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God causes spiritual growth to occur in His people. 1 John 2:12-14 uses the physical growth process to describe the three stages of spiritual growth: child, youth and mature. There are other ways to conceive of this discipleship process, but we will limit this present discussion to understand the life of the believer. Each picture provides an analogy that enables us to more properly care for the believer.
This family picture instructs us on the needs of three special groups of Christian believers. Each group enables us to focus on the special needs of any individual Christian at any given stage of discipleship. A child, father or young Christian will all need specially designed experiences to grow in their particular stage of their spiritual lives. Some people might not like the 'mature' picture because Christians need to keep growing. But the picture given is accurate. If you notice the description of the mature Christian, it is not that he stops growing but that he continues to grow more deeply.
We will first look at a chart below taken from 1 John 2:12-14 and then its explanation.
Children are unstable and need security.
Fathers have deep questions and need to find solutions.
Young men face special temptations which must be overcome.
12) I am writing to
13) I have
13) I am writing to you,
14) I have
13) I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.
14) I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Challenges for Children
The new or young believer in Christ needs to, most importantly, need to clarify the certainty of their relationship with God through Christ and to affirm the special way they are now able to relate to God as their Heavenly Father.
Challenges for Fathers
John writes the same thing twice to the fathers, those who have been close to the Lord through the years. Crises will come and go. Many 'why' questions arise from watching life's difficult situations. Every answer is found by more deeply knowing the Eternal One.
Challenges for Young Men
Young men fight intense temptation because the evil one is trying to cripple them. The war, however, is over. They only need to become familiar with how to trust God in lives' different situations. God's Word leads them to overcome every temptation.
Needs of Children
Their special needs are (1) to fight off doubts about their salvation which cause great degrees of instability and doubt as well as (2) to ward off rejection or wrong concepts of the true Christian religion. They are simply to relate to God as their Father.
Needs of Fathers
Their special needs rotate around crises of life. With their range of experiences, they need a deeper faith to take them through the narrow corridors of pessimism. The Eternal One can help them weather these storms of life. Regular and extended times with the Lord are needed.
Needs of Young Men
Their special needs are their inexperience, instability of faith and surge of temptations. Satan is out to get them before they can be steady on their feet. They, however, have the Word of God guiding, keeping, protecting and comforting them. They have all they need if they would meditate on His Word.
Strategy for Children
New believers must be well cared for by other believers. Babies are designed to be cared for so that they can learn from the knowledge and experience of their parents. They need to be carefully instructed in certain areas.
The plan of salvation
The meaning of salvation
Their Heavenly Father's care
Strategy for Fathers
Through their experiences in trusting the Lord in a variety of situations, these 'Fathers' have come to experience the principles of God's Word in their lives. They need to be attentive to the following areas.
Keep a vibrant time with God.
Always keep growing.
Live in hope for God's mercy.
Strategy for Young Men
Young believers need to master the areas below.
Ins and outs of temptation
The art of scripture meditation
Living by faith
It should be noted that depending on their situation in life, as circumstances change, they need to learn and apply afresh old biblical principles.
A good set of discipleship materials is important but not our key focus. Materials can get in the way and actually just become another program if we are not careful. If we are not careful, we will train our people to acquire attitudes and behaviors that we don't even want! We are very interested in each new Christian being equipped with the needed knowledge, skills and devotion to train other Christians. A good disciple, then, is one who is busy discipling others to be like Christ.
Materials are important for passing on a vision to others. They help safeguard essential truths from being neglected. More importantly, rightly designed discipleship materials will cause us to ask the key questions that should be raised. Rarely do we as leaders think about what kind of disciples we want to see in the end. We might be frustrated with Christians who are not acting the way we would like them to act much like a parent might not like the way their children are behaving. But have we thought through whether we are the ones responsible to train these new Christians? Many parents blame their children's faults on society; the scriptures hold the parents' accountable. The same thing happens in the church. Christian leaders can blame others rather than confessing their lack of their vision and training and getting on with doing what needs to be done.
Good discipleship materials are opportunities to enter different aspects of a believer's personal life with the truth of God. Our goal is to share our lives, convictions and knowledge with them so that they will be more like Christ. The process is not unlike what should happen in a great family where the parents take their parental responsibilities seriously.
Discipleship should focus on developing Christ-like attitudes and approaches to different life situations. Incidental teachings will pass away. The acquired mindsets and attitudes from the more mature will shape the new Christian far more than any book. For example, we can tell someone to go to church because the Bible says so. This is needed. But we want far more than this. We want a person to desire to meet God with His people and anticipate how God will be working in and through his life when there in God's presence. Now that is some special meeting to make a priority!
A Christian's spiritual growth parallels a person's physical and social growth on earth. Because each person goes through these stages, there are special needs and expectations that are common. It is for this reason that we can structure our discussions with Christians after their needs. We can make pretty good guesses at what they are battling or struggling with.
Unfortunately, our material is often 'stiff' and unnatural. We need to remember discipleship is person-oriented rather than knowledge-oriented. The book is not discipling us but the brother or sister. This brother and sister's attitudes are more influential than what knowledge is gained. Attitudes stem from mindsets which in turn tell us how to interpret knowledge.
In stage #1, we want to have the new Christian not only know but feel God's love. We want them to be so excited about his relationship with God that he tells others. It is relationship oriented rather than rule oriented.
Stage #3 is put before stage #1 probably because this is the final goal. This is where he is to end up. The son will grow up and be a father. He might go through lots of different stages and difficulties, but when he gets there, it will be wonderful.
Stage #2 is the big arena of learning how to put to use the Word of God in practical areas of his life. We are to help the disciple identify areas of need and show him how to overcome those difficulties by meditating on God's Word . Most discipleship materials are too general to be effective. By victory in some areas, they develop confidence in God for all areas of life, not only for their life but for others. This is the father.
Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted:
(C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988