The biblical pattern of the Christian life goes like this: Born again; babes in Christ; growing in Christ; maturing in Christ. Yet, it seems so many new believers remain as babes, at least in this culture. The scriptures that support this pattern are these:
1. John 3:3 – Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
2. 1Peter 2:2 – “…as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby…”
3. Colossians 2:6-7 – As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.
4. Philippians 3:13-15 – Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.
The New BirthThat first level, the entry level as some would call it in other venues— the new birth—lays the foundation of the new life. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:11, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And he further magnifies that, with this: “To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
It opens up a whole new world, both spiritually and physically, never experienced before by the new believer. Paul, again, defines it this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This person has experienced what Jesus promised in John 5:24 – “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” When Jesus says “most assuredly”, how could He be more emphatic that He means, certainly and absolutely, every word He says!
Babes in Christ
As babes in Christ, Peter says we should take in the milk of the Word of God that we may grow–in faith, apparently. What does that mean, anyway? What is the milk of the word? The writer of Hebrews lists some basic doctrines in the context of the last part of chapter 5 and early in chapter 6, all of which are included in his identity of the “milk of the Word”. He says this: “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:1-2) (emphasis mine). Those “elementary principles of Christ” include a few other things, I’m sure, like principles of relationship–prayer, for- giveness, obedience, witnessing, guidance, and faithfulness of God to His proimises, for a start.
Paul told the Corinthians, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, 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 men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
He goes on to tell them that the only foundation is Christ, and that their lives must be built upon that foundation with works that are like gold, silver and precious stones, not like wood, hay and straw, which will be burned up. (See verses 11-15.)
Jesus illustrates in a vivid way how the new life in Christ reacts to the old life in Luke 5:37-39 – “And no one puts new wine into old wine- skins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved. And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘the old is better.’” Thus, the reason for the new birth. But, look at the last part which points to how hard it is to “put off the old man and put on the new man”, as Ephesians 4:22-24 tells us. On the issue of wine, the old is better, as Jesus proved at the marriage at Cana (John 2). But as to the “new wine” of life in Christ, its vessel must be a totally new creation.
Growing in Christ
When Peter wrote about newborn babes desiring the “pure” milk of the Word, remember that he said it was that they may grow thereby. And Paul, on his way back to Jerusalem that time, stopped off on the way to meet with the elders from the church at Ephesus and ended his exhortation to them with these words: “So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). And just to add a bit more fuel to the concept, note what Jesus said to the devil in answer to that entity’s first crack at tempting the Lord: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It is apparent that the primary ingredient for spiritual growth is the Word of God. And why is that? The Word is truth and a redeemed and regenerated person has been transformed from a life of deception, lies and moral degradation—straight from the heart of Satan. The goal is simply expressed in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians,(4:15), “…but, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…” Believers have personal responsibility before God to attend to the matter of growing up to maturity in Christ, but we are not left alone and without major help in that matter. Look at this: “Therefore, my beloved, …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Salvation is not just “getting saved”, but is the process of spiritual development, the putting off of the old man and putting on the new man by the renewing of the mind, as Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:22-24. The target goal is here in Colossians 2:6-7 – “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”
And Then, On To Maturity
Or, one might conclude, “as close as we can come to that level of the likeness of Christ”. Paul sets up an example in the personal account of himself in Philippians 3:13-15 – “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you.”
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was dealing with some pretty heavy theological stuff, but he had this to say about their progress in spiritual growth: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone 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, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
The phrase, “by reason of use” is key to this discussion, for it really means “application” of the truths of the Word. When Jesus stopped by the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4), the disciples went on into the town to buy food. Later, they returned and were surprised He did not desire anything to eat. He said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (verse 34). They were thinking physical food, but Jesus was thinking spiritual—“to do the will of God”; “by reason of use”; “application”. All of these point to the solid marks of maturity.
So we fall miserably short of the mark? Paul says to forget those things that are behind. It’s a new day; let’s start with Romans 12:1-2 and master that recommendation: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”