The Three Stages of Spiritual Growth

The following is by Frank Viola author and it’s from his book Jesus Now.

The Bible speaks of three main stages in spiritual development that correspond to our physical development: infancy, childhood, and adulthood.

The first stage is infancy:

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Pet. 2:1-3 ESV)

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? (1 Cor. 3:1–3 ESV)

Infancy is characterized by a kind of helplessness. A baby is totally dependent on her or his parent to provide. This is true both for the infant’s external and internal needs. Just like a baby needs milk, a baby also need endless amounts of compassion and love.

I can remember a friend suggesting that a crying baby should be disciplined. How ridiculous! The infant is simply alerting us to its needs when it cries. There’s a special sensitivity that we give to infants in part because they are so helpless. But as they grow, we increase the level of responsibility we give them.

Following infancy is childhood. Jesus sanctifies us by His Spirit, making us progressively holy in our conduct. So we are first babes in Christ, and then we grow into childhood—or as John put it, the stage of being “young people” in the faith. During this stage, Jesus does His marvelous work of transformation by His Spirit (Rom. 12:1–2).

I am writing to you, little children,

because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.

I am writing to you, fathers,

because you know him who is from the beginning.

I am writing to you, young men,

because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, children,

because you know the Father.

I write to you, fathers,

because you know him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,

because you are strong,

and the word of God abides in you,

and you have overcome the evil one. (1 John 2:12–14 ESV)

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Cor. 13:11 ESV)

Transformation points to the Lord’s role in allowing us to go through trials and tribulations, which are designed to work His character into us. This is the experiential side of the cross.

From a parent’s perspective, this is when maturity is difficult to watch our children go through. Frustration produces growth, but we don’t want our children bouncing from one failure to another. However, a parent who doesn’t allow their kids to risk, stumble, and fall is actually stunting their child’s growth.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:6–7; see also 1 Pet. 4:12–13)

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. (Rom. 5:3–4)

Jesus’ present-day ministry of reproving and disciplining us is also included in this stage.

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. (Rev. 3:19)

But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. (1 Cor. 11:32)

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