Chapter 1 - The Stages of Growth.
God wants us to GROW UP into maturity. The normal state for all created things is to grow according to their internal programming (seed). If we are not growing something's wrong. God's vision for us in Ephesians 4:13-16 is that: “we all come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; no longer children, tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine,.. but may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body...in love.”
It is God who gives the growth (1Corinthians 3:6). So, we will grow in grace as we walk in fellowship with God and receive the supply of His life. But much of this comes through our fellowship with each other. We are growing up into Christ. God's purpose for us is to be like Jesus, who shows us what we should be like. So God uses each situation and problem as an opportunity to help us grow to be more like Jesus:
“We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28,29).
The process of spiritual growth is parallel to natural growth. Words used to describe stages of childhood are also used for believers in their spiritual growth as children of God. Both natural and spiritual children have similar characteristics at each stage. We all have to go through a growing process. We can not become fully mature overnight.
1. 'Brephos' = 'a new-born baby' (Luke 2:12; 1 Peter 2:2).
2. 'Nepios' = 'one without power of speech', a baby up to two years (Matthew 21:16; 1Corinth 3:1, Hebrews 5:13, Ephesians 4:14). Babies are innocent (no past), teachable and also selfish. They are focused on their own needs and are easily upset if their needs are not met. They are very dependant on others.
3. 'Tecknion' = 'a little child' - pre-teen (from 3-8 years old)
(1 John 2:1, Galatians 4:19).
4. 'Tecknon' = 'a child' (from 8 to 14 years) (John 1:12, Romans 8:16; Ephesians 5:1; 1 John 3:1,2). This involves adolescence - a time of great growth and change. There is a danger of overconfidence and pride in their new found maturity, strength and knowledge. They are still very vulnerable to foolishness and peer-pressure. 'Children of God' emphasises the fact that we are born of our Father God above.
5. 'Huios' has no corresponding English word. It is translated as 'SON' and means a fully grown, fully mature son (Romans 8:14,19, Matthew 5:9,44,45; 2Corinthians 6:17,18). To be a 'huios (SON) of God' speaks of our coming to perfection (maturity). The focus is not on our birth, but on the end result. It means to be perfected in love, to be like Jesus. When a father considered that his son had reached the point of responsible manhood, he formally and publicly proclaimed him as his SON (huios) and often gave him a special cloak and a signet ring (symbolising the father’s power and authority) to show that He now represented His father and could do business on his behalf. This happened to Jesus at His Baptism (Matthew 3:16,17). His Father proclaimed: “This is My Son in whom I am well pleased.” He clothed with the power and anointing of the Holy-Spirit and authorised (sent) Him to fulfil His ministry (Luke 4:18)
A full grown SON was just like his FATHER. He had proved himself reliable and obedient. He knew his father, he received his father’s teaching and followed and imitated his father's ways, and so now he responded to situations just like his father. Thus the father trusted his mature son to fully represent him and act in his name. People were to treat the SON as if he were the father. This equality of FATHER and SON was why the Jews were upset when Jesus claimed to be THE SON OF GOD.
The aim of our spiritual growth is SONSHIP. We are babies or children becoming SONS. We are to walk in a degree of sonship (maturity) in this life, but our full manifestation as God's SONS is still future. What God has started in us, He will bring to completion. He will clothe us in our resurrection body and present us as His SONS to all creation, filled with His glory, perfectly conformed to the image of our elder brother Jesus!
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing (manifestation) of the SONS of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the CHILDREN of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the (manifestation of our) adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:14-23; see also Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5; John 3:1-3, 1Thessalonians 5:23,24; Jude 24).
Physical growth happens to all at a similar rate. But spiritual growth is not as automatic as this. You can have Christians 10 years old and more still in diapers! It is OK for a baby to act as a baby but not for a 20 year old to suck his thumb! It means they haven't grown as they should. Their response patterns are still childish, because they have not developed mature ways to handle problems. We should be well past the baby stage after 2 years.
Paul often found believers were still babies when they should have grown up: “Brethren, I could not speak to you as to spiritual (mature) people but as to carnal (flesh-ruled), as to BABES in Christ. I fed you with MILK and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere (Adamic) men?” (1Cor 3:1-3).
Spiritual babies are carnal (selfish) and this shows in immature reactions to people and situations (envy and strife). If babies feel bad they make a fuss and blame others. They are focused on personalities rather than the Word (1Corinthians 3:4).
Paul realised they were not ready for the MEAT of the Word, but as babies needed spiritual MILK. As with natural growth spiritual growth depends alot on the right diet. The Word of God is our spiritual food necessary for growth.
But growth comes by food and exercise, by hearing and doing the Word. As we hear and then build our life on the word, putting it into everyday practice, we grow into maturity.
In Hebrews we see Christians who have heard a lot of teaching, but are still babes because they have not applied it to their lives: “We have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. By this time you ought to be teachers (spiritual adults), but you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and have come to need MILK not SOLID FOOD. For he who partakes only of MILK is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a BABE. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age (mature), who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14).
The MILK is the basic principles and teachings of the Word. As we receive the milk and live on it, we absorb it's strength and are built up to a place of maturity where we can eat solid food. The basic doctrines give understandings and ways (techniques) for living and responding that enable us to grow in maturity.
We will cover these in this book. As parents trains their children how to think and act in a more 'grown-up' way, so likewise God by His Word teaches us.
MILK must be absorbed before we can grow out of babyhood into childhood, where we eat the SOLID FOOD that brings us to full maturity. This milk is now described:
“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to MATURITY, not laying again the Foundation of:
(1) repentance from dead works and
(2) of faith toward God,
(3) of teaching,
(4) of baptisms,
(5) of laying on of hands,
(6) of resurrection of the dead, and
(7) of eternal judgement
and this we will do if God permits” (Hebrews 6:1-3)
The MILK is compared to a building's FOUNDATION which must be laid as the first step in its 'growth' upwards. In building the house of our life to glorify God we must know and apply these basics or we will stay spiritual babies. The building of our character (spiritual growth) is like the building of a house.
This reminds us of Jesus teaching in Matthew 7:24-27, where He told us how essential it is to build a good foundation for our lives by hearing and doing His words, otherwise our house will be weak and will collapse in the storms of life (a sign of babyhood).
Babyhood is the time for laying the Foundation.
Childhood is the time to add the growing superstructure,
Sonship represents the completion,the perfecting, maturing and the full manifestation of the Designer's plans.
The Milk of the Word is the material we use to build the foundation of our spiritual lives. It is essential for growth. Thus: “As new-born babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). Babies have such a desire for milk, for they know they need it to grow. We should never lose our hunger for the Word of God for it is the source of our growth.
To better understand our spiritual growth we must understand our SPIRITUAL BIRTH. A key law of creation is that everything reproduces after its KIND (see Genesis 1). The same is true spiritually (John 3:6). God created men, animals and plants with SEED within them. This SEED contains their very own nature, their spiritual genetics (DNA), their blueprint. Now the SEED, correctly planted produces something of the same KIND or NATURE as the original. The offspring (son) has the same nature as the father, which is why in the Bible 'son of' generally means 'to share the same nature as.'
The amazing thing is that we are BORN OF GOD (John 3:3-7; 1 Peter 1:3; James 1:18; Titus 3:5; John 1:12,13). We are BORN AGAIN from DIVINE SEED - THE WORD OF GOD: “Born again not of corruptible SEED but (of) INCORRUPTIBLE (SEED) through the WORD OF GOD which lives and abides forever” (1Peter 1:23).
God is our actual Father. We are born of His seed! When the seed (word) of God was planted (accepted) in our heart a new thing was begotten within us - A NEW SPIRIT, the NEW MAN (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). “If anyone is in Christ - a new creation! old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new. All things are of God” (2Corinthians 5:17,18) Like a baby this reborn person has no past, his sins are remitted and has a new start.
The reborn spirit is made from Divine seed which is perfect and incorruptible. “Whatever has been BORN OF GOD (the new-man) does not sin, for His SEED remains in him; and he can not sin, because he has been BORN OF GOD” (1 John 3:9).
“We know whatever is BORN OF GOD does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18)
Spiritual growth is the growth of what God has done in our SPIRIT into our SOUL (mind) and BODY. It is the life and nature of the SEED transforming our whole character (ways of thinking and acting) according to it's blueprint, so that the Divine Nature of love dominates our whole being. The nature of our spirit is “love, joy, peace...” (Galatians 5:22). As we express and bring or show forth our new nature this is the fruit of our spirit. This measures our spiritual growth. Spiritual growth is not the growth of our spirit in size, but in its expression and control of our character. As we grow more of the life and nature of our reborn spirit is expressed through our soul and body).
Trusting in the flesh (mere human effort and energy) is of no avail (John 6:63). Flesh produces flesh but spirit produces spirit (John 3:6). Spiritual growth comes from the energy of the Word and the Spirit (John 6:63).
“What matters is the new creation” (Galatians 6:15). What matters for spiritual growth is being born again, knowing it and living out from the new creation. What is of the flesh (the leaves) will ultimately be destroyed and what's left of us (the fruit) will be what's been produced by the Word (seed) and Spirit of God (1Peter 1:23-25).
So: “As new-born babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).