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How Does A New Believer Acquire Spiritual Understanding?

If a new believer is not instructed otherwise, he will typically appropriate the values and convictions of the Christians that he associates with during the formative first period of his new spiritual life, just as a child will tend to adopt the values and convictions of his family and peers.

Let’s say that a new Christian is brought into association with a group of Navigators (, who we would rightly expect to immediately begin to challenge the believer’s former values and convictions.  That believer is either going to adopt the Navigator’s values and convictions, or he will become so uncomfortable that he will seek a more “friendly” and less intrusive environment.

But what happens if there is not such a group of relatively mature mentors who will take the new believer under wing?  Typically the newer believer will be introduced into a congregation, where it is often assumed that “sitting under the preaching of the Word” will be sufficient to lead that new believer into a spiritually mature walk.  It is hoped that the negative traits observed in the congregation do not distort the new believer’s understanding.  Is that realistic?  We believe it is safe to say that most new believers will be impacted more by what they “see” other believers do, than what they “hear” them say.  If it can be said that a particular congregation is more spiritually mature, then it would be realistic to reason that the combination of “hearing” Biblical truth from a pastor/teacher, together with “seeing” Biblical spirituality modeled from the congregation, would be a tremendous help in the healthy spiritual growth of a new believer.  Leaders need to realistically evaluate the spiritual health of the congregation, asking themselves, “Do we want a new believer to become like the ‘typical’ member of this congregation?”  If the answer is no, then arrangements need to be put in place to impart Biblical values to new believers.

Example – Modeling affects how newer believers interpret the Bible.  A one-day workshop was taught on Discipleship and the Christian life.  A lady attended, and later that evening shared with her husband some of the spiritual concepts that had been discussed.  The next day the husband mentioned that after his wife had talked with him, he had taken another look at the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20.  He had always interpreted it as saying, “go and make converts”, but now realized that it indeed said, “go and make disciples”.  He was surprised that he hadn’t been reading it correctly.  Why had this happened?  We believe what is emphasized or de-emphasized (for instance, by omission or neglect) will bias the listener’s interpretation of the Bible (especially an impressionable newer believer) as to what has Biblical importance.  This Christian man had read the word “disciples”, but in reality the term had little significance, since what he was “hearing” and seeing “modeled” around him conveyed to him that what was really important was “making converts”.  In his mind the term “disciple” simply came to mean “convert” as a result of the definition presented to him by what he “heard” and “saw”.

Ideally, we should be able to place new believers into a congregational environment and have healthy spiritual growth with Biblical values and convictions.  Should a new believer not have the “right” to assume that older Christians have Biblical values and convictions?  Are you satisfied with the spiritual values and convictions of the congregation with which you are associated?  In many cases the answer would be “no”.  But when a newer believer is simply placed in the congregation without personal mentoring, is it not conveyed that he should feel “free to adopt” the spiritual values and convictions of that congregation?  Why should we expect otherwise?  Would I expect my child to acquire acceptable values and convictions if I allow him or her to associate with children whose values and convictions are unacceptable, yet I don’t object?  By not saying anything to the contrary, do I not convey to my child that the association meets my approval?

We should not expect the newer believer to understand much about the Christian walk.  It is only natural for newer believers to be mainly concerned with doing the right things, which means their focus is on external behavior.  As stated previously, a newer believer should be able to make the assumption that if he behaves like “older” Christians, then logically he’ll be behaving in an acceptable Biblical fashion, since those older Christians have “obviously” styled their behavior on Biblical patterns.  Right?  NOT!  Unfortunately, many older Christians have adopted their behavior from previous older Christians who they similarly “assumed” to be spiritual.  And so one generation follows the next.  Unwittingly, many Christian leaders are “conveying” approval of this natural human process, by not insuring that each new believer is personally helped through the first formative and critical period of the Christian walk.

While it is totally natural for new believers to begin their Christian walk focusing on “external behavior”, we believe it is God’s purpose for those believers to quickly begin to focus on living by “Biblical principles”.  Probably more than 90% of typical daily external behavior is not addressed specifically in the Bible.  The typical Christian will not “transition” from focusing on external behavior to focusing on Biblical principles, unless another Christian is willing to put the time and energy into helping them to understand God’s purposes and His process for producing spiritual growth.

Let’s look at several examples of adopting “external behavior” patterns:

How does a new believer evaluate the spiritually acceptable car to drive?  Clearly it is not a question addressed specifically in a Bible verse.  While the Bible doesn’t say, “thou shalt not drive a car valued at more than $45,000”, most Christians wouldn’t feel comfortable driving to church meetings in a Rolls Royce.  But who can find a verse that says it’s wrong?  A new believer walking through the church parking lot cannot avoid noticing that most affluent believers drive more expensive vehicles and less affluent believers tend to drive less expensive vehicles.  Imagine that, just like the world!

How about spiritually acceptable houses?  Same as for cars.  Most believers choose their houses, using the same principles as unbelievers do.  Unless a new believer is personally instructed as to Biblical values, why should we think they’ll come to any other conclusion than, “it must be okay, since older, wiser Christians have made that determination.  They know the Bible better than I do.  I’m just a new believer, what do I know?”

How about spiritually acceptable eating behaviors?  How obese is obese?  Is it 19% over normal?  How about 20% over normal?  Who decides what is "normal"?  If there are so many overweight believers (just like in the world), then obviously the new believer has to assume that Bible verses referring to obesity were really meant for believers in a different era, since the subject is not addressed in most congregations.

What about smoking, drinking alcohol, wasting time, excessive working, neglect of spouses and family, financial investment in possessions, the stock market, etc.  And the list goes on.  If the new believer is allowed to continue focusing on outward external behavior, rather than on Biblical principles, there is a high probability that the believer will grow into a “self-dependent” and “worldly-minded” Christian, practicing an externally acceptable spiritual life on the one hand (acceptable to Christian peers), while at the same time pursuing worldly goals of possessions, pleasures, power and popularity (to the extent they’re not offensive to Christian peers).

What do we mean by the terms “self-dependent” and “carnal”?

In the Bible we see a contrast between “spiritual believers” and “self-dependent (carnal) believers”.  This, we believe, is the contrast brought out in Proverbs 3:5-6, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding (insight – AMP); think about (acknowledge - AMP) Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.’

We also need to distinguish between “disposition” and “acts of behavior”.  What we “do” is an expression of what we “are”.  One of the best examples is the contrast between King David and King Saul (see also Lesson 3-3).  King David was described by God as a “spiritual man” (referring to the disposition of his heart).  Acts 13:22 – ‘After removing him [king Saul], He raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man loyal to Me, who will carry out all My will.’

But nobody would suggest that David's behavior was pleasing to God when he committed adultery and murder.  On the other hand, King Saul’s heart disposition was characterized by a pattern of “self-dependence”.  As a result, when faced with decisions related to behavior, King Saul consistently “leaned on his own human understanding”, rather than walk by faith in God’s leading.  It is important to note that Spiritual believers do not always trust God in every situation (see Paul in 2 Cor. 1:8-9 and 12:7), and “self-dependent” (“carnal”) believers often call upon the Lord in times of distress and crisis.

Another example is the clear contrast between Joshua and Caleb and the other ten Israelite tribal leaders (see also Lesson 3-4).  All were sent by God to survey the Promised Land.  All twelve men saw the same things, but only two men, Joshua and Caleb, had a “faithful” heart disposition that led them to trust God’s promise.  The other ten had a disposition of trusting in their own human reasoning, which led them to forfeit God’s intended blessings.  In Joshua 14:7-8, Caleb relates, ‘I was 40 years old when Moses the Lord’s servant sent me from Kadesh-barnea to scout the land, and I brought back an honest report (according to my convictions - NIV).  My brothers who went with me caused the people’s hearts to melt with fear, but I remained loyal to the Lord my God (wholeheartedly – NIV).’

In Numbers 14:24, God says of Caleb, ‘… since My servant Caleb has a different spirit and has followed Me completely, I will bring him into the land where he has gone, …’

In these discipleship materials, we use the term “spiritual” to describe believers who have chosen to acknowledge God as the One who can best oversee and manage their lives, and who view themselves as “servants of God their Master” (Lordship).  We use the terms “self-dependent” and “carnal” to describe believers who have either willingly, or ignorantly, not chosen to acknowledge and accept the authority and Lordship of Christ over their life.  Unfortunately, we believe the Biblical concept of “self-dependence” would characterize about 70-80% of believers found in the American evangelical Christian community.

Again, we need to be careful to apply the terms “spiritual” and “self-dependent” (carnal) to “heart attitude” (disposition) rather than to “external behavior”.  If we convey to others that the terms “spiritual” or “self-dependent” refer mainly to external behavior, then we will be unconsciously promoting the misconception of focusing on external behavior, rather than the Biblical concept of focusing on the “internal transformation”, from which external behavior is derived.

Romans 12:1-2  Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

Matthew 12:34  … For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.


Are congregational meetings not designed for the “equipping” of the saints so that they (each one) will in turn spiritually impact the lives of those with whom they interact?

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.

Ephesians 4:11-16

Why is it that many children of believers become resistant to the values of their parents?

Some would attribute that resistance to the enemy’s attacks against the Christian parent.  That is certainly an occurrence that can’t be ignored.  However, we suspect that in many cases what the child sees modeled in the home has more impact than what the child is told.  In other words, a parent will typically make declarations of Biblical values and convictions, but the child will not adopt those same stated values and convictions unless there is a consistency in the everyday living out of those stated values.  If I tell my child about the importance of living for eternity, but then demonstrate by my life that this temporary life on earth is of great importance, which will they believe, my words or my life?  It is relatively easy for a Christian leader to portray a consistent spiritual life to those with whom they only have short periods of contact each week, but it is very difficult to hide the real life values and convictions from children who are continually watching, and imitating.

The newer believer understands the foundational doctrine of salvation by grace through Christ.  Now he wants to build on that truth, but isn’t quite sure how to go about it.  Is it reasonable to simply give him a Bible and expect him to effectively grow to spiritual maturity?

It is possible, but we think it is the exception.  Because some new believers do seem to grow spiritually with little individual mentoring, a false impression can be given.  We are tempted to ask, “Why can’t more Christians grow like that?”  Isn’t it also true that in the secular world there are those who excel without much help from others?  But are they not the exception?  For instance, we can hand a computer manual to 100 people who have no prior computer understanding.  A few will manage, with difficulty, to eventually figure things out.  But the vast majority will become frustrated and decide that a computer really isn’t worth all the hassle.  Many Christians, left on their own, reach the same conclusion regarding the Christian life.  Which would you prefer, to be given a computer manual to learn on your own, or to have someone take the time to personally tutor you through the beginning phases and answer your questions?  We could truthfully state that the manual has all the knowledge you’ll need, and it is clearly presented.  How about building a house on a foundation?  How many inexperienced men would enjoy being handed blueprints and a manual for building a house, and be expected to do a decent job?  Not many.

I'm Saved, now what?

Some might argue that the Holy Spirit alone should be the new believer’s Teacher.  The Biblical analogy of a new believer being like a “baby” carries little meaning if we don’t accept the analogous implications.  Does the command to “make disciples” simply convey the idea of handing someone a Biblical manual?  Does the Holy Spirit not expect older Christians to be available for His use in the process of spiritual parenting, just as He wants them to be available as witnesses when He chooses to convict an unbeliever?

Here's a Bible, just read it.

Perhaps one guide for measuring the true spirituality of a congregation would be the level of conviction that an unbeliever experiences while in the presence of the believers.  Does not 1 Cor. 14:24-25 lead us to believe that if the congregation is truly spiritual and an unbeliever happens to enter, that the unbeliever should feel uncomfortable?  ‘But if all are prophesying and some unbeliever or uninformed person comes in, he is convicted by all and is judged by all. The secrets of his heart will be revealed, and as a result he will fall facedown and worship God, proclaiming, “God is really among you.’

In a spiritually healthy congregation should spiritual reproduction not be observable and measurable?  Should spiritual parenting (spiritual tutoring) not be the norm, rather than the exception?


PARABLE OF THE SOWER (One interpretation)
Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23  &  Luke 8:4-8, 12-15

Lk. 8:4  ... He (Jesus) said in a parable:
Lk. 8:11 This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.


Lk. 8:5 A sower went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the sky ate it up.
Lk. 8:12 The seed along the path are those who have heard and then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
NOTE: Obviously “unsaved” people who have rejected the message of salvation.
Mt. 13:5-6 Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. (Lk. 8:6  … lacked moisture)
Mt. 13:20-21 And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles.
 NOTE: It appears that these people “intellectually” accept the message of salvation, but then reject the implications of a relationship with God, once they realize that it is not what they had originally anticipated.
(Perhaps John 6:60-66 is an example?)
Lk. 8:7 Other seed fell among thorns; the thorns sprang up with it and choked it.
Lk. 8:14 As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. (Mt. 13:22 making it unfruitful).
 NOTE: These people evidently receive Christ as Savior, but either through lack of understanding or willingly, some do not acknowledge His lordship over their life, while others simply allow the distractions of this world to choke off the Holy Spirit’s fruit, thereby forfeiting the associated blessings and rewards that God had intended for them.
Mt. 13:8 Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown.
Mt. 13:23 But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.”
NOTE: These people are saved, have acknowledged His lordship over their life, and are to varying degrees allowing the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit through their life, resulting in blessings here on earth and rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

* Note: If personal discipleship were the common church practice, we believe the number in Group #3 would be greatly diminished, and the number in Group #4 would be greatly increased.

The Common Perspective of Christian Congregations
vs. the Biblical Perspective

 Common perspective    Biblical


These Christians appear to have wholeheartedly acknowledged His Lordship in their life, be walking in fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and seem to be bearing spiritual fruit.  “Spiritual”

“Acceptable” These Christians don’t exhibit excessive negative outward behavior.
These Christians may regularly attend church services, give financially, and be involved in other Christian activities.  They will quickly acknowledge God’s presence in their life, but do not exhibit much passion for the Lord, or understanding of wholehearted surrender to His Lordship.
“Self-dependent” (carnal)

“Self-dependent” (carnal)

These Christians tend to exhibit questionable negative outward behavior, such as on-going marriage, relational or financial problems, addictions, etc.
They may or may not regularly attend church services, or consistently give financially.  They may be involved in some Christian activities.  They will quickly acknowledge God’s presence in their life.  Counseling is often seen as the recommended recourse.  Their salvation may be in doubt.
1  These individuals are usually recognized as being unsaved. 1



Typical Discipled and Undiscipled Believers

I (Paul) planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. Now the one planting and the one watering are one in purpose, and each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s coworkers. You are God’s field, God’s building.      (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)


Note for discipler: The purpose of this lesson is to present the typical results that can be expected when a new believer is given personalized individual attention during the critical formative development period of their Christian life, and the typical results that can be expected if the new believer is not given the needed attention during that time.  Obviously there are those who grow and have a reasonable fruitful spiritual life in spite of having received little personal attention – but they are the exception.

01  Physical Birth to Spiritual Rebirth

02  Evangelism phase – This represents the period of time during which the Holy Spirit is revealing to the unbeliever his lost condition before a holy God.  Generally, the Holy Spirit will use a combination of His Word, a believer(s) and circumstances as instruments to draw the unbeliever to Himself.

John 12:32  (Jesus said) As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to Myself.”
John 16:8  When He (the Holy Spirit) comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment

03  The Cross – This event is the most important single event in a human’s life.  The person has passed from “death” (separated from God) to “life” (in which the Lord indwells the believer).

John 5:24  (Jesus said) “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.

04  Discipleship phase (Spiritual Parenting) – (For a biblical model of discipleship, see
1 Thess. 2:3-13 in Lesson 2-2) – The typical new believer will never be more open to being personally discipled than at this stage of his Christian life.  Hence there is a window of opportunity in which the believer’s worldview can be greatly impacted.  As can be attested to by many experienced believers, the personal attention and guidance afforded the new Christian during this period can have a huge influence on later spiritual development.  Conversely, many Christians who have not had the needed personal spiritual guidance early on in their Christian life will lament having had to go through much avoidable confusion, struggles and fruitlessness.

05  Discipled believer – The new Christian who receives personal attention and guidance in their new walk with the Lord will typically find the transition to a Master-servant relation relatively natural.  At this stage the issue of who will manage the direction of their life will not be overly threatening to them, as they become increasingly aware of His love and care.  As the Lord oversees this process of growth we would typically expect the new believer to be filled with anticipation, not dread, as he begins to witness God’s sovereign involvement in his life.
The believer who understands and yields to His lordship will increasingly perceive the Lord as the One around whom their life revolves, in contrast to the believer who still thinks that they’re the one around whom the world revolves.  It has been suggested that most dogs display a loyalty to their master in a way that could serve as a model for believers, in that they tend to understand their role as submissive and obedient servants.  They typically don’t expect to be served by their master.

06Undiscipled believer – If a new believer is not given adequate personal attention and guidance during this important first phase, but is simply placed into corporate settings with other Christians, they can usually be expected to display spiritual traits that are characteristic of the peers with whom they associate.  Left on their own they will typically adopt a lifestyle in which they will attempt to balance their spiritual and secular lives in an acceptable way, resulting in a compartmentalization of their life, as they strive to rationalize and reconcile values and behavior that they recognize are not compatible with the Bible.  This of course is the product of unsuccessfully attempting to manage the direction of their own life and spiritual development.
Many older Christians honestly yearn for a closer relationship with God, but have never had that relationship clearly explained to them.  Many incorrectly conclude that God simply wants them to do their best, or that the Christian life is just too difficult for them to clearly understand.
A distorted “partnership” mentality is often the outcome of a failure to receive proper biblical guidance as to what the normal Christian life should look like.  It has been suggested that a cat could represent these believers who have not yet yielded to His Lordship, in that the typical cat tends to display an attitude of indifference, unsubmissiveness and independence.

07  Rewards Ceremony – The Judgment Seat of Christ should not be seen as a threat, but rather as a motivator for allowing the Lord to manage the direction and spiritual development of one’s life, which will result in a maximizing of fruitfulness.  If the Holy Spirit is allowed to manage the spiritual construction in a Christian’s life, He will produce the best possible eternal creation.

The system you have in place is perfectly designed for the results you are getting.

Man In The Mirror seminar – 2004

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