Stages in the journey of life…

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A lesson from Billy Graham –

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Doctor Graham was responding to the following inquiry:

“…I just can’t get over my fear that [God] will punish me if I do anything wrong. I’d like to think that God loves me but I can’t.”

Billy Graham’s response -

“Have you ever asked yourself what it would take to convince you that your emotions are lying to you, and that God really does love you?

“I say this because we need to realize that our emotions don’t always tell us the truth. God gave us our emotions, and life would be very dull without them – but sometimes they get confused and make us believe things that aren’t really true. There may be all sorts of reasons for this, including the way we were raised or our childhood experiences – but whatever the reason, our emotions aren’t always dependable guides.”

Billy Graham later adds,

“How do I know God loves us? I know it for one reason: because God sent his only Son into the world to die for our sins.”

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Readers,

Billy Graham’s response to this person was to show how our emotions can easily misguide us in our walk of faith. Believers who depend largely on their emotions always have the greatest ups and downs in their spiritual life. Their real problem has to do with spiritual immaturity.

And this brings me to an important issue with regard to a believer’s maturing in the Lord.

There are actually stages all believers go through in growing in the Lord. We find several places in the new covenant that speak to these stages of maturing. For example Paul said of the Corinthian Church,

“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ.” (1Co3:1)

The word for infant here is ‘nepios’ and speaks of a small child above the age of an infant, probably around the age of three or four years old. It is a term used for simple-mindedness or for an immature person.

Paul later uses this same term, in saying,

“When I was a child (nepios), I use to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man (aner), I did away with childish (nepios) things.” (1Co13:11 – ‘Aner’ is an adult male at the age of marriage.)

There are several places in the new covenant writings where a stress is placed on becoming a mature believer. However, there is only one place that appears to give the various stages of growth in a believer’s life. It is this portion of Scriptures we will draw from in this Bible study.

John said,

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1John2:1)

Then John follows up with the descriptions of the age patterns for believers. He says,

“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.

“I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.

“I have written to you fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.”

While John does not list these levels of maturity in the order they would be found, he does give the levels. He also gives the dominate trait that is found at each level.

Without being too technical, here are the Greek words in the order of the natural progression in spiritual maturity.

(1) “Little children.” – The term is ‘teknoin.’ This word has extensions of meanings, but in the New Testament it is always used affectionately. Technically it is a nursery term for very small children.

(2) “Children.” – The term is ‘paidion.’ This reflects on a young boy or girl who is older than teknoin. Possibly pre-adolescence.

(3) “Young men.” – The term is “neaniskos.” This is a young man who is beyond the age of puberty, but usually before marriage.

(4) “Fathers.” – The term is ‘pater.’ This term is used for a male parent.

At this point it is important to note the characteristic traits that John places with each age of spiritual maturity. Understand this and you will have insight into spiritual grown patterns. There are other terms that could be brought in, but we are going to stay with John for the present study. (There is even an ‘at the breast’ level, but John doesn’t include it in his writing here. The context has to decide on how a term is being used.)

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The LITTLE CHILDREN stage.

This stage is the beginning of our journey. Little children need unconditional acceptance and affection. Their world revolves around parentage. What is the word to the little children?

“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake.” (Vs1 and vs12.)

For a new believer there is no greater need. This is the age where the pastor and those who helped birth him or her into the kingdom must be very cautious to seeing to their care. They live strongly by their emotions. Their security is the parent. They identify salvation with the Church they attend. It is sad to see some believers get stuck at this level.

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The CHILDREN stage

The little children stage is the next natural progression where the believer begins to learn the authority of the father. Here love is coupled with discipline. It is at this stage where the believer learns that he can no longer get by with things he use to get by with.

Each change in maturity level brings its own difficulties. The level of discipline that is required depends greatly on the child himself. What the child is now learning is the that the world doesn’t revolve around him. Every little whimper doesn’t bring, “That’s alright honey.”

The child has to learn that there are consequences to bad behavior. This is often the age where believers experience the greatest difficulty in transition. (Feelings get hurt. They think they know more than they actually know, etc.)

But what is the purpose behind this changing time? Hebrews 12:11, says,

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; ye to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

The training produces the proper way of living the Christian life. The Biblical walk of faith is a walk of righteousness, peace, and joy.

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The YOUNG MAN stage

This stage of spiritual maturity is where the believer becomes an overcomer. He has learned that the true walk of faith consist of taking a stand on the Word of Truth, and not on his emotions. The character trait for this level is overcoming:

“I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (Vs14)

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Finally we have the FATHERS

This is the ‘deepening’ of God. The fathers don’t just know that their sins have been forgiven. They are deeply acquainted with ‘Him who has been from the beginning.” (Vs14)

This may sound like a peculiar statement, but it has to do with the Person of Jesus Himself. Whenever John uses the term ‘from the beginning,’ he has the mystery of the Messiah and of God’s Eternal Word in view. The mature factor here has to do with understanding.

The word ‘know is ‘ginosko‘ and speaks of personal acquaintance. It relates to understanding and perception. The fully mature believer perceives things as they really are. This is the highest level of our spiritual life. It is this ‘knowing’ that is the crown of a believer’s life.

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Terms vary with usage

Again we have to use caution. The context itself has to determine how a term is being used. For example we hear this from Jesus,

“I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants (nepios).

“Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (Matt11:25-27)

Jesus customarily uses the term ‘nepios’ as a term of endearment, but not necessarily as a level of maturity. However, we all begin as ‘nepios’.

With regard to spiritual maturity, it is important to understand that all believers know the Lord on the spiritual level where they are. For this reason most of us tend to think we know God better than we really do. We just haven’t advanced in our ‘knowing’ experience yet. This is why we get so adamant in doctrinal debates. But knowing God is not a doctrine. It is an experience of the heart.

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Keeping an humble heart

And this is why all believers need to keep an humble heart when it comes to discovering the things of the Lord.

Can we get to know God better? Oh yes, indeed. We can get to know the heart of God better and better all the time. This is really what spiritual growth is about. It is about maturing in Christ. And this is what Paul has in mind when he encourages believers on to maturity.

Paul said,

“Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory.” (1Co2:6,7)

Then Paul says something that is so often misunderstood. He speaks of the things which have never entered the heart of man. The misunderstanding comes from projecting this to, ‘when we all get to heaven.’ This is not what Paul is referencing in this particular setting. Paul is addressing the spiritual dynamics of the new covenant experience, where the Holy Spirit takes the things of Christ and presents them to us. A little reading of the context will reveal this to be true.

Listen carefully as the apostle explains the wonders of our Christian experience:

“But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
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“…but just as it is written, ‘Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.’
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“For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.
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Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” (1Co 2:7-13 NASB)


If you will meditate on the afore Scriptures you will see something wonderful. What Paul is describing has to do with our present life. There is no question that our greater life is yet future and heavenly, but our present life in this world can be deeply spiritual and wondrous beyond words.

The moral is as Billy Graham put it;

“We need to realize that our emotions don’t always tell us the truth.”

There is nothing greater in a Christian’s life than to learn to walk in God’s love. While thinking on these things take time to listen to ‘Loving God. Loving Each Other.’

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Much love is yours in Jesus,

Buddy