Why do we Christians vary in our Christianity? It depends on where we see ourselves in 3 Growth Phases. It’s easy to miss the distinctions. ♦
I wasn’t always like this. I’ve changed over a lifetime. And it’s taken longer than it should have taken. I’m actually surprised and disappointed in that. But now I understand why and how I developed.
I’m referring to my Christianity. My faith. My life as a believer in the tenets of Christianity and the way that has played out in my actions and worldview and approach to life.
This should be no different for anyone else calling themselves a Christian, or, for that matter, anyone who has stalled out or drifted from their Christian upbringing or ventured elsewhere in their spiritual journey.
3 Phases of Growth
I believe there are 3 distinct growth phases we go through in our Christian journey. The interesting thing is that we actually should not go through extended periods in each of these phases. Rather, as crazy as it sounds, we should progress to Phase 3 immediately upon entering the realm of faith in Jesus Christ.
The problem and reality are that most of us do not instantly mature as Christians. It is a matter of heart, mind, and will, and a process, if left to itself, that could unfortunately take longer than we would think or desire.
It’s also a growth path with subtle and deceiving distinctions.
Phase #1 – NEW HEART – The Leap of Faith
We hear a sermon, a talk with a friend or minister/pastor/priest, or we read a book or the Bible itself and come to a point of decision. We decide to “accept” the Christian premise that Jesus is God/God’s Son who came to earth to die a substitute-death for me and the sins of Mankind. If we “believe” then we are “saved”.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
It’s a leap of faith. We don’t know all the answers yet but we’re struck at the heart level with the truth of the Gospel of God’s gift of love and restoration with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.
For many, they may simply grow up in a Christian home and know this information from their time of early memory. This Big Decision may be either assumed or one may come to a personal knowledge of this step in faith at a later stage in their youth.
For me, I came to this decision at age 14 via my girlfriend and her Bible Study friends (see 9/14/14 Biblical Viewpoint post You Just Never Know). It all made sense to me. I “believed and accepted Jesus in my heart,” and so I “became a Christian.”
Phase #2 – NEW MIND – Heart and Mind Integration
Unfortunately, many Christians make the Big Decision for Jesus and then just stall out. They’ve got good intentions and feel secure in their eternal destiny but don’t progress much further. The Apostle Paul admonishes young Christians in Corinth for this:
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. – 1 Corinthians 3:2
Paul teaches us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2); that is to grow beyond mere matters of the heart and also of the mind. Our Christian path in Phase 2 should be in the education and development of our understanding of Christian teachings and foundations and its context in the world. We are to become followers and disciples of Christ, more than conquerors, who hunger and grow from the Bible, the Word of God. We should be exercising spiritual gifts as teachers, servants, and witnesses to all the nations in need of Jesus, the Savior of the world.
But there is much potential here for side-tracking and lingering. Many Christians get lost in the struggle between heart and mind. They believe in their heart, but they also struggle in their mind with believing what their professors tell them, their secular friends, or the media, about science, purpose, origins, evolution, spirituality, tolerance, and sexuality. The Bible, with only superficial study and understanding of its authorship and historic context, will seem out of step with post-modern cultural norms.
Others, like me, delve deeply into the Bible and religious study and grow in mental knowledge and apologetic acuity. This can be an issue if not combined with Phase 3.
Phase #3 – NEW WILL – Personal Transformation
As I’ve learned, Christianity is not just a matter of belief in one’s heart and mind, but also requires a surrendering of one’s will. This is the catch for most Christians: they know, understand, and believe Jesus and the Bible, but they have not acquiesced full lordship of their life to the Lord. In other words, they can talk a good game but actually have inconsistencies in their life where God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is not running on all internal/personal systems.
This is a very insidious thing. When we go half-way, or even at 75% or 80% (see 9/14/13 Biblical Viewpoint post Living at 80%), we can miss the fullness of the blessings God has for us. And yet we think we’re doing pretty good. Certainly compared to everyone else. Very deceiving indeed.
It wasn’t until my 4th decade as a Christian that I started to understand that I was not operating fully in Phase 3. I was in a deceptive no-man’s land, thinking I had it together but yet was running short of a fully surrendered, all-in life for God. The light came on via fellowship with other believers, a rejuvenated practice in prayer, and a revised commitment to God, not Man, for my purpose in life.
God is Infinitely Patient
Fortunately God is very patient with us, His fallen creation. He has given us the way out and has revealed it all in the Bible, the Word of God. We neglect this at our peril. Beyond that we run the risk of living at less than He fully intends for us, His beloved and blessed.
We each do best to evaluate our heart, mind, and will submission rates. Only then will we see full-blown Kingdom-ordained fruit in our lives and personal transformation toward a sanctified life.
Are you really growing as a Christian?
But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. – Luke 8:15