If you picture the Christian life, it is not that you become a Christian and then kachow, you know everything and you are obedient in every area, you come out of the new birth, spiritually an adult.
That’s not how growth works. You wouldn’t use the word grow if that’s how it worked. It wouldn’t make sense to say grow in this, if you came out complete and fully developed in every area spiritually.
And it’s clear, in the New Testament you don’t.
You are saved and the moment you are saved you are justified completely. You are saved and you are loved completely. You are saved and the moment you are saved you are set apart for God completely. You are saved and the moment you are saved you are forgiven completely. But, when you are saved, the moment you are saved, you are not matured in day to day obedience and holiness completely.
That’s why when the writers of the New Testament when they talk about our spiritual life as Christians, they talk about it in terms of growth.
There are many passages which indicate this.
Ephesians 4:15, “we are to grow up in every way.”
Colossians 1:10, “we have not ceased to pray for you, asking … that you might walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every way and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
2 Thessalonians 1:3, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right because your faith is growing…”
And we could go on and on. The Bible assumes that you don’t become a Christian and then you are as spiritually mature in practice as you will ever be, no it assumes that you will learn more and more, love more and more, believe more and more, in other words grow.
And that’s why the Bible sometimes uses the image of a person’s different life stages as the illustration of a person’s different spiritual life stages.
In a way that is similar to how we move from baby to child to teenager to adult in our physical lives, we are to move forward spiritually.
One place we see that very clearly in 1 John 2:12-14.
John writes, “I am writing to you, little children because your sins are forgiven, for his name’s sake. 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. 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.”
I take those phrases, children, fathers, young men, not to describe someone’s literal ages, but as categories to describe different people’s spiritual condition. Some people spiritually are like children. Some people spiritually are like young adults. Some people spiritually are like fathers. And then of course, we know there are other places in the Bible that describe some people as being spiritually like a baby or an infant.
When it comes to helping other people and discipling, I think this is such an important concept to appreciate, I want you to think about where the person you want to disciple is in this maturing process, and I think it is important for a number of different reasons.
One is and I think this is why John brings it up, one reason it is important to understand there are spiritual children and young adults and babies and fathers, that there are these stages, is because sometimes when we read the Bible and all the calls to be holy, we can be overwhelmed with our own sinfulness and begin to doubt our salvation.
And there’s a sense in which we all need to every once in a while check where we are at spiritually, because it is possible to fool yourself into thinking you are a Christian when you are not, and that’s part of why John writes, there are people who say they are Christians but they are not, and he writes to give tests to help us be able to tell the difference between false professions of Christ and those that are real, but as we look at these tests, it is important that we don’t somehow get the mistaken idea, that these tests mean that everyone who is a sincere Christian will be at the exact same level of spiritual maturity all the time.
Because there’s room in God’s family for spiritual babies and spiritual children and spiritual young adults.
There are stages in a person’s spiritual journey and we shouldn’t write people off immediately just because we see them not acting as mature as we think they should. That’s what is behind John saying, I am writing to you little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. You may be a child, but your sins are forgiven.
And as we talk about these different levels of spiritual maturity, and as I ask you to think about where you are at spiritually and where the people you are discipling are at spiritually, you need to remember that spiritual babies sins are forgiven just as much as spiritual adults.
This idea of identifying one guy as a spiritual baby and another person as a spiritual adult, it has nothing to do ultimately with your standing before God, it has nothing to do with how much God loves you, it has nothing to do with whether or not you are chosen by God, when we say someone is a spiritual baby, we are not talking about their value, in fact, babies are often valued more than adults, we are just trying to get a grip on where they are at, so we can best know how to help them.
That’s one way I think identifying how someone is maturing spiritually and seeing whether they are a baby, child, or the others is helpful; another reason I think it is important is just as a reminder that we are supposed to move forward spiritually. If we have a baby and we are holding them in our arms at the hospital, that is wonderful but if it is ten years later and we are still holding them in our arms like that, something is wrong. Something is wrong physically when a thirty year old still looks like a baby, that is a medical problem, that is not normal, and the same is true spiritually, you are supposed to be moving along spiritually, it’s fine to be a baby for a while, but it is not fine to stay a baby, not growing is not normal.
This is why Paul rebukes the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 3:1. “But brothers I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.” It’s like Paul is surprised. This baby stage was one thing when I was there the first time, but still, it’s too long, you need to be moving past this.
And that’s why the writer of Hebrews, he says something similar. Hebrews 5:12, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.”
If you are a believer and part of church, I know your church really wants you to see, spiritual growth as a normal part of the Christian life, over the years you should be expecting God to grow you to a different place than you are spiritually, and as you disciple people, we want you to be patient with babies, but you should be watching where the person you want to impact is in the growth process, and expecting them to grow, if they are believers, this is normal.
To help you in that process of thinking about all this, I think we can identify five different places a person can be spiritually besides heaven or hell, and as we look at those stages in the posts which follow, I want to give you some ideas of what those stages look like and what specific help people in those various spiritual conditions need from you.