Growth And Change

By Stephen Campbell

What does a caterpillar think when it sees a butterfly? We might imagine that the caterpillar can’t wait to get its wings! For that to happen, there is an amazing process of change. Through a quiet, private time of development, an earth-bound crawler becomes a beautiful, independent, free-flying creature. This natural process is an excellent metaphor for the development which every Christian ought to experience as we move out of childhood, through our teen years and into adulthood. It is challenging to take on new responsibilities and see the world through more mature eyes, recognizing the reality of life’s complications and the world’s evils. But where there are challenges, there are opportunities! The Bible presents very helpful guidelines about these aspects of life as we grow and mature.

A Moral Contest 
One of the most significant principles spreads itself like a shade tree over much of our Christian lives. Hebrews 5:14 defines mature Christians this way: “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (NKJV). This type of exercise refers to intense, dedicated athletic training. Athletes who participate in competition will rearrange their entire lives in order to compete successfully. Christians should anticipate a moral contest of even greater intensity, and therefore we need to train our senses to determine what is good. We do not define what is good because God has done that in His Word; but we must discern what is good, applying His Word to our circumstances and beliefs about life. This is a Spirit-guided habit of mind as we learn to evaluate the options we face. Some alternatives are truly evil, and some are inherently good. Other choices may simply be a waste of time since even certain activities that are acceptable in themselves can become a weight on our spiritual lives (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23).

Notice how our verse in Hebrews 5 emphasizes that this discernment develops only through frequent use. Christians who merely float with the current of life, accepting what comes without ever flexing this muscle of spiritual analysis, will never advance to maturity. This happens often, unfortunately, and many Christians reach older ages physically without developing at the same pace spiritually. It is healthy for young Christians to resolve, or deliberately decide, never to become lazy, indifferent middle-aged Christians. God will always provide guidance for that kind of determination. The teenager Daniel purposed in his heart to follow God’s Word, and as a result God established Daniel’s service into his old age (Dan. 1:8,17,21). Even though Daniel was immersed in Babylonian culture in many ways, he knew how to identify and avoid the things that were sinful.

Connected with this habit of discernment is the reality that the world is always changing. Every generation of Christians will be confronted with obstacles that the previous generation did not experience in the same way. Careers change, technology develops, cultural norms shift and morality is redefined. Some of these alterations are not bad, just different; but others actually attack the underpinnings of the Christian faith. As we develop Christian maturity we learn to make distinctions between the changes.

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about this process in 2 Timothy 3:10-17. Timothy had already received good teaching from Paul and others, which formed his foundation. However, because evil would continue to advance, Timothy had to understand how to continue in what he had learned (vv.13-14). Every believer needs to develop a Christian perspective that properly applies the Scriptures to new situations. It is a process of continual renewal that identifies what those biblical principles mean in the contemporary world.

Growth Areas 
Among all the experiences of the Christian life, this aspect of moral development is perhaps the most essential. It starts with the smallest of decisions, such as being honest and becoming known as a person of integrity. Keep your promises; be a dependable worker; avoid impure conversations and flee sexual temptations. Just as you might be diligent in a habit of physical exercise, remember that daily spiritual exercise is the only way to train your senses so they can discern good and evil.

Other aspects of maturity grow out of this moral development. Here are a few of them:

  • Develop financially. Learn to manage money, saving it wisely and spending it well. Don’t buy junk or be tempted by luxury. Realize that cars, apartments and adult responsibilities are a constant money drain; prepare for those future demands. Learn to be generous when others have needs. Many sorrows come to those who hoard money because they love the idea of being rich (1 Tim. 6:9-10); but the Lord blesses those who have learned to be generous stewards of what He has provided (Prov. 11:25).
  • Develop relationally. Be kind. Learn to make conversation with both friends and strangers. Show interest in others by asking about their lives rather than talking about yourself (Phil. 2:4). Compliment and thank those who accomplish good things. Learn to handle conflicts by addressing rather than ignoring them. Furthermore, if the Lord brings a potential spouse into your life, identify important spiritual qualities before seeking to deepen that relationship. If the Lord continues to guide you together, don’t shy away from marriage (Prov. 18:22).
  • Develop physically. Take care of your health. Eat well and stay in good physical condition. Accept the body God gave you, but don’t make excuses that lead to bad physical habits. Understand that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and therefore avoid drunkenness and other influences which damage that dwelling place (Eph. 5:18). Stay physically active; laziness is a habit that feeds on itself and leads only to ruin (Prov. 24:30-34).
  • Develop spiritually. This is the culmination of mature development. Learn the major doctrines of the Bible and their relevance to daily life. Recognize that the Scriptures are as important to the spirit as milk and food are to the body. Distinguish between living by faith and living by sight, and obey God’s instructions despite outside influences. Seek to know your spiritual gift; then stir it up so you become a giver in the body of Christ, not just a receiver. Whether you are a man or a woman, learn what it means to be a spiritual priest, cultivating a spirit of worship as you fulfill all roles the Lord has given you (1 Pet. 2:5-9).

As you develop in all these aspects of life it may surprise you that many of your Christian friends might be unwilling to travel that road with you. They may even disapprove of your focus and determination. In reality it has always been that way. For instance, the apostle Paul deeply appreciated Timothy’s companionship in service, but he added that very few people had matured to the extent of this younger believer. To paraphrase Paul’s words in Philippians 2:19-21, “Timothy truly cares about the Lord’s people, but it seems at though no one else does. Everyone else pays more attention to their own concerns than to the interests of Christ Jesus!” It may sometimes seem to you that remaining devoted to the Lord is a lonely life, but be encouraged! When your ordinary life is yielded to Him, He will accomplish lasting results through you in the lives of others.

A Note For Teachers 
It would be good at this point to add a few encouragements for older Christians too. While those who are older often have a genuine desire to assist younger believers, we often act as if we believe they are second-class Christians. For example, have you ever heard the sentence, “Here is a point I would like to make for the young people”? Although well-intentioned, statements like this imply that teenagers and college students are somewhat immature and therefore have probably not been able to understand the previous comments – but now, at last, here is a thought that is finally simple enough for them. That is actually rather demeaning, isn’t it? On the other hand, if the previous comments have indeed been obscure and hard to understand, it might surprise the speaker to know that the young people are not the only ones who have been waiting for clearer teaching!

Along the same lines, it is helpful to recognize that the principles which benefit young people are important for all Christians. When believers of different ages are assembled together to hear God’s Word, those who teach the Scriptures would do well to avoid preaching specifically to the young people. If a point is presented in the context of teenagers and their decisions, it should also be specifically applied to other ages and stages of life. A few Bible passages do indeed emphasize younger believers, but for the most part all Christians need the same spiritual guidelines. Remember that lambs primarily need food, while it is the mature sheep who need oversight and guidance from the shepherd (Jn. 21:15-16). Adults have many more opportunities to go astray! Let’s not focus our teaching on young people in a style that implies we can barely trust them to make spiritual decisions. In fact, it is more likely that older brothers and sisters need to be reminded to live not for this world but for the world that is to come.

Moreover, those who speak to young people often review their own experiences when they were the same age. While this can be helpful, it is important to remember that every generation faces unique circumstances. Categories of temptation and sin are always the same; but the world which teenagers, university students and young adults inhabit is not the world of 50 years ago or even 15 years ago. Therefore it is important to acknowledge that the spirit of the age has changed; things previously considered shameful are celebrated today, and vice versa. Recognize that young people have to apply the Scriptures in their world, not ours. However, it’s beautiful to offer the eternal Word of God as the changeless foundation for every generation! What a privilege to establish students and twenty-somethings in their faith and in “the present truth” which is relevant in every era (2 Pet. 1:12).

The Biblical Worldview 
Returning to our encouragement for students and young adults, it is a powerful thing to recognize that God is at work in your life at every age. Reviewing the aspects of moral, physical and spiritual development, we see clearly that not one of them requires a special calling. Instead, all of them are simply normal aspects of life that have been brought under the authority of Christ – and that is a lifestyle which every believer can pursue.

No caterpillar ever becomes ready in an instant for butterfly wings. Metamorphosis is required, and it’s a transformative process that initiates a complete turnabout in focus, habit and lifestyle. But that transformation is precisely the proof that God is at work! When the butterfly emerges it is no longer a creeper upon the earth, rather it is a creature of the sky. In the same way, with the help of the Lord, every Christian who develops a biblical perspective of the world will live for God effectively and powerfully in daily life. May the Lord guide your daily activities as you seek Him.