First Stage – Infancy
I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one. 1 John 2:12-14
In 1 John 2:12-14 we clearly see the four stages of the Christian life. As we shall see, it parallels the physical life, but actually has nothing to do with periods of time.
The first stage we see in verse 12 is that of a baby Christian. This is one who has seen themselves a guilty, hell bound sinner, lost without God and without hope. They have believed the gospel, the good news that our Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth to save sinners. He shed His Blood on the cross and there died for the sins of the whole world. They have repented from self-righteousness and turned to God and put their faith solely in the Lord Jesus. They have been born into God’s family and they need the milk of the Word of God immediately.
Their first step as a newborn is to be baptized in water which identifies them with the life, death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. When they were saved, the Holy Ghost came into their spirit bringing the Lord Jesus in as their Savior, raising their spirit from the dead. When they are baptized, the Holy Ghost comes upon them and gives them the power (authority) to witness unto the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:8, 2:38-42 and 5:32). See Bro. Murray’s booklet, “Why the Holy Spirit Came at Pentecost”.
The Church, the Body of Jesus Christ, is to raise these infants up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are babies and they must learn how to walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lust of the flesh. They are not born full grown. They have to grow in grace and in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Those who are born again and do not start growing become carnal (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). These remain babies and live a natural life instead of a spiritual life being filled continually with the Holy Spirit. They can’t take in the meat of the Word of God as seen in verse 2 and there is envying, strife, and division among them as seen in verse 3. They only listen to one preacher as seen in verse 4 and so they reject new Pastors or other men of God sent into their life to help equip them for the work of the ministry. They are lovely as newborn babes in Christ, but never grow up in Him and therefore become wicked. They stand in the way of reaching the lost for Christ and the church growing and thriving for His glory. They are constantly under the chastening of their Heavenly Father and some of them are finally delivered from their selfish, self-centered lifestyle and finally begin to grow up and become useful to the Lord Jesus Christ by bearing His fruit.
I believe that the best thing that can happen to a baby Christian is to instruct them in the crucified life and teach them about the old sin nature that is in them. They need to be instructed how to confess their sins, keep short sin accounts, and be continually filled with the Holy Spirit.
Second Stage – A Young Child
As we begin to take in the milk of the Word of God and begin to obey what the Holy Spirit teaches us, we begin to grow up in the Lord Jesus. You grow in the human race by eating and exercising. You grow in God’s family by eating the Word of God and exercising. Another way to say it is, “Work out by faith what God has put in.” As you trust the Lord Jesus to help you obey, (for the Christian life is literally Jesus Christ living His resurrected life through you) the devil will come against that Word that the Holy Spirit has taught you and try to make you doubt it, just like he did Adam and Eve.
For example, the Holy Spirit teaches you to be baptized immediately, but the devil tells you it is not important and that it is not necessary. The Holy Spirit teaches you not to forsake the assembling of yourself together with other saints who are the church, but the devil shoots thoughts to your mind that it is not important to do this. When you go through the stress of belief and trust the Lord Jesus in doing what the Holy Spirit taught you to do, you grow. There is no time limit on your Christian growth. You eat and exercise; resist the devil and you grow. You can grow as fast as a Christian as you want to, as you trust and obey what the Holy Spirit teaches you to do.
As a young spiritual child, you get to know God as your Father (1 John 2:13c). When you were saved, all you knew was that your sins were forgiven because you knew the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. As you grow and become a young child, you will get to know God as your Father. This is really important in your prayer life because the Lord Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:9-11, “Would your Father give you a stone when you asked for bread or would He give you a serpent when you asked for a fish?” And again the Lord Jesus says, “If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give good things to you.”
God, who created this vast, limitless universe and who is the only living God, is your Father which is in Heaven. You were born into His family through your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross as He died for your sins, was buried and raised from the dead just like the scriptures said He would be. Glory to God! Keep growing dear saint by eating and exercising.
The Third Stage – A Young Man
The third stage of the Christian life is found in 1 John 2:13b…”I write unto you young men because you have overcome the wicked one.” When God talks about men in the Bible, much of the time He is talking about mankind. This includes men, women, boys and girls. In the context, the Holy Spirit is talking about spiritual teenagers. Notice the correlation between the spiritual and the physical. You do not send children to war. You send the young men to battle and the old men are the Generals.
Children of God, we are in a war. Our enemy is the world (system), the flesh (old sin nature), and the devil. The devil and his domain work through the world system and the old sin nature or the flesh. (See Bro. Murray’s booklet, “Warfare is Inevitable”). This is a war with an unseen enemy who never gets tired, sleepy or weary in doing evil. It takes those who are growing in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ to recognize the enemy and to fight him with God’s weapons. These weapons are the Name of the Lord Jesus, the Blood of Jesus, the Word of God and praise to God in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19.)
It is very evident today that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh. People are hungry for God and His Word. The harvest is truly great. It is just as evident, however, that lives are being destroyed and homes torn asunder. This is by the unholy spirit and his crowd of fallen angels. Lives are being wrecked by illegal drugs, alcohol that is legal, pornography and illicit sex.
Multitudes, multitudes are in the Valley of Decision, but they are behind the gates of hell, deceived and blinded by the devil. The Lord Jesus says that the lost have a spiritual father, and he is the devil, satan, Beelzebub, that old serpent. We must pray and do spiritual warfare for them that they might see, hear and believe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is those who have grown spiritually to the level of young men whom God uses to come against satan. This requires every fiber of our being filled with the Holy Spirit to pray, go and tell these blind, deaf and dead lost sinners who are in captivity of the devil. That is why the Lord Jesus says in Mark 3:27, “Except you first bind the strongman, (satan) you can’t enter his house and spoil his goods.”
Pastor Lee Thomas has a powerful booklet, “Praying Effectively for the Lost.” I highly recommend it and you can order it from Bro. Lee at 337-433-8677. The young men have grown in the Lord Jesus to the degree that they can do battle against the enemy trusting the Lord Jesus for the victory that we have in Him. He is our Captain, and greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.
The Final Stage of Christian Growth – Fathers
We never arrive or become absolutely perfect on this side of Heaven. We can grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus, however, to the point of becoming fathers in the faith. These are mature Christian men and women who no longer think of themselves. They now think of the family of God.
Baby Christians need a lot of attention. As we grow to be young spiritual children, we still need to be taken care of. When we become young spiritual men, we are well on the way and have learned how to overcome the devil and how to do spiritual warfare. In fatherhood we are taking care of the spiritual babies and the young spiritual children. We are leading the young spiritual men in spiritual warfare and we are denying ourselves (natural self), taking up our cross daily and following the Lord Jesus. We are seeking His Kingdom, not ours. We have learned our purpose for being on this earth after we are saved and it is to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Remember, becoming a father in the faith has nothing to do with physical age. In fact, if a person is 75 years old when they are saved they are just born again. They start their new life in Christ our Lord as little babies, just like we did. Also, you may have been saved 40 years and still not be a father or a spiritual teenager. It all depends on how you hear the Word of God and then exercise it. As God says through Saint James, “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only.” What God puts in you, work out by faith trusting the Lord Jesus to obey the commandments through you.
David Brainerd was evidently a spiritual father even though he was only 29 years old when God called him home. A fifteen year old teenager can mature rapidly if they are willing to pay the price of dying to self and letting our Lord Jesus live His resurrected life through them. Again, a spiritual father takes care of the family. Babies make messes just like they do in the physical realm. A spiritual father doesn’t throw them away, but rather he or she cleans them up, restores them as they are reconciled to God and takes further care of them. This requires tremendous denying of oneself as he or she lays down their own life for others, just like our Lord Jesus did. The father of the prodigal son is an illustration of this, while the older brother is an illustration of a carnal Christian as described in 1 Cor. 3:1-5. He was jealous of the younger brothers acceptance by the father.
As you have read these four stages, ask the Holy Spirit to show you which stage you are presently in. This should also help you to be more patient with those who are not on your growth level as God is not through with them yet either. One of these days, every born again believer will be just like our Lord Jesus, totally conformed to His image by the power of God.
About Joe Murray
Joe Murray is Assistant Pastor of Harvest Baptist Church, he has a passion for teaching the Spirit filled life, and spiritual warfare. He lives with his wife Judy in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Check out his sermons, books, and updates at http://joemurray.org.