All who study the development of human beings know that the days after birth are the most critical ones if that child is to grow up into its full potential. The voracious way that a healthy baby takes in information, sights, sounds, tactile stimuli, smells, and tastes, will never be equalled again. A small child has the capacity to learn and grow in the first few years that can never be duplicated. Remedial assistance can be given later, but some things will never be as easily learned, or mastered, as they were in the beginning. Indeed some things will be forever beyond their grasp. The same is true for those who come to a living faith. They are new creatures by the Spirit, and what they learn, or do not learn, in that first season will shape them for the rest of their lives.
The criticality of this insight is hard to overemphasize. The Christian who is not well nurtured after spiritual new birth, is as handicapped as a child who is neglected in its first years. What results is a truncated version of a disciple. A person who does have a true faith, but who is devoid of the full understanding and experience that can make them strong in Christ. They do not possess the essential insights and practical habits that make it possible. They do not know how to hear the Lord’s voice, and to obey his commands. They come to church faithfully, perhaps, but they are gradually choked by the cares and concerns of this life. They are fruitless. A follower who does not know how to help make another follower. A believer who has only a shadow of the full life the Lord intends for them.
How can this state of affairs be remediated? There must be a confession in the household of God. Leaders have not “equipped the people of God for ministry.” (Eph 4:12) And that, the apostle goes on to explain, means a life that actually “builds up the body of Christ.” It does not mean being sent to seminary, but rather discovering how God has made them and calls them, each in their own uniqueness. If the leaders who have been trained theologically do not understand this, and do not know how to convey it, the newborns will suffer, and the church will suffer. All the ordained must repent.
Can the things that a newly converted man must learn to grow strong be listed? Many have tried, and some of the lists are helpful. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews gives one such list. (Heb 6:1-3) What is not stated there, however, is probably the most important, that is how to abide in the word of Jesus. If this is understood and practiced what does the Lord promise? “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31,32) Here is the foundation of a disciple who has been nurtured to grow into the life God has for them. He will help “build up the body.”
Jesus explicitly teaches two more truths, that “loving one another as I have loved you” is the mark by which “all men will know” that a person is his disciple. (John 13:34,35) To fail to learn this, yet to grow up to be part of the organized church, is a tragedy. Similar is that final word of the Lord which defines a disciple: “You will bear much fruit and prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:7,8) The one who has learned these three is well nurtured.
Next Week: Effectively Equipped?