Juan and Maria quickly adjusted to having a new member in their family. They felt happy as the various friends and family members came to visit little Manuel. “Oh, he looks just like his daddy,” different ones commented, causing Juan to feel particularly proud. Maria also saw a resemblance between the father and his son. She and Juan compared Manuel’s baby photos with some that Juan’s mother had taken when Juan was a baby. There was definite similarity between father and son.
You may have had a similar experience. Someone may have remarked about how much you look like one of your family members. It can be an enjoyable experience to look back through an old photo album and observe the physical likenesses of different members of a family, even across several generations.
It should not surprise you, then, to discover in this lesson that the Christian life also includes some look-alikes. Jesus has given us His life. Wouldn’t you expect that as converts grow toward spiritual maturity there would be an increasing revelation of His life? In this lesson you will discover that the ultimate goal of spiritual growth is to develop Christlikeness. You will also learn what the Bible teaches about some of the elements involved in this process. What you learn in this lesson will prove valuable as you help others grow toward spiritual maturity.
Into His Likeness
Spiritual Development Expected
All life has a nature distinctive to its own kind. The character of that life is transmitted through the processes of reproduction. Given the proper conditions for growth, the character of that life will be revealed. When you plant a grain of rice, corn, beans, or anything else, you know what will grow from it. The distinctive nature of the life is contained in the seed. Under appropriate conditions, the character of that life will burst forth and develop to fullness.
This truth is important to recognize when considering spiritual life. The new life God gives in Jesus is His own life. His life, too, has its own distinctive nature and character. As the new life is nurtured under proper spiritual conditions, we become more like God. Our responsibility is to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, permitting Him to control and shape our new life according to His will (Romans 8:5–11; Galatians 5:25).
Spiritual Development Is God’s Purpose
In Genesis 1:26–27 we observe that humans were created in God’s image and likeness. We were made by God and were made like God. But this likeness to God was severely marred when the first humans fell into sin. Then, humanity became unholy and the image of God in humans was seriously distorted. God’s activity in salvation concerns His plan to bring humans back into their original condition in the likeness of God. God warned the first man that sin would bring death and separation from Him. When man sinned, he died spiritually. But in Jesus we are given new life; we become alive spiritually. As that life grows and develops within, we begin the process of becoming increasingly like Him.
The Goal of Spiritual Development
Scripture indicates that God, in His eternal plan, has predetermined the outcome of those who receive His new life. God knows what we will be like once His work in us is completed.
It is God’s intention that those who receive His life will develop. As they grow, the nature and character of God will be revealed in them and the likeness of Christ will be seen in their conversations, actions, and habits. Peter refers to this developmental process when he admonishes those with new life to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
I once heard two boys playing together. They were discussing which one of them was bigger. Soon they stood up back to back with each other. Each stretched as much as he could, and they rubbed their hands over the tops of their heads to see who was the taller. One boy was delighted to prove he was the taller. But the other boy did not give up so easily. He said, “Just wait. When you get to be as big as your dad, and I get to be as big as my dad, then I’ll be bigger than you.” This boy grasped an important truth. He saw the prospects of growth. He had adopted a model he wanted to grow up to be like: his father. This illustrates what it means to attain to the whole measure of all that Christ is.
Periodically we do well to stand back to back with Jesus to take spiritual inventory. While He may measure bigger and taller than we do, each time we measure ourselves by this standard we should see growth. We should be more like Him.
The Task of Christian Nurture
The goal of spiritually growing Christians is to mature into the likeness of Jesus. As we allow the life of Christ within us to develop fully, we will become increasingly more Christlike. Because of the life of Jesus within us, we mature into His likeness, allowing His life to be perfected in us.
The task of those who would nurture Christian growth is to supply what is needed for healthy spiritual growth. Nurturing Christian growth concerns helping Christians grow in the Christ life until His nature and character are revealed in their personalities.
The goal of mature Christians is not merely to produce people who possess proficient Bible knowledge and spiritual insights, but to help them live the new life to the fullest, as Jesus intended. The object of Christian nurture is to help people exemplify Jesus, to lead them into disciplined, growing lives in God with Jesus as the center of focus.
Whenever you engage in helping people grow spiritually and develop in Christlikeness, you are engaging in Christian nurture. This is a rewarding, practical ministry which is deeply anchored in God’s design for humankind.
Making Persons Whole
The Christ-Centered Life
Christian nurture concerns life because Christianity is centered in life. Christianity revolves around Christ, a person, the eternal Son of God, who is the source of all life. He gives His life to those who receive Him. Commitment to Jesus Christ begins with a response in simple faith to the gospel. This marks the beginning of new life. But this commitment involves a life of discipleship through the process of growth toward Christlikeness. In this process of spiritual birth and growth Jesus is, and increasingly becomes, the center of the Christian’s total life experience. Through Christian nurture, growing Christians learn how to put Christ first in their lives, making Him the center.
Helping people make Jesus the center of their lives touches every aspect of human experience. When we think about the human person, we sometimes tend to divide the person into parts or areas of life, such as the mental, the physical, the emotional, the social, and the spiritual areas. While it is helpful to study human behavior from these different points of view, we need to remember that persons are whole beings and that they
cannot be divided into small parts. Every area of life affects the others, and we respond to our surroundings as whole persons.
The Christian’s relationship to God through Jesus affects every part of the person. Christ is at the center, and therefore should control every area. The more we grow spiritually and take on His likeness, the more He controls our lives.
Role of Christian Nurture in Developing Whole Persons
The object of Christian nurture is to develop whole mature persons who are intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and socially changed through their relationship with Jesus Christ. Those concerned with Christian nurture recognize the innate worth of each person, perceive the potential within every
human being, and seek to develop this to the fullest for God’s glory.
This concern for making persons whole in Jesus leads to discipleship which is expressed in obedience to everything Jesus commanded. The faith-response to the gospel leads to an active, obedient love for the Lord Jesus. This is a love from the whole person, heart, mind, and soul, which yields control of all life to Him.
The Role of the Bible in Developing Whole Persons
In Lesson 1 you were introduced to the way the Bible helps nurture spiritual growth. God reveals himself in the Scriptures; therefore, they are the content of our study and learning. We do not study the Bible merely to gain knowledge for its own sake. The purpose of our learning is not to prepare to pass an examination but to prepare to live whole, Christ-centered lives.
The truth of God took on living expression in Jesus Christ. Since His life is within us, God should take on living expression in our lives. The Christian’s total personality is to be transformed by the reality of God within so that the Christian’s life is a faithful expression of the truth of God. As the Christian life grows within, there should be progressive transformation of the Christian’s character, values, motives, attitudes, and conduct to conform to the personality of God as expressed in Jesus.
Second Timothy 3:14–17 identifies four uses of Scripture: teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. Notice that these four activities have one basic goal: the equipping of the man of God for every good work. The Scriptures are useful in preparing Christians to experience all that God wants them to become; we could say that the Scriptures are useful for making persons whole. If you want to grow spiritually, you should study the Scriptures; if you want to help someone else mature spiritually, you should help him or her study the Bible.
Let us review what you have studied so far in this lesson. You have discovered that maturing Christians are growing in Christlikeness. It is God’s intention that those who receive new life in Christ mature so that the life of Jesus is increasingly revealed in them. You have also learned that maturity in the Christ-life involves becoming whole persons, yielding to His control in every area of life. You have learned that helping persons become whole, that is, Christlike, is the main task of those involved in Christian nurture. And you have learned that the Bible is essential to helping persons become whole. If you do not yet understand these concepts, review what you have already studied in this lesson before proceeding to the next section.
Step by Step
The Goal of Christian Nurture
As a baby grows, we expect the ultimate outcome of that growth to be adulthood, maturity. We recognize that the process of growth from infancy to adulthood takes time and patience. At each stage of development we expect the growing person to perform certain tasks, such as learning to walk in early childhood. The performances we expect at each stage of development are referred to as intermediate goals. They represent smaller objectives toward which one works en route to the ultimate goal of adulthood, maturity. Each of these intermediate objectives is worthwhile by itself, but each one is even more significant when viewed as a step toward the ultimate goal. Understanding this concept helps us take better care of developing people’s needs. As the needs of each developmental level are met, we are helping the individual grow toward maturity.
Spiritual life, once again, parallels the growth and development process in biological life. The maturing process initiated by the new birth begins with spiritual infancy. The ultimate goal of the believer’s spiritual life is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29; 12:2; 2 Corinthians
3:18). As he begins his spiritual journey, he needs nourishment that will produce sound growth. He must develop a taste for the milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2). He thus learns basic requirements for wholesome spiritual development according to God’s design. He learns to perform the tasks and demonstrate the behavior expected for his initial stage of development. He is, so to speak, learning to walk. As he develops an appetite for the Word and learns to apply its directions to daily life, his faith grows. He learns the nature of spiritual warfare by perusing the Word (Ephesians 6:10, 18) and by experience, through personal encounters with the enemy of his soul. As he relates to more mature believers, he learns that the secret of successful spiritual combat comes through prayer. His stature thus increases as he journeys onward, growing in the Word, his relationship with the Lord, and with fellow believers. Progressively, he takes on the image of Christ as he moves toward his ultimate goal. Developing a taste for the Word, engaging in consistent prayer, learning to discern truth and error, these are not learned all at once. Each bit of stature gained is an intermediate goal, but it is part of the overall or ultimate goal of developing Christlikeness.
Read the following summary definition through several times and commit it to memory. You will be required to demonstrate your knowledge of this definition on the self-test, as well as in the student report. More important, however, this summary will help you have a clear understanding of the
ultimate goal of Christian nurture.
The ultimate goal of Christian nurture is to cultivate spiritual growth toward mature Christlikeness in all of life’s experiences.
Steps Toward Spiritual Maturity
Read Ephesians 4:11–16. This passage indicates that growing Christians are to measure to the fullness of Christ. It also teaches that the mature Christian will properly identify with the body of Christ, the local congregation of believers, and will take an active role in the ministry of that body. With this idea in mind, what steps or needs can be identified? Beginning with new life in Christ, what tasks need to be achieved en route to spiritual maturity?
Six Need Levels
To use these six levels of development to help someone grow spiritually, you need to be able not only to list them but also to understand them well enough to describe and apply them.
1. Orientation to the new life. New Christians undergo a whole change in way of life, attitudes, and values. They need assurance of salvation and need to receive the basic, elementary learning that starts them in the direction of development toward spiritual maturity. Often this orientation prepares them to declare their faith in the Christian rite of water baptism.
2. Integration into a fellowship of believers. All Christians are part of one body, the body of Christ. This body of Christ is expressed on earth in local fellowships of believers. The believer cannot mature properly without the relationships of this body; consequently, the body needs each individual to
contribute his or her strengths and gifts for the body to be whole.
3. Development of spiritual life. New life needs continual nurture from God’s Word. Christians never outgrow the need for spiritual food, so we must embrace the value of personal Bible study and prayer. Our critical thinking skills are sharpened as we compare Scripture with doctrines taught.
4. Discovery of spiritual ministry gifts. God has given every Christian a gift or ability for ministry. It is important that each Christian exercise his or her gift in ministry for the development of both the individual and the local body of Christ. Christians who have not yet discovered their ministry gift may need to analyze their activities to see which ones bless the body of Christ and also bring them joy. Ministry to others and personal spiritual fulfillment can indicate their special ministry gift(s).
5. Equipping for Christian service. Once a person has discovered his ministry gift, he needs to develop it. At this stage of development, one should be available to do whatever tasks are needed in the Body. Also, one should do everything possible to learn how to develop and use his gift in service to his family, friends, acquaintances, and community. Being trained for Christian service shows willingness to do what God wants to promote spiritual growth, and it implies spiritual maturity.
6. Active involvement in Christian service. Receiving training for Christian service is valuable; however, it can be effective only if used in active involvement in the Lord’s work. Discovering opportunities for Christian service and using those opportunities for actual service for God are essential.
Christian Needs and Spiritual Maturity
You have discovered that the ultimate goal of Christian nurture is to cultivate spiritual growth toward Christlikeness in the whole of life’s experiences. You have also discovered six needs to be met en route to this ultimate goal. Christian nurture should take these need levels into account and provide
opportunities to help people grow from one level to another. Whatever the level of development, the ultimate goal should always be in focus. We, then, can think of these six levels of needs as en route objectives for our work in Christian nurturing.