In their very helpful manual, the authors of Real Life Discipleship Training Manual, walk their readers through 5 stages of spiritual growth:
- Young Adult
A better understanding of these stages, is very helpful, not only as we look at our own lives, but also as we walk alongside someone we want to introduce to Jesus Christ.
Last week’s Mobile Training Podcast, introduced the reality of “Spiritual Death”, the signs of which are the following:
- Living in sins.
- Following the ways of the world.
- Following the evil spirit who inspires disobedience.
- Gratifying desires of our sinful nature.
The authors of Real Life say that all of these can be summed up in two words: unbelief and rebellion – the person’s beliefs are not centered in Jesus Christ, and so they live a life rebelling against God, themselves, their family, and their neighbors.
This week, we will look at how the Real Life authors discuss “Spiritual Infancy”. It begins with Jesus’ words in John 3:3: “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless she is born again.” That phrase – “born again” – has received a lot of good and bad press, but it basically means this: You have a personal story in mind, when someone asks you: “When did you confess Jesus as Lord and Savior?”
Many people who are born again, remain spiritual infants: They attend a church. They carry a Bible with them, but they are characterized by these three qualities:
- They don’t want to know: Rather than dive into Scripture, and center their lives in Jesus, they would prefer a “mix” of religions, philosophies, and principles for life and success, in addition to all that Jesus has to teach and offer. If they focused on Jesus’ claims about who He is, and what He demands, they would know that that kind of mix is not possible for a disciple. But they don’t want to know…
- They don’t know the next step: Either through willfully fighting it, or just through the absence of a good example, they have not begun to form new habits and attitudes in the image of Christ.
- They cannot “feed and care” for themselves: Much like a baby, they do not have a consistent pattern of spiritual self-care – regular prayer; regular time in Scripture; membership and full participation in a church.
As the authors of Real Life state: “Regardless of our physical age, when we first become believers, we are spiritual babies. We may have degrees from colleges and universities, but each one of us enters the Christian life as an infant. We may be Fortune 500 executives, but that does not allow us to skip the period when we are learning about Christ and the Bible for the first time.” (46)
Here are some things a spiritual infant will say:
“Why do I have to go to church regularly?”
“I’ve been hurt by a lot of people so it’s just me and God. I don’t need others.”
“I provide for my family. I don’t have time for church.”
“I believe Jesus is Lord and Savior, but I like a little Buddhism, too…”
What does a spiritual infant need? In a word: A spiritual parent. We will learn more about what a spiritual parent is, and what she does, in a few weeks, but for now, it’s enough to know that a spiritual parent supplies two things for a spiritual infant:
- Care and protection: Spiritual infancy is as vulnerable a stage of life, as physical infancy – a fever must be treated quickly, and regular feeding, attention, and care are necessary. Notice I didn’t say “correction” – babies don’t really need “correction” do they? Neither do spiritual infants, but that is what makes this stage so difficult, because you are often dealing with a person who is very responsible in many other areas of life (work, family, community service, etc.). The temptation is to get really frustrated, and even angry: “She’s an adult – she knows better!” But would you say that of an infant?
- Teaching and modeling: This is how we begin to lead someone out of spiritual infancy, and into spiritual childhood, where correction can become a regular part of spiritual parenting. Teaching and modeling includes especially reading Scripture with someone. Try the Gospel of Mark, and work patiently through it, emphasizing all that Jesus says he is, and what he wants his disciples to be and do. This also includes modeling the new habits of the Christian life: Are we gentle when others are wrathful? Are we lewd, because everyone else around us, is? Are we forgiving, when others demand vengeance? Do we seek to unite, when other’s seek to divide? This prayer of St. Francis is a good way to think about how spiritual parents are to model for spiritual infants:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.