Every so often you come across a gem of a book. I've been enjoying The Incredible Patience of God: Along the Road to Spiritual Maturity by Lane Adams. It gives such a crystal clear picture about the painful, arduous and continual process it takes to become more like Christ.
Lane shares Hebrews 10:14, that "by one offering He forever made perfect those who are being made holy." Did you catch that? This is the miracle of salvation by grace through faith in Christ: you are declared once for all perfect before God even while you are still so far from perfection... even while you are still in the process of perfecting... even while you are still "being made holy" by God's ongoing work in your heart and life.
Lane gives an important look into how we then can walk with those new to faith in Christ. These powerful truths are important for church and outreach leaders, as well as every Christian who wants to see friends come to faith in Christ, and grow in Christ as a disciple:
"Christians have habitually demanded too much too soon from spiritual infants, commanding them to conform to patterns of maturity that it may have taken others years and years to attain. Many people offer searing judgements on the baby Christian, the evangelist involved, and sometimes call in question the whole idea of evangelism.
If the church represents the spiritual mature, then it follows that it is the responsibility of the mature to relate themselves to the immature - to meet them where they are and see them for what they are. These new Christians are spiritual infants with all the limitations of infancy.
The mature church must assume its role of loving parental responsibility in relation to spiritual infants. It is amazing but true that the average church will often expect more spiritual maturity from new believers than they will from most of their old established members. When such maturity is not immediately forthcoming, then criticism is leveled.
According to John 3 there is such thing as spiritual birth. 1 Peter 2:2 indicates there is a state of spiritual infancy from which we grow by the intake of the Word of God. Paul indicated in Colossians 1:28 that spiritual growth should culminate finally into spiritual maturity.
A 40-year old Ph.D. can be at one and the same time a spiritual infant. We relapse into a humanistic process of reasoning which simply will not admit to the fact that all the limitations of spiritual infancy. We automatically expect and demand too much of the spiritual infant. Only when we apply the limitations of physical infancy to this new spiritual creature will we see them in the proper light and not expect too much too soon.
A look at physical infancy will help us know what to expect of the spiritual infant:
1. The newborn baby needs a specific kind of food, but cannot feed himself
Someone who loves him must feed him. It is pointless to set the table with a banquet and then wonder why he doesn't show up. The food must be brought to him. Someone who loves him must feed him the milk of the Word until he learns to feed himself.
2. The newborn baby sleeps most of the time
He will seem to be sound asleep so much of the time you will even begin to wonder if there is any spiritual life there at all. Give him time; he will wake up. Accept the fact of the work of grace by faith, and then rejoice when God makes it possible to see the outward evidence of spiritual life.
3. The newborn baby makes a lot of noise that doesn't make sense to anyone except the parents who love him
Tragically, many who are supposed to be mature are quite put off by a baby Christian, and react to them in unloving ways that shock the soul of the infant believer and inhibit his growth. The super-orthodox are often the most guilty of this, blasting the baby in Christ when he doesn't parrot the party-lib with just the right cliches and accepted jargon.
4. The newborn baby exercises almost constantly, but most of it seems meaningless
He seems to be going off in all directions at once but never gets anywhere. Given time and patient encouragement he will learn to get about very well.
5. The newborn baby is certain to dirty his diaper with astounding regularity
Spiritual pride is often so damaged by the failure of a spiritual offspring that the infant is disowned and responsibility for his actions is disavowed. The Christian who would treat a spiritual infant in this way had better hope that his Savior will not treat him in the same fashion.
We must remind spiritual infants over and over that the initial love of Christ came to him in spite of what he was, and that the continuing love of Christ will come to him in spite of what he is, and never because he has merited it with perfect conduct.
We must warn the spiritual infant against expecting too much of himself, while guarding him against complacency about the evil that is within him. He must be reassured again and again that "if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous"
The spiritual infant must not only sense the forgiveness of God, but also the forgiveness of God's people.
In John 6:39, Jesus says, "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." Ultimately only Christ can keep what Christ has called and converted. But the instrument though which the Spirit of Christ may wish to work his keeping grace is you and me. And so it is our goal that we should also lose none of whom Christ has given us."
You can read more of Lane Adam's book The Incredible Patience of God on amazon here.