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First Steps

Last Sunday we kicked off a new summer series which I’ve entitled “Transformational Discipleship”. The main principle for this series is rooted in Romans 12:2 which says:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Romans 12:2

The idea here is that, even though God loves and accepts us just as we are – with our sins, faults, and failures – it’s not His desire that we stay that way! God wants to totally transform us into new people – new people who know His will for our lives – which is good and pleasing and perfect!

And of course, this transformational discipleship is a life-long process. Certainly there can be some immediate, major changes in our life when we first accept Christ. Many times new believers can be radically different from the people they were just weeks before! But even though we may experience some immediate, major changes (which are often outward changes in behavior) – it always takes much longer to make those inner changes – the changes in the way we think and what we believe – the renewing of our mind as the NIV puts this verse.

This kind of changing the way we think is really a slow, maturing process. Just like how we physically grow up slowly from an infant to a child to a youth to an adult – in the same way, we spiritually grow up slowly as we mature and grow and develop as followers of Jesus.

And so today I want to outline for us some of the stages of that maturing process. You might remember back in January I briefly talked about this concept and I showed you this graphic:

[ The Discipleship Process ]

This is a visual snapshot of what transformational discipleship kinda looks like. 

As you can see, the process begins when we are spiritually dead – we have no life in Christ. This is everyone’s starting point. But then, by putting our faith and trust in Jesus, we become born again. At that point we become a spiritual infant. At this stage we really know nothing about following Christ and everything is brand new! We really do need others to help us along and basically teach us how to do everything! 

But hopefully, that stage only lasts for a short time, and eventually, we become like spiritual children. We start doing some basic spiritual disciplines on our own – like Bible reading, prayer, church attendance – and we start learning and growing and changing fairly rapidly. This can be a pretty exciting time! But there is a downside to this stage as well. Just like for physical children, in this stage, life pretty much revolves around us! In this stage, Christianity is all about what Jesus can do for me! And I’ll talk more about that mindset probably next week. But honestly, this is where a lot of western Christians get stuck for most of their lives! In fact, many people never mature beyond this – which is really unfortunate! 

But of course, there are some folks do move forward and become spiritual young adults so to speak, as they realize more and more that God has called them to serve, rather than be served!  They become focused more and more on building the kingdom of God. These are often the folks who are active in their church – taking leadership roles, being active in different ministries, using their gifts for the glory of God.

And then the final two stages of maturity on this graphic relate to making disciples & disciple-makers (which shouldn’t be surprising since this graphic came from – but I’m probably going to reframe those two just a little bit when we talk through them. I think making disciples is certainly a key part of being a mature believer – but I’m not sure it’s the one and only mark of Christian maturity. And so as we go along in this series, I’ll probably lump the spiritual parent and spiritual grandparent of this chart into a new category of some sort that better reflects the idea of over-all maturity and spiritual health (which of course will include making disciples), but there’s many other distinguishing marks of a fully mature believer that we’ll look at as well.

So that’s an overview of what we’ll be looking at. I do plan to spend much more time on the later stages of this process – since we’re naturally more familiar with the early stages rather than we are with the later ones. And so on that note, for today, I plan to take a quick look at being spiritually dead and then becoming a spiritual infant. 

But I do want to mention before we get into this, that this chart is just a general guideline to help us understand that there is a process! And everybody goes through the process a little differently! 

As we talk through the different stages, you might put yourself primarily as a spiritual young adult for example, but even as a  young adult, maybe you find that you still have a few childish tendencies…

That’s totally ok! You might not fit neatly into any one box. These are just general categories to help us wrap our minds around the process – and hopefully show us what areas we can focus on in order to continue our growth and maturity as followers of Jesus! And that’s the important part – we really just want to make sure that we’re partnering with Jesus as He works in us to totally transform our lives!

So let’s get right into it!

First of all, I’ll point out that even though there are several stages of growth in the Christian journey, there are only just two states-of-being. That is, you are either saved or you’re unsaved. You’re alive or you’re dead. There is no middle ground – no third option. Paul write in Ephesians 2…

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

Ephesians 2:1-5

So as Paul explains for us, being spiritual dead is our beginning and default state of being! And this is true for all of us – whether we were born into a Christian family or not – whether we went to church as a kid or not. All of us are born with a sinful nature – that is, we have a natural desire to do whatever we want rather than what God wants us to do. Verse 3 in this passage says it pretty clearly.

“All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.”  Ephesians 2:3

So we’re all in the same boat together! In this state of being, we are naturally separated from God. Our relationship with Him begins broken. I mean, think about it: He created us and loves us like crazy and has provided everything we need in life – and yet, from day one we rebel against him and refuse to obey Him – insisting on doing things our own way instead!

And maybe it seems a little harsh that the the Bible describes us as being ‘spiritually dead’ – but there really is no better or more accurate way to put it. Apart from God, we have no life! We’re completely cut off from him – separated from the very source of all life! We have no right relationship with Him.

And of course, in that state of being dead, we don’t even realize we’re dead! Dead people don’t have any awareness. They don’t even know how lost they are, how much they need a Savior.

That’s why our salvation is such a gift from God! He graciously gives us the gift of life that we didn’t even know we needed! Verse 4 says…

4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)

Ephesians 2:4-5

In an incredible act of love and mercy, Jesus Christ died on a cross for you and me. He endured it’s pain and it’s shame as a payment for all the sins of all the world – including yours and mine. But three days later, God raised Christ from the dead – and in doing so, made it possible for us to made alive as well! Spiritually alive – forgiven and with a restored relationship with our Creator!

But that only comes when we choose to believe and accept who Jesus is and what He did for us! And it’s that choice to believe that moves us from being dead in our sins to being alive through Christ. As verse 8 of this Ephesians passage puts it.

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8

This is the first and most critical step in your journey with God. Without it – you have no life, no hope, and no future! In your default state of deadness, all you have to look forward to is an eternity separated from God and His goodness completely and forever!

But when you take that step of faith – believing who Jesus is and what He has done for you – God gives you new life! You become born again – so to speak!

And just before we start talking about being a spiritual infant now, I just want to encourage you, that if you are still in the stage of being spiritual dead – if you’ve never made that critical choice to believe in Jesus – I would really encourage you make that choice today! It doesn’t matter if you’ve been coming to church your whole life – or if this is all brand new to you!  It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old physically speaking, God wants to give you new spiritual life today! He wants to forgive your sin, heal the wounds of your past, and give you an amazing future and a hope! And if there is anything I or anyone else here can do to help you make that decision, we’d love nothing more than to sit down and chat with you and help you work through all that. We’d love for this day to be your spiritual birthday!

And on that, note, let’s take a look at what it’s like to be a spiritual infant!

Now when we think of spiritual infants, we naturally think of new Christians. And that’s true. All new Christians begin as spiritual infants. However, it should be stated that not all spiritual infants are new Christians!

Some people might be Christians for years and still be living primarily as spiritual infants. In fact, that was the case for the people who were addressed in the book of Hebrews. The author of Hebrews writes to them in Hebrews 5:12…

12 “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.”

Hebrews 5:12

These guys had been Christians for quite some time now – but they still needed someone to spoon feed them the basics of God’s Word!

And so that’s one of the first and probably the clearest distinguishing marks of a spiritual infant. They have yet to learn the basic things about God’s Word. This is true for brand new believers of course, but sadly this can also be true for many people who have attended church for years!

Every believer needs to have a basic understanding of God’s Word. So for starters, I would say that needs to include a general understanding of the storyline of the Bible, the principles of how God wants us to live a holy and God-honoring life, an understanding of who God is, who Jesus is, & who the Holy Spirit is, and an understanding of the Gospel message. That’s the basic stuff of Christianity!

And there’s many different ways that we can learn all that stuff, but I think one of the best ways is to have set chunk of time each day to read the Bible for yourself! Sunday school as a kid or Sunday morning sermons are certainly very helpful to learn some of that stuff – but just like how every baby has to learn to feed himself – every believer has to learn to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth – and that would certainly include regular time in God’s Word!

So that’s the first distinguishing mark of a spiritual infant – they have yet to learn the basics of God’s Word.

A second distinguishing mark – which is certainly connected to the first – is that spiritual infants lack the ability to distinguish what is right and what is wrong – primarily because they don’t know what God’s Word says! 

That passage in Hebrews continues in verse 13…

13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Hebrews 5:13-14

The more we know God’s Word – the more we will be able to distinguish what is right and what is wrong. For example, just a basic knowledge of the Bible will allow you to know that lying, stealing, and murder are all wrong. But what about some of the more grey areas of life? What about some of the decisions we have to make where the right answer isn’t so obvious? How do we navigate some of those real life moral dilemmas where every answer seems wrong? Or how do we make right decisions with difficult family situations or when there’s conflict between two good and godly people? How do we discern right and wrong in those situations?

This is where we need to have a much more in-depth understand of God and his Word! We have to grow beyond just the basics of the Bible and spend time and effort digging into and understanding the heart of God as revealed in His Word! Verse 14 tells us that discernment is a skill – it’s something we need to train for and practice to get good at! And of course, that all takes time and effort – which is something that a spiritual infant has not yet invested in doing! 

And this doesn’t just apply to discerning right and wrong behaviour, this same concept applies to discerning right and wrong beliefs! Ephesians 4:14 says..

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 

Ephesians 4:14-15

So this brings up a third distinguishing mark of a spiritual infant – they are easily deceived. 

If you’ve ever played peek-a-boo with a baby, you know that it doesn’t take much for you to fool them into thinking that you’ve totally disappeared, when in fact, you’re still right there hiding behind your hands!

In the same way, without knowing the truth of God’s Word – it is very easy for us to be convinced of things that sound like the truth, but are really clever lies. We’re easily deceived.

From those lies we tell ourself about our self-worth and how God sees us – to lies from world about what’s important in life or why we exist. We are constantly bombarded with lies so clever, they sounds like the truth – and many people, Christians in the church, have bought into those lies because they don’t have a thorough grounding in the Word of God. 

Now that doesn’t mean that everyone who falls for any sort of false beliefs is a spiritual infant. Remember, these are lies so clever they sound like the truth, and sometimes even folks who do know God’s Word can be deceived – which is just another reason why being part of a mature Christian community is so important. But certainly, if we don’t take the time to get to know what God says in His Word, we really will be susceptible to any lies Satan may throw at us!

And so that leads us into the application part of the message. How do we move from being a spiritual infant into the next level of maturity? Probably the key thing for this group is to start getting to know God’s Word.

And I know by now I sound like a broken record, but it’s true! God has given us this amazing book called the Bible for a reason! He has carefully recorded for us everything we need to know to discern truth, to live an obedient and holy life, and to honour Him with our day-to-day decisions! 2 Timothy 3:16 says…

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

With an amazing tool like that at your disposal – why wouldn’t you study that thing day and night so that you do know the truth and so that you are able to clearly see right from wrong? If you want to start growing up spiritually – the first step is to make God’s Word a priority in your life. 

Practically speaking, I’d recommend developing a habit of reading at least some Bible every day! If you’re brand new to Christianity, you might want to start with one of those little devotional books we offer for free at the back – called Our Daily Bread. It has a few verses for every day of the week with a little devotional thought to go along with it. That’s a great way to start getting to know what God says in His Word. And of course, there’s all kinds of different resources like that – Our Daily Bread is just one of them!

Now if you’ve been a Christian for a while, I’d really recommend bumping it up a notch… For you, I’d recommend that you try reading through the entire Bible cover to cover! I believe back in January Mike gave you all that challenge to read through the Bible within the next year! I know some of you started that back then – but even if you didn’t, you can start now! You might not get it done within the year, but that’s ok! You can take a few years if you want – that would still be great! I believe if you read just one chapter each day, it will take you 39 months – just over three years to read through the entire Bible – which would be awesome! I think it’s really important that we know the whole Bible – and not just a few select parts of it!

Most Bible apps have the ability to choose a reading plan that automatically sets out what chapters and verses you need to read each day top make it through the Bible in a certain amount of time. Or you can just flip open your Bible and start in Genesis and just work your way through however long it takes!

But however you want to start, just start doing it! Start reading the Bible and work to understand what it says. And if you need more hints and tips or how-tos for how to make the most of your reading, just come talk with me after the service. I’d love to help you get started on that.

The key thing here is not to be content to remain a spiritual infant – relying on others to spoon feed you a few verses here and there. Learn to feed yourself – and not just the basics (not just milk), but start getting some meat and potatoes in your life! Put in some effort to really understand the heart of God through His Word.

Scripture really is the basis for how God will work in your life to transform you from the inside out! It’s truth. It’s reality! It’s the tried and true promises of God.


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