Let’s review the basics of God’s plan or approach for building His Kingdom and then look at our practice, i.e., what most believers actually experience.
1. Satan’s rebellion against God and fall from heaven established his kingdom of darkness. Adam’s fall into sin put all of us into this kingdom of darkness, because we are conceived and born spiritually dead and enemies of God.
2. Into this kingdom of darkness, God said, “Let there be light,” and He entered our world as Jesus, true God and true man, the Light of the world.
3. Through Jesus’ sinless life, death and resurrection, God made the way for each person (1) to escape the kingdom of darkness by having his penalty for sin paid and by being made alive spiritually (born again) into a relationship with God and (2) to be transformed by the Holy Spirit to live the abundant life God purposed and planned for him. This is real life, life in God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Light.
4. Through the evidence of God in His creation, through His Word and through the witness of those who know Jesus Christ, God calls individuals to Himself through faith in the finished work of Jesus, a work that warrants our following Him, and a faith that, in fact, trusts and relies on Him (Ephesians 2:8-9).
5. Having brought a person to faith in Jesus, God desires that this person then grow to maturity in Christ a he or she is transformed through yielding to the Holy Spirit’s work within him or her. God’s plan is for this to happen as the person is discipled by other followers of Jesus and learns to see and live life from God’s perspective, as revealed in His Word (Romans 12:1-2).
6. As a spiritually mature disciple, the person continues to grow in wisdom and fruitfulness as he follows Christ and allows Him to accomplish the works God has “prepared beforehand, that he should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
7. These works God has prepared for every believer include (a) actively engaging with other disciples as a member of the Body of Christ, (b) ministering to (serving) others, both believers and nonbelievers, and (c) multiplying as he (i) witnesses to those who don’t know Jesus and (ii) makes disciplemakers of those who receive Him.
8. In summary, God’s plan is that a person is led to Christ (is evangelized), grows to maturity in Christ (is discipled) and walks in Christ as a disciple, living out the life God has planned for him, including making disciples of others (is sent forth).
From what we've seen in earlier posts, very few go on to live lives that look like Jesus or multiply themselves as disciplemakers. Instead, most believers go on to follow one or more of three common patterns, as shown in these last three illustrations.
9. Some don’t grow at all. To be fair, these new believers may not know how to. They don’t even plug into a local church. They certainly don’t seek or prove receptive to deep relationships with more mature believers who can and will intentionally help them grow in their new faith. Thus, these new believers continue living like the world, indistinguishable from unbelievers.
10. Many others do plug into a local church and become involved to one degree or another. But over time, there is very little real transformation and growth. Instead, these people are stuck on the religious treadmill They show up week after week, and may even be very involved in church activities. But is there any significant growth and transformation in their lives? Some of these believers may experience periods when they wonder if what they are experiencing is all there is to “the Christian life” or whether they are missing the “abundant life” Jesus promised to give. But what if these questioning believers see no other believers whose lives demonstrate such a difference? Or what if they don’t receive any discipling from this latter group? In all likelihood, they eventually will quit asking and will resign themselves to the treadmill. Or worse, they may drop out altogether.
11. Most of the rest earnestly desire to become all God intends them to be. But they don’t know how to get there. No one has shown them the way. So their growth looks like a spiritual roller-coaster and/or the proverbial “random walk.” The pieces never seem to come together, they aren’t sure just where they are on their journey, and they certainly could not help someone else get to wherever they are.
Clearly, for most believers, something is missing in their experience of becoming disciples. Based on Barna’s research, illustrations 9, 10, and 11 describe the situation for nine out of ten (89%) of believers in America. That leads me to ask: Of the three patterns of what tends to happen with most believers after receiving Christ, with which do you most identify? Why?