I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you on account of His name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God remains in you, and you have overcome the evil one.1 John 2:12-14 NASB2020
The concept of spiritual maturity was not something I was aware of for the first 10 years or so of my walk with the Lord. I got born again, or saved, started reading the Bible and got to the part where it says you need to be baptized in water and then I started “going to church” to participate in a community of faith. About six months later, I moved to Colorado for 3 years of ministry training.
I had the good fortune of being at a Charismatic church which taught that the gifts of the Spirit are still in full effect to this day. They will be until they are no longer needed. That’s what I believe the Bible teaches. It has certainly been my experience even before I started reading the Bible.
What I failed to understand was that almost nobody was being discipled personally by a more mature believer. I had jumped into the deep end without first learning how to swim. We had lots of teachings and practice but very little interaction or relationship with our instructors and pastors outside of class time.
It was only years later when I would join a megachurch that taught disciplemaking that the lights came on. We’re not born fully mature, nor are we born again fully mature. Maturation is a process and it’s best facilitated by someone who’s already walked the road you’re about to embark on and loves you enough to stick with you until you get it. That’s no small thing.
Parents know how 2 year olds are, now scale that to the whole church. Is one pastor going to raise all the children at once? Is this an orphanage or a family?
Disciplemaking is a team sport and you definitely need to be relying on God for guidance and wisdom. And as with parenting, there’s probably no greater reward than helping shape the next generation.
There are different ideas about the stages of Christian development, but I like to simplify things as much as possible to make it easy to remember and practice. I believe the stages are:
Of course, if you started at zero, you would have unbelievers. Those are the folks we share the Gospel with in the hope of loving them into the Kingdom. The rest, we encourage, teach and remind how to follow Jesus.
Believers are those who know that Jesus is the Son of God. They know their sins have been forgiven through faith in Jesus. They know that God is real and they are learning how to have a relationship with God.
They may still struggle with habitual sin, not behave in godly ways nor obey God most of the time. Yet, they believe and therefore they are saved by the grace of God. Think of them as being on the continuum from newborn through adolescence. They’re alive, but they can be a handful if you’re not prepared. Yet, they are also the lifeblood of the Church. Without them, we die.
Disciples are the young men and women, spiritually speaking, who know who they are in Christ. They’ve learned to walk with the Lord in obedience. They no longer fall prey (regularly) to temptation but instead resist the devil. They are strong in the Lord and know how to feed themselves on God’s Word and prayer. This is the phase where they start thinking about making disciples and helping younger believers in their walk. They are the workers.
The goal of the Christian faith is to know God and make Him known. Not just know about Him, but know Him intimately, like a husband and wife know each other. No secrets, finishing your sentences kind of knowledge. We want to become like God. To become just like Him in terms of love.
We were originally created in His image and likeness. We have the image but how much like our Savior are we? Do we resemble our Father in Heaven in word, thought and deed? That’s a tall order and many think it’s impossible on this side of glory. I disagree. I think if you get out of the way, or die to your selfish ego, it’s quite possible for God to perfect you in love through the working of the Holy Spirit. Let the Spirit lead, not your flesh.
I also say don’t call yourself a Christian. That’s presumptuous. Being a Christian literally means being Christ-like, or little Christs. Let someone else call you that based on their assessment of your lifestyle.
Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make disciples. Notice what He didn’t say. Go and make Christians. That’s not in our power. Only God can transform a person from hardened sinner to humble servant of the Lord. All we’re doing is participating in the Lord’s work by teaching and encouraging others. One plants, another waters, but God makes them grow.
Trust God. Follow Jesus. Walk according to the Spirit. Believers, disciples, Christians. That’s how we grow and develop.
May God give you vision for the mission that won’t quit until we’re all safely home in Heaven. And may He give you the heart, opportunity, means and encouragement to be a productive worker in the Lord’s harvest. Be blessed in the Lord. And when it’s all said and done, may He say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Amen.
Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And considerable numbers were added to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers of people; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.Acts 11:23-26 NASB2020