THE FOUR STAGES OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH AS A CHRISTIAN: THE NEED PRINCIPAL

(John 15:14) God's ultimate goal is to develop a loving friendship, a personal relationship, with each individual Christian. The four stages of spiritual growth given in scripture are listed as #1 baby, #2 child, #3 young man and #4 old father. These well-known stages of physical growth are used in the scripture to illustrate the stages of spiritual growth in a Christian’s life.

These stages of spiritual growth have nothing to do with a person’s chronological age because common sense tells us a fifty year old man who has just gotten saved will be a baby Christian. He will not know the Bible, how the church works, who the Holy Spirit is and he won’t be able to scripturally tell someone how to get saved.

Meanwhile, at the same time, in the same congregation, a thirty year old man that has been a Christian for fifteen years should know all these things and much more if he is learning and working like he is supposed to and he might even be an old father stage Christian or close to it.

Of course each stage of the four stages of Christian spiritual growth has several levels of spiritual, emotional and intellectual growing in them just like the natural physical, emotional and intellectual growth in people as they live their natural lives from baby to adult. EXAMPLE: A child, physical or spiritual, does not, on some predetermined day, suddenly become a young man. Spiritual growth, the growing relationship between God and an individual Christian, is a process thus each Christian is a work in progress.

Think of how much love, joy and happiness a BABY brings to a family. Nearly everything a family does is centered on that baby. In reality the baby contributes nothing of material value to the family. It accomplishes no tasks, it gets cranky, it can’t talk your language, it cries and has temper tantrums for no apparent reason and the baby needs lots of care and support. Do you know any Christians like that?

#1) Baby Stage: (1Cor. 3:1-3) (V.1) The Apostle Paul calls some of the Christians in the Corinthian Church “brethren and babes in Christ.” In the same verse Paul tells these Christians they are carnal and he can’t even talk to them spiritually and (V.3) Paul tells them they act like unsaved men. YET HE CALLED THEM BRETHREN!

In a spiritual sense when a person is cleansed of their sins by the blood of Jesus and is born again through the Holy Spirit; the church, for effect, has given birth. In spite of the antics and demands of these baby Christians, which are sometimes SIN, the members of their congregation should love them, wait on them, help them, serve them and clean up their messes when the baby Christian acts or talks the wrong way, which are SINS.

Good grief, they are baby Christians; correct them with love, kindness and patience, teach and encourage them, be friendly and don’t embarrass them by running around whispering, carrying tales, criticizing and causing confusion and pain! I’m sure you know how easy it is to kill a baby; just lay a pillow over its face and it is killed.

That’s how easy it is for the devil to murder a baby Christian through sin and backsliding. The devil is delighted to kill a baby Christian with another Christian’s mouth by rumor mongering, mockery, tale bearing, judging and plain old mean spirited cantankerousness.

It is the church’s job, every member, to protect a baby Christian. God is kindly affectioned, long suffering, patient and filled with love. Christians have God’s Holy Spirit, God’s soul, living within us; we are made in God’s image so we need to act Godly and help baby Christians grow up spiritually!

It is the church’s job to put up with that baby Christian, nourish him in the words and ways of God and help him grow into a mature Christian. How do you feel when you trust someone to care for your child? Just think of it; God trusts His baby Christians into the church’s care. What a responsibility and what a cause to rejoice!

I’m sure you are familiar with how proud and happy a CHILD (a spiritual stage) is when he is big enough to do a few helpful things around the house like pick up a piece of trash, gather up some laundry and etc. He isn’t a helpless baby anymore; he is talking pretty good now, and is starting to understand how things work in the home.

He is starting to understand there are such things as rules but he doesn’t realize rules are in place to provide protection, harmony and comfort FOR HIM AND HIS FAMILY. A child wants, is jealous, quick to anger, pouts and demands. The child can accomplish more but sometimes he attempts to do more than he can accomplish and gets hurt or has a little wreck on his road of life. A lot of things still puzzle the child and his messes are larger but not as often.

Do you know any spiritual child Christians like that? The child can fight off a pillow or unwind it’s head from the cover but set out a product that contains poison, turn him loose in traffic, or lay a bobby pin beside an electric outlet and the child will get killed sooner or later because the child doesn’t understand hidden danger yet. That’s how easy it is for the devil to spiritually kill a child stage Christian through sin, embarrassment, lack of direction and backsliding.

#2) Child Stage: (1Cor. 12:1-31 & 13:1-10) In these scriptures the Apostle Paul describes spiritual gifts, how a church is supposed to operate, what God’s love is, what that love accomplishes and by this he illustrates how a Christian grows. (1Cor. 13:11) Then at the end of that description he tells them they are spiritual children by using his own physical growth as an example and he tells them they need to put away childish things.

(1Cor. 13:11) “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” He is telling immature Christians they are spiritually childish, which can and does lead to SIN, it is time to quit playing Christian, start growing up, get a grip and get serious; it is time to stop milling around, which is the SIN of not making the effort to grow, and accomplishing nothing except warming a church pew.

It is time to start showing Godly love and to come up with the courage to witness to the lost. (2Tim. 2:15) It is time to learn how to scripturally tell a stranger how to get saved, why he needs saved and its time to dig a little deeper and put more effort into learning how to be a better Christian. It is time to quit being ashamed to praise God to strangers and it's time to start taking a stand for Jesus because Jesus sure took a stand for us. All this should be taught and preached with love, compassion, understanding and especially with the memory of when you were a child stage Christian.

The scriptures written at the beginning of the above paragraph are explained here. (1Cor. 12:1-31) These scriptures describe spiritual gifts, manifestations of the Holy Spirit and how it is all from the same Holy Spirit. There was sin, jealousy and quarreling in the Corinthian Church and Paul compares that church to a physical human body and points out if a physical body part is missing the physical body is dysfunctional to a degree corresponding to whatever part is missing.

Paul said an individual church, a congregation, is spiritually dysfunctional the same way to whatever degree a spiritual gift or gifts are missing. In other words if church members are sinning, jealous and quarrelsome and cause a Christian to leave then their congregation will be a little weaker.

The Holy Spirit will not bless or anoint sin. Then the very last verse (1Cor. 12:31) Paul states there is a more excellent way. What in the world could that mean? How could it get any better if the Holy Spirit has given spiritual gifts to various members in the congregation and (Acts 1:14) that congregation is of one accord? The brief explanation given above is very important because it explains the mechanics of what is supposed to be in every congregation.

Then Paul wrote (1Cor. 13:1) “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity (agape-which is Godly love), I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” The Apostle Paul is saying: A Christian can have spiritual gifts but if they don’t develop a loving, compassionate nature that is expressed in empathy, kindness, sympathy, generosity and charitable acts they are just a big loud noise.

It is written (1John 4:8) God is love. And the perfect love of God through the Holy Spirit should be what motivates you as a Christian to show a lost and dying world who God really is, how God loves and interacts with His church (the called out ones) and what God did in your Christian life.

(Matt. 5:41) That is exactly what Jesus means when He instructs Christians to go the extra mile and that extra mile attitude (Matt. 5:41-48) is what defines Christian character because (Matt. 5:48) Jesus saidBe ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The only way we can do that is, through the Holy Spirit, to let God’s love rule us, become part of us and flow from us through the power of the Holy Spirit. SO: Charity= Agape= Godly love= Christian Love.

Apply this paragraph to your relationship with God’s children that are not as spiritually mature as you are in your relationship with God. (1Cor. 13:2-10) Paul wrote if one knew and understood everything and even had the faith to move a mountain and did not have Godly love he was nothing. (V.3) If one gave everything he had to feed the poor and even offered to go to hell for somebody and didn’t have Godly love the giving was worth nothing.

(V. 4 & 5) Godly love puts up with bad actions and situations for a long time, is kind, has no envy, doesn’t brag on itself, isn’t proud, doesn’t act vulgar, seeks no profit from its good deeds, doesn’t provoke easily and doesn’t think of evil things. (V. 6 & 7) Godly love does not have joy about sin, does rejoice when it hears the truth, puts up with the useless things people cram into their lives, believes better will come, hopes for the best but endures bad things that do come.

(V. 8) preaching will fail, tongues will cease, knowledge will vanish with age and death but (V. 9) Godly love will never fail. Why? Because God is eternal. God is love, God is the very source and essence of love and God’s love must dominate a Christian’s soul. It is time to grow up spiritually, grow out of the child stage and start showing Godly love.

QUESTIONS: If a Christian, including you and me, does not show love what is wrong? If a Christian doesn’t show love are they somehow spiritually retarded and stuck in the “baby stage”? Are they lukewarm? Have they grown so cold the Holy Spirit has left them and they don’t even know it? Are they even a Christian? These are fair questions that must be answered by every Christian as a “reality check” concerning their relationship with God!

#3) Young Man Stage: (1 John 2:14) “Young men, because ye are strong, the word of God abideth in you and ye have overcome the wicked one (devil).” Did you ever notice how a YOUNG MAN in his physical life, at the beginning somewhere between being a child and a young man, goes through a ten thumbs and two left feet stage?

This child/man’s hair won’t comb, pimples pop up at exactly the wrong time and the wrong words pop out at the most embarrassing moment. He tries his best but flounders. He doesn’t see danger as the speedometer creeps ever higher. He doesn’t have the experience to slow down for blind curves. He falls for the easy tricks. But he is tough. A young man stage Christian is the same way and he sins out of this normal spiritual immaturity.

But the process helps him become spiritually tough. It is hard for the devil to kill a Young Man stage Christian. His biggest danger is in killing himself spiritually with some foolish mistake, a SIN, which embarrasses or humiliates him right out of church. Christians are supposed to love each other, help each other and hold each other up when we falter just like we would "take up for" a natural brother or sister.

Young men stage Christians are durable and eager and when they get knocked down they get right back up and whale away at learning. As he studies and learns, he gets his balance and starts accomplishing real work. He can work long hours, his brain is as sharp as it will ever be and learning comes easy, but he just doesn’t have much experience as a Christian.

(Eph. 6:11-18) Christians are in a war with the world (world systems), the devil (Satan) and the flesh (their own human nature with its passions). America would be horrified if, at the end of a battle, America's soldiers went around and shot their own wounded. Yet it seemingly doesn't bother some Christians to jerk out their wagging tongues, loveless attitude and arrogant pride and kill every sin wounded Brother or Sister Christian they can find.

(Gal. 6:1-3) When a Christian has sinned and is ashamed, hurt and really beaten down by the assault of the devil's mocking, accusing and telling him how sorry he is or that he can't even be a Christian the way he has acted it is time for you to love him even more. Start out by remembering how it was WHEN THE SAME THING HAPPENED TO YOU. If it has not happened hang on to your salvation hat BECAUSE IT WILL HAPPEN SOONER OR LATER! Tell him about how forgiving and loving God really is.

Tell him about one of your own misadventures into sin, how it crushed you and that you understand exactly how he feels. (Matt. 18:21-22) Tell him about how bold Simon Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive his brother seven times for sinning against him.

Tell that dear wounded Brother or Sister how Jesus radiated love when He smiled His compassionate smile, how the skin crinkled up around the Son of God's eyes, how affectionately tender Jesus' eyes were and how the voice of heaven was so soft with pity and loving understanding when Jesus said; "Simon, Simon, until seventy times seven”.

Then remind your dreadfully hurt brother or sister that Jesus would not give Simon Peter a commandment that Jesus Himself would not keep! In other words; "All is not lost my dear brother. Repent, let us pray together. Please see that this is an opportunity to grow; don't let it turn into a spiritual disaster. You are God's child. God will not throw you away. God is love. Don't let the devil win and destroy you! The only way to fail is to quit. You are my brother and I love you. It may be you helping me the next time!"

Do you know any Christians who are somewhere along the levels of the young man stage? Don’t you just love them and love helping them. Their vitality is catching and a person can feel confident this type Christian “has your back” because he won’t let any person or the devil sneak up on you. The scripture talks about the young man stage Christian and almost brags on him because so many dirty diaper, making a mess, SINNING, baby Christians and selfish, stubborn, skinned knees, SINNING, little child Christians won’t grow spiritually and are in danger of falling by the wayside.

The young man stage Christian is standing tall like what he is; a soldier in the army of God. He has as a motto that is plain as day; (Josh. 24:15) “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The young man stage Christian has prayed, learned and spiritually lived past all that childish mess and he is doing his best to move on up to the next level.

These young men stage Christians keep growing because they take their relationship with God seriously and they want to please God. Male or female, young or old, these young man stage Christians will become the pillars, the doers, the movers and shakers in their congregation.

#4) Father Stage: (1John 2: 13-14) “I have written unto you, fathers, because ye that have known him that is from the beginning.” This describes an intimate humble working relationship of service to God. (1 Thess. 2:11-18) “as a father doth his children” explains that a father stage Christian is to be a spiritual leader in the congregation.

(2Tim. 4:6-8) It was almost time for the Apostle Paul to be killed (martyred in Rome) and God, through the Holy Spirit, told Paul to write the books of (1st & 2nd Tim.) to Timothy, Paul’s spiritual son, and tell Timothy and the church how the father stage Christian is to conduct himself because Timothy was ready to start being an old father.

An Old Father, among other things, holds down trouble, has great scriptural knowledge, lives a life of prayer and has the wisdom to use his knowledge to edify (build up) the church, is kind and sweet mannered, patient, loving, will absolutely stand for what is right, is always ready with a scriptural answer and backs up his Pastor in times of church trouble. Church trouble WILL COME because the devil will see to it that every congregation will be tested as a group and there will be sin in church.

Church trouble comes when people disagree which leads to SIN lots of times. Every answer needed to solve every problem is in the Bible. The trouble comes when people are too ignorant to understand or too proud and stubborn to back down when they are proved wrong. SO:

Church splits happen when the congregation takes sides and that is SIN because one side is usually right and the other is wrong. God always knows who is wrong and who sins and He will judge them accordingly. It is much easier to say: “I understand, I was wrong, I’m sorry, please forgive me” in this life than it is to stand before God in shame at the judgment and be able to do nothing but sob.

In many congregations about 15-20% of the Christians do 80% of the giving, doing and working. Each one of the 15-20% can be male or female and young or old but each one is in the young man stage or old father stage of Christianity and they are serving God and man through the Holy Spirit. Spiritual growth and accomplishing God’s work is determined by each individual Christian’s desire to please God and that is based on how much a person loves God and His Son Jesus. Jesus went all the way for us so why shouldn’t He expect us to go all the way for Him?

THINK ABOUT THIS: ALL YOU CAN EVER BE IS WHAT YOU KNOW! In any given congregation every Christian will be living someplace in the spiritual growth spectrum given above (reference scriptures): 1 Tim. 1:6&9; 3:6; 4:1&2; 5:6,8,11,12,13,15,&20; 6:4,5,9,&21) and some will be sinning in church! REMEMBER THIS AND USE IT TO TEACH AND HELP YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHURCH.

God knows we cannot know what we do not understand so these growth stage scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16) “given by the inspiration of God” compares individual Christian spiritual growth relationship to God with the physical maturing of a person growing from babyhood to productive adulthood in his physical life to help us understand how a Christian is supposed to grow in his spiritual life. In both the spiritual life and the physical life there is fun, sadness, happiness, heartbreak, joy, disappointment, failure, success and etc. Sin in church, by Christians, is real.

A Christian is born again and his spiritual life starts right there: he must start from that beginning and learn to be as good a Christian as his desire, ability and laziness will let him. (John 3:4-12) When a person is “born again” he is (Eph. 3:14-16) spiritually born into God’s personal family. (Eph. 2:22) The Holy Spirit dwells within him to guide and comfort him, (2 Tim. 3:16) the Bible is his schoolbook, (Acts 20:28-32) the Church is there to teach him and feed him spiritual food, (Heb. 7:22-27) Jesus is there to make intercession for him when he fails which is SIN, and God is there to love and protect him.

(Rom. 8:31) “If God be for us, who can be against us.” Regardless of their excuse; when a Christian quits it’s his own fault; common sense tells us that I can’t quit church for you and you can’t quit church for me. Natural children struggle, sometimes fail and at times natural children are just plain old contrary, mean, stubborn, or dumb as they grow up. A lot of natural children die from various causes. Some become handicapped. Some become outlaws. Some become addicts to one thing or another. Some become ordinary citizens. Some become outstanding citizens.

All these physical “people situations” hold true the same way spiritually with Christians in Church and if you look around with spiritual eyes you can see it. YOU DO HAVE TO PRAY, STUDY AND ASK GOD FOR SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT. Sometimes natural children stay suspended someplace along the way and they grow old and die as what ever, be it good, bad or mediocre, they made of themselves.

God’s spiritual children are the same way as they go through the Christian growth process. Not many specific sins have been mentioned concerning spiritual growth because Christians and a lot of lost people know sin when they see it or engage in it. You must understand that Christians are engaged in a greater, more logical and more blessed work than they realize.

NOTE: In this commentary Sin in Church: near the end of the segment Backsliding: The Failure Principal is a complete discussion of HYPOCRITES IN CHURCH.

Back To Table Of Contents