Sermon 05-09-2021: “Even Little Children Can Defeat the Devil”

Scripture: 1 John 2:12-17

Years ago, I attended an important work-related conference. I knew the keynote speaker pretty well, and—to say the least—I was not looking forward to it. She was not a great speaker, and I did not think that what she had to say would prove helpful to me. And as she was talking, I did what many of us do in meetings, I got on my phone. Except it was a Blackberry, to give you an idea how long ago this was. But I texted Lisa. I said, “So-and-so is speaking. It’s actually not as horrible as I thought it would be.” And I pressed the “send” button.

Only… I realized that I didn’t send the message to Lisa, my beloved wife with whom all my conversations are “privileged,” as they say on all the cop shows. No… I accidentally sent the message to the person who was speaking at the conference!

Well, I had her name and number in my phone… Tell me I’m not the only one who’s ever done something like this before!

Well, as you can imagine, I had to do some dancing as soon as this person got done speaking and checked the messages on her her phone! I had to try to smooth things over fast! I had to attempt to make this person feel better about what it was that I just said in my text message! “I promise that what I just wrote to you isn’t as bad as it sounds.”

I share this because, in a way, John is telling his readers something similar in verses 12 through 14. After all, up to this point in the letter, John has been laying down the unvarnished truth about people who appear to be Christians, who think they’re Christians, who say they’re Christians, but who aren’t. As John points out, their lifestyles give them away. Their unwillingness to obey Christ’s commandments gives them away. Their lack of Christ-like love gives them away.

And in verses 15 to 17, he’s about to warn them of the dire consequences of “loving the world.”

So I think, in verses 12 through 14, he’s concerned about how the people in his churches will receive these blunt and undiplomatic words. The main theme of the letter, after all, as I’ve said the past two weeks, is to reassure these Christians. But suppose their consciences are tender. They may start to worry about themselves. “Maybe I’m not a Christian! Maybe I don’t really know Jesus! Maybe I don’t really love my heavenly Father. Maybe I’m not saved!”

If so, they needed to hear John’s words of encouragement in verses 12 through 14. First, in verse 12, John writes, “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” He calls them little children again in verse 14. All Christians, John believes, regardless of how long they’ve been following Jesus, or how mature their faith is, or how young or old they are—all Christians—are like little children when it comes to God’s grace. 

When John calls them little children, he remembers what Jesus himself said to him and his fellow disciples: “Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”1

According to Jesus, we all have to become like little children to be part of his kingdom. So what does that mean?

Let me tell you, first, what it doesn’t mean…

When I was younger, especially in college and young adulthood, I used to worry—at least a little bit—that some day “modern science” would disprove the Bible. I absolutely don’t worry about this at all now, but I did back then. So back then I found it encouraging to read about allegedly “scientific” or “natural” explanations for miracles in the Bible. I would read about how, scientifically, it would be possible for a man to live for three days in the belly of a fish. I would read about how it was that Jesus walked on water: “You see, part of the Sea of Galilee was frozen over at that point, and Jesus walked on the ice…” Or maybe you’ve even heard the popular “natural” explanation for how Jesus fed the five-thousand-plus with just fives loaves and two small fish. “You see, the people in the crowd had already brought enough food to share with others, if they wanted to, and when they saw the young boy’s generosity in sharing his loaves and fishes, that inspired the crowd to do the same.”

I now understand that these explanations are complete nonsense

Why would we need to find non-miraculous explanations for the miracles of the Bible! After all, if we already believe that God created the universe and everything in it—and raised his Son Jesus from the dead—is it really so hard to believe that God could perform any of the lesser miracles that the Bible reports? Of course not!

But that’s not where I was when I was younger. So when Jesus told us we needed to become like little children to enter the kingdom, I thought that he meant we needed to be a little gullible… a little naive… that we didn’t want to think too hard about the stuff in the Bible… that we didn’t want to ask too many questions, because it might shake the foundations of our faith.

But that’s not what Jesus means. Besides, the smartest people I’ve known, the smartest people I’ve read, the smartest people I’ve met, are the ones who happily believe and defend the complete truthfulness of this amazing book! Yet they would be the first ones to agree that we have to become like little children to enter God’s kingdom! 


Because they know that when Jesus describes our need to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom, he’s not talking about checking your mind at the door of the narthex before you enter the sanctuary, he’s talking about the shameless way young children receive gifts. Think about it: When young children ask for Christmas presents or birthday presents—or even when they’re in the checkout line at the grocery store and they want gum and candy—they have no appreciation for how much something costs… If you’re a little kid, and you want something, you ask for it! You don’t think about earning what you ask for—or deserving what you ask for… or paying it back in some way, or calculating the gift’s value so that you can give a gift of equal value in return. That’s what grown-ups do. 

But little kids aren’t like that! They’re like, “Gimme, gimme, gimme! The more expensive the gift the better. The bigger the gift the better!” Little kids are shameless! And even if your son or daughter gives you a gift in return… guess what? You’ve got to pay for it! Because kids have no way of making money on their own!

Today is Mother’s Day… Imagine if our parents presented us with a bill for all the money they’ve spent on us over the years—not to mention all the time and trouble—could we ever begin to pay our parents back? Of course not!

Remember when you were a kid, and you got sick in the middle of the night… what did you do? You went to your parents’ bedroom. Did you go to your dad’s side of the bed… or your mom’s side of the bed?

Of course! You went to your mom’s side of the bed! When I was a kid, I would just stand there and whisper, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom…” Until she startled awake… But she never complained! She would take care of whatever she needed to take care of. Clean me up… take my temperature… give me medicine… help me get back to sleep… Not one time did she say, “Brent, you know, it’s two o’clock in the morning on the weekend… so my medical services are going to cost you double-time.” She never said that!

And when I was a kid, I never appreciated how much trouble that was for her! And I still don’t because, after all, I’m a dad, and my kids never came to my side of the bed, either!

(See, Moms, I’m trying to motivate your kids to treat you extra special on Mother’s Day!)

But my point is, little kids have no idea how costly a parent’s love is! And that’s probably for the best because otherwise we’d feel guilty… and ashamed… and embarrassed for how needy we are! Always needing things from our parents! Always costing them money and time and attention! Always expecting them to feed us, to serve us, to work for our best interests!

And that’s why we have to become like little children to receive what John describes in verses 12 and 13: which is, the forgiveness of sins and the privilege of calling God our “Father.” Because as with little kids and their parents, we can’t begin to imagine what it cost God to bring us into a saving relationship with him! He paid an infinite price—the death of his Son Jesus on the cross. If we thought about it too much, our pride wouldn’t let us receive this gift of eternal life! We’d be filled not with joy, but with shame, embarrassment, and guilt!

And God doesn’t want us to feel guilty when we receive forgiveness from him! He wants us to feel joy! Think of Zacchaeus the wee little man when Jesus calls him down from the tree: “Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.”2 Or the former prostitute in Luke chapter 7, crying tears of joy, as she kissed Jesus feet.3 Or those dirty, smelly shepherds in Luke chapter 2, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”4

Like little children, none of these people understood what it would cost God to lavish upon them this gift of forgiveness and eternal life. They only knew the joy that a child knows when he receives a priceless gift! 

Likewise, if God has forgiven you, he wants you to know that same joy—not guilt, or shame, or fear, or regret!

Let’s notice something else in verse 12: It’s not just that our sins are forgiven; it’s that our sins are forgiven “for his name’s sake”… that means, “for the sake of Christ” or “on account of Christ and what he accomplished through his atoning death on the cross.”

Why is this important? Because if we’re not careful, we’ll start to think that we’re saved on account of what we do… “I’m saved because I repented of my sins so successfully… I’m saved because I believed in Jesus, and my faith is strong and pure and orthodox.” Or after we’ve been Christians for a while, we may be tempted to think, “I’m saved because I’ve proven to Jesus that he did an excellent job in choosing me to be his disciple. I am pretty righteous; I’m pretty holy; I’m doing a good job fighting sin in my life.” There’s a lot of pride here!

And then when we stumble and fall into sin, we feel guilty and ashamed because we are no longer believing in Jesus to save us; we are believing in ourselves, and our own ability to resist temptation and sin. That kind of “guilt” we feel doesn’t come from God; it comes from the feeling of disappointing ourselves! Now, I’m not denying that there’s a godly kind of guilt we sometimes feel that leads us to repentance, but the kind of false guilt I’m talking about comes from our pride, when we have let ourselves down!

No… none of us is ever saved on account of anything we do, but only because of what Christ has done for us through his life, death, and resurrection.

Now, don’t misunderstand. Of course we need to repent… Of course we need to believe in Jesus… That is something we “do.” But repentance and faith—which means turning away from sin and turning to Christ, believing in Christ, believing in who he is and what he’s done for you—they’re like a light switch that we flip on.5 It’s true that if we don’t flip the switch we’ll remain in the dark. But if there’s no source of power to move electrical current across the wire to energize the light bulb, you can flip the switch all day long and nothing will light up! The switch isn’t the source of power; that source of power comes from somewhere else!

That source of power—what makes forgiveness and eternal life possible—is what Christ accomplished for us on the cross!

So our role in the process is very small. And even after you’re a Christian, and you continue to find forgiveness as you continue to confess and repent of sin, you’re just “flipping a light switch”—the power of forgiveness and grace comes from Jesus, not yourself!

Or consider this: say you’re sliding down the side of a steep mountain. If you keep going, you’re going to slide off and fall to your death hundreds of feet down in the canyon below. But suddenly you see a vine sticking out of the side of the mountain. It’s within arm’s reach. How much faith does it take for you to reach out and grab hold of that vine in order to stop your fall? Not much! You’re just going to reach out and grab it. You’re not going to spend time wondering whether it’s strong enough to support your weight. And if it does end up saving you, you’re not going to say, “Good thing I was so wise to reach out and grab that vine! Good thing I’m so strong to hold on! Look at the definition in my biceps! You’re going to say, ‘Thank God that vine was there!’” That’s what faith and repentance are like! God shows you the means of salvation; he puts it within your reach; and you just grab hold of it.

That’s true when you first become born again, and it’s true as you live your Christian life and God continues to save you from sin—the process known as sanctification.

Like I said, our role in this process is very small. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 and 9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 

There’s nothing we do in the process of salvation and sanctification about which any of us can take credit or boast!

Of course, little children don’t care about taking credit or boasting when they receive a gift. They’re just happy to have it! And John says we all should be little children when it comes to God’s grace.

So that’s my first point, all of us must receive God’s grace like little children.

But alongside most commentators, I believe that the other two categories of people John mentions in these verses—“fathers” and “young men”—do represent different levels of Christian maturity. The New Living Translation, I believe, gets it right when it translates “fathers” as “you who are mature in the faith,” and “young men” as “you who are young in the faith.” And obviously John isn’t just talking about men; he means both men and women, and boys and girls.

And you may wonder why, in these three verses, John nearly repeats everything he says about children, fathers, and young men. No one is quite sure why, except—again—it’s John’s way of driving home this point: the members of his churches really are forgiven, they really do possess eternal life, they really do know the Father, they really are “walking in the light.”

Finally, look at the second part of verse 14: “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.” Notice in verse 13 he just says the “young men” have overcome the evil one. Here, he goes further and tells us how they’ve overcome the evil one. John says thattheir strength to overcome the devil comes from this fact: God’s Word abides in them!

What is the connection between the word of God abiding in them and defeating Satan? 

Well, first, let’s recall Satan’s primary job. The name name itself gives it away: Satan means “The Accuser.” Satan constantly accuses us of sin, reminds us of our sin, reminds God of our sin. This isn’t the only thing Satan does: he also tempts us to sin. But he want to make us feel guilty and ashamed… which then robs us of the joy that we should be experiencing in Christ. 

Where do we see this? I want to share two passages of scripture:

The first is Revelation 12, verses 10 and 11. I’m just going to read a portion from the NLT:

For the accuser of our brothers and sisters [that is, Satan]

    has been thrown down to earth—

the one who accuses them

    before our God day and night.

And they [that is, those who are in Christ] have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb…”

Do you get the picture? John portrays Satan in the heavenly realm saying things like this to God: “Look at the sinful things that Brent has done! Look at what Josh did! Look at all the sins that April has committed! These so-called children of yours can’t be saved now! You must condemn them to hell!” And he whispers those same things in our ears: “Do you really think God still loves you? After all, do I need to remind you of all the terrible things you’ve done? You’re not good enough for God to save you!”

But no, John says, we Christians have defeated Satan by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. 

Because his blood was shed for you and me—for our sins. 

Colossians 2:14 also makes this same point. There Paul describes our sins as a “record of debt that stood against us,” but Christ paid that debt in full on the cross. We now owe nothing. And then Paul goes on in verse 15: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities”—that’s a reference demonic rulers and authorities—to Satan and his fellow demons. So Christ canceled our record of debt on the cross, and doing so disarmed the devil. How

By taking away the main weapon in Satan’s arsenal: his ability to accuse us.

But wait… we still sin! 

Yes, but our sins have been forgiven! And what does the Bible say forgiveness looks like?

“He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” Psalm 103:12. “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” Isaiah 43:25. “I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Jeremiah 31:34.6

I know I’ve thrown a lot of scripture at you, but do you see what I’ve done for the past few minutes: I have given you examples of ways that the Word of God, the gospel truth contained in the infallible, God-breathed words and promises of this amazing book, can defeat the devil… when he attacks you and me… when he tries to make us feel guilty and worthless and defeated and ashamed and discouraged because of our sins.

“No, Satan… Let me tell you why you’re a liar! It’s right here in this book!”

And all of us, John says, even those who are “young in the faith”—even us “little children”—can defeat the devil… with God’s Word. It is, the apostle Paul says, the “sword of the Spirit.”

Are we using it? Are we using this weapon?

As many of you know, I was adopted. My mom died back in 2012. I wish you had known her… I wish she had a chance to know y’all. She was special. She told me not long before she died that after she and Dad adopted me, she lived in fear—for about two years… she lived in fear that someone from the government, someone from the adoption agency, was going to show up at the door, “I’m sorry, Mrs. White… There’s been a mistake. We’re going to have to take Brent back, give him to someone else.”

For most of my life, I never knew that Mom wrestled with those kinds of fears. Maybe some of you who are adoptive parents know that feeling?

But then Mom said, “I don’t know why I was afraid that was going to happen. After all, I wasn’t going to let that happen. No one was going to take you away from me. I would have fought with all my might to keep you! If they tried to take you away from me, they would have to kill me first. Because that’s how much I love you.”

Those are almost the sweetest words anyone has ever spoken about me! 


Because, brothers and sisters, God says the same thing about you and me… in his Word… “No one is going to take you away from me. I’ll fight for you. And I’ll even die for you. Because that’s how much I love you.”

And then God, in the Person of his Son Jesus, did exactly that. That’s how much God loves you!

“For I am sure,” the apostle Paul says, “that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”7

  1. Mark 10:14b-15 ESV
  2. Luke 19:6 NLT
  3. Luke 7:38
  4. Luke 2:21 NLT
  5. This illustration comes courtesy of Tim Keller, “Loving and Growing (Part 1), 29 January 1995, Accessed 5 May 2021.
  6. All citations from the NLT.
  7. Romans 8:38-39 ESV

2 thoughts on “Sermon 05-09-2021: “Even Little Children Can Defeat the Devil””

  1. With respect to your sending a text to exactly the wrong person, I can empathize! I once clicked on the wrong addressee on an email and sent it to the paralegal for the opposing counsel rather than to my boss! Much worse error than yours! Thankfully, I immediately sent her a follow-up email asking her to delete it, which she agreed to do.

    With respect to your flipping a light switch or grabbing a root analogies, I agree that our “contribution” to salvation pales in significance to that provided by God. He paid the price with his blood, in addition to wooing us and other things. However, I guess I see our own contribution to be somewhat more significant than simply “flipping a switch.” Jesus says, “If any man will be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Also, our allegiance is required to be so substantial as to render all other relationships one of hate by comparison. We must truly give our whole selves to God to receive his life (albeit imperfectly done, such imperfection being paid for by the cross).

    It is, as my favorite analogy, a “My life for your life” exchange: God wants our life so much that he was willing to give his life to get ours; likewise, we must want God’s life so much that we are willing to give our lives to get his. As with a marriage in former days (such as New Testament times for Jewish marriages, and to use Paul’s analogy), the suitor to-be-husband must be the one to propose and pays the dowry, but the bride must likewise “forsake all others, til death does us part” to accomplish the marriage. Jesus uses the analogy of finding a pearl of great price, the desire for which is so compelling that one is willing to “sell all he has” in order to obtain it.

    When the rich, young ruler asks Jesus what he needed to do to obtain eternal life, Jesus said, “Give all you have to feed the poor, and then come, follow me.” And the ruler went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus then said, “How hard it is for a rich man to be saved. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved.” With Zacchaeus, after he came down at Jesus’ invitation and took Jesus home, Zacchaeus said he would give half his goods to feed the poor, and if he had defrauded anyone, he would pay them back four times as much. Only after that did Jesus pronounce him saved. As Paul says, we are buried with Christ in his death, as a result of which we are raised with Him to walk in newness of life. So I think that even though Jesus paid the price, more than anything we could do, our required response can, indeed, be a costly one.

    1. That text mix-up makes me feel better! Yours sounds truly horrifying! 😉

      I think we’ve talked about Zacchaeus before. I believe his repentance and saving faith happen before he verbalizes giving away his wealth—that the giving away of his wealth is a sign of the new birth that he’s already experienced. But by all means, we should be willing to give everything for the sake of Christ, even if we so often fail to do so.

      I would only caution that the “energy” for the signs of our repentance comes from the Holy Spirit. We “agree” to let the Holy Spirit work through us to accomplish good works. But as I said in my sermon, what we do isn’t something about which we can boast or for which we can take credit.

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