“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
- 2 Peter 3:18a
What happens at this stage
“New life” best captures the essence of this part of the journey, because everything is so new and fresh. The stage begins when we experience the new birth Jesus talked about in John 3:3-8. Transferred from “kingdom of darkness” io the “kingdom of light” (Colossians 1.13), we are forgiven our sins and “justified”—made righteous in God’s sight (Romans 3:23). God gives us His Holy Spirit to live in us (John 14:16-17). In short, we become “new creatures” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5.17). This is where our conscious journey as pilgrims begins. God was at work in our lives before, but, like Jacob at Bethel, we weren’t aware of it (Genesis 28:16).
For adults, the transition from the non-Christian life to life in Christ is often dramatic. There may be a radical change in behaviors—addictions may stop or sharply decline, language gets cleaned up, immoral behaviors end—and attitudes—we become less selfish and more concerned for others. For children raised in a Christian home, on the other hand, there may be not be larger visible changes, and this can later trouble them when they hear others give dramatic testimonies of their conversions. But there are plenty of changes that take place “under the hood”.
Some common characteristics of this stage are:
Spiritual simplicity. At this stage, the Christian life is very simple: black and white, even naïve. Like small children, young Christians often are undiscerning yet have great faith. This is normal, but if growth in discernment doesn’t occur, then we become targets of the enemy as well as liable to cultic and heretical teachings (see Hosea 7.11; Col 2:8). Jesus instructed us to be wise as serpents as well as innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). This takes time, maturing and training (Hebrews 5.11-14).
Sincere Hunger. The Berean Christians in Acts 17 “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (v.12). Assuming favorable growth conditions are present—good Bible teaching, personal time with the Lord, mentoring, interaction with a healthy faith community—growth at this stage can be rapid, because there is a real hunger to get to know God and His Word better. Beginning Stage Christians read their Bibles, and are generally eager to take advantage of workshops, retreats and other growth opportunities. This inflow of useful knowledge is indispensable to their development. But there is also a danger: if not carefully managed, it can lead to pride and a warped kind of faith which is purely intellectual (see 1 Corinthians 8:1).
Emotional instability. Beginning Stage Christians possess a genuine love for God and others, like the “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” for which Paul commended the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:3). This “first love” is precious to God (see Revelation 2:4). But it is also fragile. And Beginning Stage believers often have emotional swings that take them quickly from the summits of joy and faith to the depths of despair and doubt. They need time to mature and stabilize so their “first love” can become tested, battle-hardened, and constant (Hosea 6:4b).
As suggested above, there are certain dangers common to this stage. We’ve mentioned a couple of them. Here are four others:
“Leader veneration”. Beginning Stage Christians are attracted to strong leaders who become their primary influencers. So, their pastor and/or other leaders whose books they read or sermons they enjoy get put on pedestals. Believers at this stage frequently imitate these leaders in their speech, mannerisms and theology. Yet their loyalties can be fickle, and “leader switching” is a common practice, following one leader until they find some fault in him or her and moving on to someone else (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-9).
Theological Imbalance. Beginning Stage Christians often seize on some Biblical truth—the gifts of the Spirit, end times teaching, etc.—and assign it inordinate importance, so that it outweighs all other considerations. This imbalance leaves them vulnerable to being, in Paul’s words, “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:15). Mature mentoring and solid Biblical teaching are therefore required to grow properly.
Immature Zeal. Believers at this stage often want to tell everyone about the Gospel and defend His honor, but their zeal is tainted by our immaturity, ignorance and, frequently, insecurity. People at this stage can become unteachable and argumentative, going on crusades to straighten out other Christians. Paul warned against in places like2 Timothy 2:14: “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” They need to learn humility and wisdom, so their zeal is “according to knowledge” (see Romans 10:2).
Doctrinal Rigidity. Christians in the latter part of this stage can become like modern day Pharisees: seeing everything in black or white terms. For those of you familiar with Myers-Briggs temperament analysis, the tendency to think in black and white terms is especially strong for “thinkers” (Ts) and “judgers” (Js). They can cultivate a “we versus they” mentality, with only those who think as they do included in the “we”. They can also become guilt prone: they want to know and obey all the rules and are motivated by “shoulds, musts, and oughts.” This can lead to perfectionism, guilt and hypocrisy. Being imperfect, they will fail and settle for a superficial (and often false) spirituality, or, on the other hand, they will become “broken” through some moral failure. This is God’s invitation to them to transition to the next stage of spiritual growth, the Deepening Stage.
What God does in your life at this stage
Some of the predictable ways God ministers to Christians at this stage of development include:
Sovereign protection. Often, Christians find themselves, early in this stage, in a kind of protective “bubble” that shields them from the pain of life and of the trials of faith. Like an incubator for prematurely born infants, this “bubble” presents an ideal environment for early growth. J.I. Packer writes: “God… is very gentle with very young Christians, just as mothers are with very young babies. Often the start of their Christian career is marked by great emotional joy, striking providences, remarkable answers to prayer, and immediate fruitfulness in their first acts of witness; thus God encourages them, and establishes them in ‘the life’. But as they grow stronger, and are able to bear more, He exercises them in a tougher school.”
Destiny insights. These occur throughout our lives but often begin early. They are moments when the Lord gives us glimpses into what God has called us to do in life. They are signposts to our journey. Identifying them is key to growing in both our character and our competence in accomplishing God’s will for us. Joseph’s dreams are famous examples of destiny insights (Genesis 37:1-11).
Divine contacts. At critical points along the way, God brings into our lives more mature believers to help us on our journey. They recognize our potential, invest in our development, provide guidance on specific issues, and encourage our development as Christian disciples and leaders. Barnabas was a divine contact for Paul (Acts 9:26-27).
Ministry tasks. God wants to grow us in faithfulness and usefulness, so He gives us small tasks—teaching a Sunday school class one week, cooking a meal on a missions trip, etc.—to give us a taste more ministry and testing our willingness to serve with excellence. If we prove to be obedient and faithful, He gives us bigger, longer-lasting opportunities, in keeping with His “faithful with little, faithful with much principle” (see Luke 16:10-11).
Character tests. God cares about what we do and who we are. In fact, all that we do grows out of whom we are. Our character, then, is critical to growth in Christlikeness, and God “tests” us throughout our journey to grow in holiness, trust, obedience, authenticity, integrity and authority. These tests begin right away, early in the Beginning Stage. Here is a brief description of the three more common ways He tests us.
Integrity test. This reveals who we are on the inside and is used by God to help us become more consistent in our inner and outer lives. Abraham failed an integrity test (twice!) when he lied about Sarah being his wife (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Daniel passed one when he refused to compromise his adherence to the Jewish dietary laws (Dan 1:8-21).
Obedience test. This tests whether we will be true to something God has told us to do, either in His Word or through His Spirit. Jonah failed, then passed obedience tests (Jonah 1:1-3; 3:1-3). Paul passed when he went to Jerusalem despite being warned (Acts 20.22; 21.4). Abraham passed an obedience test when he acted to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God (Genesis 22).
Faith test. This is when God calls us out of our comfort zones to perform God-sized tasks that exceed our abilities. Biblical examples include a teenage David fighting Goliath (Genesis 17); and a young virgin Mary bearing the Savior (Luke 1:26-38).
What is important for you to do at this stage
There are three things, especially, that you must learn to do at this stage in order to progress to the Deepening Stage.
Develop consistent spiritual habits. Learn to discipline yourself to study, obey, and tell others about God and His ways, like Ezra (Ezra 7:10). Memorize parts of Scripture, hiding it in your heart. Develop a regular prayer time, learning to seek God wholeheartedly, bringing your needs to Him as well as the needs of others. Learn to discern and obey God’s voice. Confess your sins to Him daily. Fellowship with other believers throughout the week, not just on Sundays. Witness to your unbelieving friends. Prepare your heart for each Sunday service, coming “prayed up” to worship Him in song, commune with Him through Holy Communion, and listen carefully to His Word so you can live it out. We are commanded to “grow you in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Submit to sound Biblical authority. The Bible emphasizes our need for accountable relationships with those who have spiritual oversight in the Church and care for others’ “souls” (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:5-6). God leads through leaders, and our willingness to be teachable and humble determines how quickly and how well we grow. A “Lone Ranger” Christian is danger to himself and the body of Christ. Beware of believers who think they don’t need church, who teach “new” truths, and refuse to follow spiritual authority. On the other hand, a mentor is especially important at this stage of the journey. Pray for God to give you one and talk to one of the pastors about possible candidates. Biblical authority is not abusive or selfish. Pastors, elders, and other Christian leaders are called by God to shepherd His flock faithfully (1 Peter 5:1-5).
Expose yourself continually to sound Biblical teaching. It is critical at this stage to develop a sound foundation. This website contains numerous resources that will equip you to think and live Biblically at each stage of the journey. Take advantage of these. Be sure to attend the New Beginnings class and the Focused Living workshop. Ask your mentor or one of the pastors for additional books and resources they recommend.
Sadly, some self-professing Christians never make it to the next stage. They remain spiritual babies and do little for God’s kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:11-14). Through active disobedience or passive neglect, they refuse to take the steps needed to become disciplined followers of Christ. This is especially true in America, where it is so easy to call oneself a Christian. The Bible warns about the dangers of spiritual laziness: we all will one day give an account for the time, talents, and other resources that have been given to us (Luke 19:11-27).
How the church helps you at this stage
In addition to our Sunday worship services and special events, the church offers two opportunities focused on Beginning Stage believers, as well as our online resource center jammed with recommended books, videos, blogs, and other resources to help you advance to the next stage of the journey. Neighborhood Church strongly encourages every Beginning Stage Christian to participate in these two events.
New Beginnings. Offered three times each year, this class teaches the basics of the Christian life: who God is, who you are “in Christ”, how to spend time with God, how to read the Bible and pray, and what the next steps are in your journey. For more information about the class and the next date it is being offered: Click Here
Focused Living Workshop. This workshop is designed to help you identify where God has been at work in your life, what your values are, and what your calling is. In it, you will timeline your life and develop your personal calling statement. For more information about the class and the next date it is being offered: Click Here
Resources that will help you grow
If you are a Beginning Stage Christian, we highly recommend that you read, watch, and listen to the following core resources.
- Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer
- Pursuit of God, Tozer
- The Life You've Always Wanted, Ortberg
- Victory Over the Darkness, Anderson
- The Screwtape Letters, Lewis
Upcoming Events: How The Church Can Help
This six week Sunday morning class is designed to help give Christians the tools we all need to grow strong in Christ. The class provides an overarching view of the Christian life and answers such questions as: Who is God really? What is His big plan? How do I spend time with Him? How do I study the Bible? What future steps can I take to grow in my faith? The class requires some readings and homework and runs for six weeks.
Our next Beginnings class will be:
11am-12:20pm, April 10-May 15, Room 2703.
Focused Living is a fun, interactive workshop that helps you discover where God has been at work in your life. Through teaching, time-lining and discussion, you will clarify His calling by getting in touch with your purpose, vision and core values. By the end of the workshop, you will have created a personal calling statement that serves as a kind of compass to guide you through this part of your journey. Helpful to Christians of all ages, the workshop is especially designed for those in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. The workshop takes place on a Friday night and Saturday.
Our next Focused Living workshop will be:
6-9:00pm, September 16 and 9am-4pm September 17, Youth Center. $30 per person.