie is: Sin is better. God is bad and sin is better. He has one tune to play, and he plays it in a thousand ways.
The word of God gives you the strength to overcome the evil one because by God’s grace, through the Spirit, it liberates from these lies with the truth. John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Your word is truth. There it is. The word of God makes us strong to overcome the evil one because it saturates our mind with truth—truth about Christ, and truth about the cross, and the Spirit, and faith, and who we are in Christ, and the meaning of sin and calamity and sickness, and the sovereignty and goodness of God.
And by this Spirit-ignited, passion-producing truth, we are made strong against the lies of the evil one. We are not deceived. We hold fast to the word of life. We abide in Christ. This is not a quick fix for every problem. It is a way of life. Paul called Timothy to fight the fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12) and then said at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). All the way to the end, we fight the evil one. And we fight with the faith-sustaining word and we win. “This is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4). “You are strong and word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14).
Let the Word Abide in You Richly
When Noël and I were away on our 38th anniversary a couple weeks ago, we said to each other: Let’s make the last chapter of our marriage the best. We did not mean: nicer stuff, longer vacations, more leisure, more play, fewer hardships, less work, less risk. That’s not what we meant. We meant: Let’s give ourselves in new ways to pray and be in the word together with a view to being more humble, more kind, more patient, more empathetic, more tenderhearted, more expressive of affection, more fruitful in witness, better images of Christ. And to that end, we set ourselves at least one new plan for the word and prayer together precisely for that purpose.
Whether single or married, old or young, man or woman, boy or girl, would you join us? Let the word of God abide in you richly and make your life a life of prayer. Your Father in heaven will give you good things when you ask. And you will be strong and overcome the evil one.
(Access the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan.)