How do you know when someone has become a mature believer? People often say a mature Christian is one who knows the Scriptures and has a relatively good life. That is not how Scripture describes a mature believer!
A mature believer is one who has become a spiritual parent. How do you know when someone is a spiritual parent? Consider this, “How do you know when a person becomes a physical parent?” When he or she has a baby! When he has responsibility for a baby! In the same way a mature believer becomes a spiritual parent and has someone who is following him. The person following learns how to become a disciple-maker, or spiritual parent, himself.
When you start out in the Christian life there are many basic things to learn. For example, as a spiritual infant, you learned that life is about Jesus, growing in grace, growing with others, pursuing holiness and telling others about your faith. As you continue to grow as a spiritual child, you learn that the Christian way of life is not just knowing about Jesus, but abiding in Him. You also learn that life is about bearing fruit, because you are abiding in Him. You learn about the filling of the Holy Spirit, who will help you deal with selfishness and spiritual growth. You begin to learn that life is about assembling with other believers and sharing your faith with those who do not know Jesus Christ. Then you continue to grow as a spiritual young adult.
As a spiritual young adult, you are much more focused on others and are serving in the body of Christ. You learn that life is not just knowing Jesus or abiding in Him, but is about glorifying Jesus Christ. You focus on how you can exalt His name. Secondly, you learn that life is about connecting to other believers in a relational environment. You are now serving with others in the body. Thirdly, you learn life is about equipping other believers with a biblical foundation. You are taking what you have learned and studied and are teaching others. Fourthly, you learn life is about multiplying together with the gospel to build the kingdom. Your life priority is discipling people for God’s kingdom. And fifthly, you learn life is about commitment to God’s calling. These are huge transformations in your thinking from being a spiritual child. As you continue to grow spiritually, you are rising up to the level of being a spiritual parent.
Remember from above, how do you know when someone is a spiritual parent? He has someone who is following him. How does a spiritual parent think and live? Consider that a spiritual parent is one who helps those who are following grow through not only spiritual growth spurts, but also spiritual valleys. A parent often deals with followers who want to do their own thing rather than what God wants. A parent is often rejected by their children (followers), and must maintain patient love and firm calm to be available for the child (follower) to repent and press ahead. There are seven principles a spiritual parent must confidently hold and trust.
First, be occupied with Jesus. A spiritual infant learns to know Jesus. A spiritual child learns to abide in Jesus. A spiritual young adult learns to glorify Jesus. A spiritual parent is occupied with Jesus. In other words, in the midst of distractions, troubles and challenges, Jesus is the focus of the spiritual parent. Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21 NKJ) Paul was in prison when he wrote those words. In physical freedom or in prison, Paul occupied his mind with Jesus Christ and His purposes. Paul knew that if he were to die in prison, it was a gain, a blessing.
Secondly, live in His purposes and power. Paul was born with a tremendous Jewish heritage (Phil. 3:4-5). He had achieved the highest honors (Phil. 3:5-6). But all of the honors given to Paul, he considered as dung for the sake of living for Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:7-8). No, Paul wanted nothing to do with the world; he wanted everything to do with Jesus. Paul wrote,
9 and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:9-11 NKJ)
Paul knew his humanly righteous efforts were of no eternal value (Is. 64:6). He knew that only what God did through him by faith was truly righteous with intrinsic worth. Consequently, he sought God’s power by means of the Holy Spirit, which raised Jesus from the dead. He knew that by faith in sufferings, his denial of self would empower him to the purposes Jesus set before him. Those purposes were to disciple disciple-making people exalting the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, forget what lies behind and press forward. The spiritual parent continually faces the sins of his children, followers, who are struggling to learn what life is about. The parent covers a multitude of sins with love (1 Pet. 4:8). The parent shepherds the followers, at whatever stage of growth they are, to grow spiritually and learn to discern good and evil for themselves (Heb. 5:12-14). That means a parent will face rejection by followers, temptations of discouragement by their tantrums and meltdowns, and frustration at their indifference and apathy, while never succumbing to take his eyes off of Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith (Heb. 12:2). Paul wrote,
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 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, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12-14 NKJ)
Paul learned in life and wrote while in prison that he needed to leave behind what was in the past. He knew that because he was in Christ, he had already arrived in heaven positionally (Col. 3:1). However, experientially, he knew he had not arrived, because he was not perfect. He had one purpose and that was to be occupied with Jesus and press forward to the upward call by multiplying disciples to reach the world.
Fourthly, live with contentment in all things. A spiritual parent is not focused on what kind of house or car he owns. He cares about the followers. A physical parent would sacrifice anything for the benefit of his children. So also a spiritual parent will deny his own desires for the sake of followers. That means a parent may live in comfort, or poverty, but it does not matter as long as the children attain spiritual opportunities of growth. Paul said it well,
11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (Phil. 4:11-12 NKJ)
Contentment is something to learn at every stage of life. A spiritual parent learns contentment, because Jesus is his portion in life. Even as Jeremiah saw the destruction of Jerusalem and had lost everything, he still had the Lord as his portion and in the Lord he would trust (Lam. 3:21-24).
Fifthly, serve in Christ’s purpose and strength. Life is too difficult in our own strength. Life was never meant to be easy. Christians who have no pressure, or what the world calls stress, are fooling themselves and will weep at all the lost opportunities to disciple others. If there is no pressure, that person is not on the front lines of spiritual warfare. He is where Satan wants him—in the background, neutralized from making an impact for God’s kingdom. Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christwho strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13 NKJ) That is not a trite statement. It is the unleashed power of the Holy Spirit directed by God the Son to accomplish His will (Eph. 1:19). It is the power that sustained Paul through prison, countless hardships and antagonizing relationship pressures (2 Cor. 11:23-29). It is the power that will sustain you through sleepless nights, persecution, infirmities, distresses and reproaches (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Sixthly, serve because there is a great reward. A spiritual parent does not serve for the reward, because he is occupied with Jesus. A spiritual parent looks at the reward as an acknowledgement that it is all for Jesus anyway, because He is the one who sustains and directs. Paul wrote regarding the context of giving, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account,” (Phil. 4:17 NKJ) emphasized the reality that there is far more returned than what is given. A spiritual parent looks at the expenditure of his life for followers as the best investment in life. Paul said it well, “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” (Phil. 2:17 NKJ)
And seventhly, trust God’s provision for serving others. Parents have no choice when they have children. They keep doing the best they can to work, provide and leave the results in God’s hands. Spiritual parents do the same thing. They disciple, remain available, come alongside in encouragement, admonish with God’s Word and leave the results to God. In a resource context, Paul wrote, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19 NKJ) A spiritual parent makes wise decisions and trusts God’s provision in order to keep discipling those who will be disciple-makers.
A spiritual parent is the goal for every believer. Many will remain as spiritual children, because there are not enough spiritual parents to disciple them to grow up. Be faithful in these principles and you will impact your generation and future generations for Christ. Be not discouraged! Be not dismayed! For the Lord your God is with you and He will never leave you nor forsake you.