The normal Christian growth path

Much attention, and rightly so, is given to the ‘order of salvation’, or in Latin Ordo Salutis – the way a person is brought to God, and taken finally to Him in Heaven.

It is also important to not only chart the events from everlasting to everlasting, but view them from the more mundane perspective of our experience here on earth. What does all this look like humanly speaking?

Last Sunday I set out the stall on this in the morning service, as I have done before, and think will be important to keep doing as we need a sense of location on the journey we reasonably ought to find ourselves on. I know there are times when one loses momentum, or even a sense of direction, life can be disorientating at times so we need to be refreshed, and reminded where we are, and more importantly perhaps, which way to go.

I believe it is all of our responsabilities to keep nudging ourselves and everyone else on along this path, standing still and saying I’m staying here thanks, is not an option.

So here goes, try to locate yourself and people around you on this chart, and ask yourself, ok, what next?

Step one – at some point we all need to find ourselves as unbelievers. There are exceptions like John the Baptist who recognised Jesus even when in the womb, but normally speaking there will be a time prior to having been converted when we can say that we are sinners, outside of God’s covenant. It is a really important stage – and when one is at that place one needs to be able to recognise it. To know that you don’t love or believe in God, you are not saved, or going to heaven, not a part of God’s family, but suspicious, skeptical, cynical etc. That’s phase one. Many never go past this phase, and don’t even make any effort to go past it – they don’t believe so they don’t see why they should. Most people sadly, are here, at step one.

Step two – is faith. The change comes when we can say, I know where I have been, but I’m not there any more, a change has come, I do now actually believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. The theological explainations of the mechanics of this are what we can learn about in the odor salutis, but the fact is a step has been taken and now one believes. For this to have happened some encounter with God’s word must have taken place, maybe through going to a Church where the gospel is preached, or speaking to a believing friend, or just reading the Bible. Proper faith rests in Jesus Christ and His finished work at Calvary, and for that to happen, it must base that faith on the word of God which testifies to this glorious truth.

Step three – is the what to do next phase, and it is dangerous because all sorts of priorities present themselves, but Jesus has a very simple step He wants us to take before anything else, and no it’s not climbing some mountain on your knees, or giving all your money to the poor, it’s much simpler, and more profound – He wants us to be baptised. Now, a lot of people say no at this stage – too much commitment, or they say I have been baptsied already. If you buy either of these, or anything else other than obedience to His will, you will miss making progress through step three. Baptism is a consequence of faith, and marks the transition from step one, to step two in a very dinfinative way. Jesus said that we ‘must’ be baptised. Apart from anything else, baptism is not something we can do alone, we must involve at least one other Christian who baptises us. This is important because the Lord does want our faith to more that just a private affair.

Step four – so, the baptised believer, having come into contact with another Christian needs to find themself located within the wider body of Christians – the Church. Step four is not about joining The Church as when one believes, one automatically become part of The Church. Step four is about joining a Church, a local congregation of believers. Once again, for many reasons, people do not join a local Church which preaches the gospel, baptises believers, and keeps Christains together. That said, it is an integral part of normal Christian growth. While one remains outside of this commitment, one does not gain the valuable encouragement, teaching, fellowship, prayer, leadership etc. which one needs to keep growing.

Step five – I think some get confused about this, or don’t quite see it’s importance, but the next vital step is communion. Communion, or the Lord’s Supper is that simple meal of bread and wine which Jesus commanded Christians everywhere, and all times to eat from time to time ‘in rememberance of Him’. You see, it is possible, even as a Baptised member of a local Church, to drift spiritually away from the faith. It might be a subtle thing, a private thing, or a more open resistance to God’s way for your life. Whatever the symptoms, communion calls us back, it is a way that over the years we can remain disciplined. Communion asks us to examine ourselves whether we are still walking in faith, and if not, to turn back. Again, this is not a private thing, but something one does as part of the community of believers one belongs to, we identify ourselves with eachother, and the wider Church as we do so, and most importantly re-identify ourselves with the Lord.

Step six – is about the necessary transition from being a person being served by the Church, to one who begins to start serving it. Six is about service, and it really doesn’t matter at this stage what one finds to do within the life of teh Church, – like spotting that ‘the’ was spelled wrong, and spelling it right – it’s just a question of seeing what needs doing, knowing you are the person to do it, making sure it’s ok to get on with and doing it. Serving deepens one’s connection to the body, and makes you grow. The important thing is to be as constant as possible about it, and do your best.

Step seven – unsurprsingly, stems from step six. After a time, when one has been serving, one builds up a degree of experience that becomes valuable to others. The passing on of this experience is what this step is all about, it’s called leading. Leadership, is an extension of service. It isn’t necessary to talk here about the degree of one’s service, or the degree of one’s leadership, but all Christians are to serve, and over time come to lead others into that area of service – to equip them for the service they are beginning to offer.

Step eight –  well, this sounds simple but isn’t – retiring is very hard for some people, to know when it’s time to stop, to hand over, to move on etc. but it’s essential. The problem is that people don’t know what to do afterwards and that daunts them. When we retire we must be careful not to be bitter or critical but remain fully engaged with the step we have entered upon. As retirees we need to be encouragers – not leading anymore, someone else is doing that, but encouraging others who lead. Also, we need to rest, and enjoy things as after all that growing and busyness we will be tired just like kids are at the end of a day. There is something else we need to be doing as we retire, and that is looking forward, because the what lies ahead is a personal meeting with the Jesus one once did not believe in, who one came to trust, in whose name you were baptised, into whose Church you came to belong, whose cup you drank, whose bread you ate, whose service you performed and whose people you lead – wow. A retiree is to be beacon to others of the value of the road that has be trod. Not one who fears meeting the Lord as one who as anything to be ashamed of, but one who has walked the path, and has wisdom, and joy to impart to others as the great day approaches.

Well, once again I commend this to your prayers to make use of and hopefully, help you to keep going forward from glory to glory, from strength to strength.

Last Sunday Andrew Alsop preached on Church growth looking at it from another perspective, reading Ephesians 4:7-32, you can hear that message on  Christian Growth here.

3 Replies to “The normal Christian growth path”

  1. Thanks Ben. I appreciated the systematic, logical approach to our growth in Christ. For me, steps `one’ to `five’ took place during the period June 7-June21 1959. Steps `six’ and `seven’ have taken place since: up hill and down dale! Now I have reached step 8. All by the grace of God.

    Has it been worth it? Absolutely and the learning goes on.

  2. Hi Ron, thanks so much for this encouraging first post on our new website, glad you enjoyed the article, and so thankful for the way the Lord has dealt with you up to this day. Ben

  3. Step three. A further thought occured to me today as I reflected upon Luke 3:21/22 and specifically `Jesus was baptised too’. This helps us understnd the IMPORTANCE of baptism. If our righteous and holy Lord submits himself to this then surely all his followers should do the same. Secondly, it is an act of OBEDIENCE and we note that this step caused God the Father to express his pleasure in his Son. Of course there are always some who contend that they were `baptised’ as infants but here again the Lord is setting us an EXAMPLE. For he was circumcised as a helpless baby but also saw it essential to be baptised as an adult.
    To me, baptism is not an optional choice but a command of God to be observed by each one of those who love and follow the Lord. Some may object that this is a slighty different baptism to what we encounter but I think the principle is clear.

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