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Being a Christian is not like choosing an outfit where you dress according to the occasion. Christianity is something that happens inside of you, and it continues to change you throughout your life. It’s a transformation, but it’s also like an exploration that matures you.
Perhaps you are married. Do you remember the first time you met your spouse? You dated each other, liked each other, and eventually tied the knot. Shortly after your wedding day, it stagnated, right? There was nothing else new or to discover, so you pursued other interests.
Okay, I’m kidding. Stagnation is not the sign of a healthy marriage. Biblical marriage is like a couple walking into an endless garden. The wedding gate is only the entrance to all the yet-to-be-perceived beauty. It’s an unending adventure that matures you into something you could never have imagined the first day you met.
Covenantal couples know that marriage is an endless journey until there is an exit to heaven. The lovers enjoy a shared experience. Being with Christ is similar to that but better. Salvation is the door (John 10:9) through which you enter into an unending journey.
You learn more, love more, change more, and mature more. Those first fun days are great, but there is a depth of love and a better prize that comes through a long-time experience that includes many dangers, toils, and snares.
The result is that the closer you get to Jesus, the more you think and act like Him, which brings me to my point: how would you describe your experience with Christ? Are you evolving into a more mature version of Him? If you think of it like stages, how are you doing with each one?
The starting point in a person’s relationship with Christ is to become a Christian. Though this point is evident, it is not apparent to all. If you are not a Christian, you have no journey with Jesus or a positive relationship with God. You do have an experience with Him, but it’s not a pleasant one (John 3:36; Revelation 20:15). Without Him, there is no hope for your future.
Jesus did not want Nicodemus to be surprised about what he needed to do, so He told him plainly that he needed to be reborn (John 3:7). Nic was born for the first time from sinful parents, but to experience the Lord, he had to go through a rebirth, which we call regeneration. Though becoming a Christian is not a complicated thing to do, there is a narrow and specific way you must do it (Matthew 7:14; Romans 10:9).
Just like being born the first time did not begin with you, there has to be an outside initiator to experience a second birth (Ephesians 2:1-10). You cooperate with God through faith and repentance, but it’s the Lord who grants you this privilege. He makes the first move.
The reason I say this is because being saved is not a matter of just praying a prayer. Anybody can say the words, “God save me” or “I asked Jesus into my heart.” The real question is, “Have you been born from above?” All of the following questions are asking the same thing in different ways. The redundancy is intentional because there is not a more vital question I can ask you.
It is not wise to gloss over these questions. Every individual should give them serious thought. I am not asking you if you love God, go to church, own a Bible, read a Bible, have Christian parents, have Christian friends, pray on occasion, or listen to Christian music.
I am asking you if you have been born from above by the power of God. That is what Jesus was telling the very religious Nicodemus. Nic did “religious stuff.” He was a religious man, but he was not a saved man. This stage of the Christian life gets things going for you.
Assurance – Some believers are authentic Christians, but they struggle with an assurance of salvation. It’s common for these negative thoughts to happen. If you are struggling with the certainty of being a believer, my appeal to you is to find help.
After the Lord regenerates you, there is a desire to want to know more about the person “you married.” You are part of the bride, and Christ is your husband. You are one with Christ, in Him. You have been reborn into the community of God and placed in His body. As a new follower of Christ, the power of God is working in you (Romans 1:16). Imagine getting married and having no interest in your spouse.
A lack of affection for your spouse is not how things are supposed to be. Imagine God, through His Spirit, taking up residence in you, and you were not affected by this new internal experience. Christians are “affected people” because God is doing things in them.
One of the oddities of a lot of American Christianity is a lack of affection for Christ. In my corner of the world, everybody (hyperbole) seems to be a Christian, but everybody does not have a practical relationship with God that permeates all of their lives.
I realize this situation happens in marriages regularly. People become married, and shortly after, they revert to a selfish mode of living. In such cases, the other spouse is more of an annoyance to be angry with than a joint heir to serve and enjoy (1 Peter 3:7).
It is a theological oddity for this to happen with the God of the universe, who inhabits the person. When this kind of spiritual breakdown does occur, it gives credence to the term cultural Christianity. Here are some useful questions to assess the reality of your faith.
When you read about New Testament believers, there is no question that Christ was all that mattered. There was an intentional pursuit to want to know Jesus more and more. Christ was their reason for existing, which you see in how Paul talked about it in Philippians 3:8-10.
However, we are in warfare, and it is not realistic to expect all the warriors to be vibrant, fighting, and faithful. Bad things happen to us. I don’t want you to despair if you are a Christian, but you’re having an awful season.
Though some believers are not authentic, and it appears to be a part-time religion for them, that is not the case for everyone. Some Christians want to fight the good fight, but their circumstances have dealt a strategic blow to their faith. If you’re struggling and need help getting off the mat again, please let us know.
Similar to a healthy marriage, the more you assimilate into each other, the more you genuinely become like each other. And though sanctification is like a marriage, the analogy does break down at this point. I do not assimilate into Christ and Him into me so that we can be the best possible versions of ourselves.
Unlike a human marriage, I do not give Christ my best qualities, and He gives me His best qualities, and between the two of us, we become the best we can be. I have no goodness, period. The only thing that I could give Christ was my unrighteousness, and He nailed that to His cross and then paid for it by His death (Colossians 2:14).
Jesus gave me His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s an alien righteousness. From that point, He began to work His salvation into me, moving me toward full, spiritual, and complete manhood (Colossians 1:28). Because of His mighty work in me, Stage Three is acting more and more like Jesus.
When people see you, they are supposed to see Him. The sanctified person is no longer who he used to be. He is becoming somebody else. John, the baptizer, said it wonderfully well: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The zenith of Christian maturity is when you are no longer thinking like your old self (Ephesians 4:22), but you have been changed into a new person (Ephesians 4:24).
It is like you have had a brain transplant; you possess the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5). You are no longer your own, but God has bought you with a hefty price (1 Corinthians 6:20). This new and different life in Christ raises some excellent questions for you to ponder.
Our thought life is the busiest part of our lives. It’s the place where the forces of the enemy marshall their assaults so they can create alternate narratives that Paul called strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-6). If you’re struggling with taking down those strongholds and submitting your mind to Christ, please read Learning How to Take All Your Bad Thoughts Captive.
While it is true that you can tell another person about Jesus Christ (John 4:29), and you should, your imitation of Him can have a more practical impact, as it coincides with your evangelism efforts. For example, my children have heard about the Savior all of their lives.
Good teaching is excellent, but the most compelling message they will ever understand is the one they see in their parents each day of their lives. The lives we live before them speak louder than the words we teach them. Imagine what would be going through our children’s minds if I told them about Christianity but did not seek to emulate the Christ-life before them.
I am not talking about perfectly imitating Jesus because that is unreasonable. I am talking about an attractive, humble, compelling, and progressively maturing facsimile of Jesus. If our message is Christ, our lives must give a clear echo of Him so it will not confuse others about what we say and what we do. Your life is your message, regardless of what it communicates.
How are you doing with these four stages of the Christian life? As soon as God regenerates you, all four of these stages are actively working in you. Your responsibility, after stage one, is to continue to mature in the other three.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).