One of the misconceptions about discipleship I think we get wrong constantly is that discipleship is simply a function of growing in holiness. What I mean by this is that often when we think about becoming disciples, we think about becoming a less sinful version of ourselves. In reality, discipleship, according to Jesus has the end result of becoming like Him.
Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.
-Jesus, Luke 6:40
I think many of us have different ideas of what this looks like. Regardless of what you think this looks like, God has more in mind than a less-sinful-version-of-you. In reality, God is calling you not to be Jesus, but by the power of the Holy Spirit follow Jesus and reflect His very nature to the world around you.
There’s a progression to this that many fail to understand. We grow in stages. John the Apostle talks about this in his first epistle:
I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
-John the Apostle, 1 John 2:12-14
Obviously, John sees growth in godliness in this passage. But he lists three different stages of life in Christ that help us see discipleship differently: Fathers, young men, and children*. Each of these have characteristics that we could analyze, but I want us to look at this passage from just a slightly different angle. If I’m reading this right, these are all believers. Some have just recently accepted Christ (children), some have been with Christ longer and achieved some victory over sin (young men), and some have known Christ since the beginning (fathers).
Here’s the point: You may find yourself in one specific section of this passage. You may be a child in the faith, having just come to Christ. You may even be a young man (or woman) in the faith, who has overcome some level of sin and become stronger in your walk. But there is a progression here. Children shouldn’t stay children forever. Young men shouldn’t go forever without becoming fathers. We’re all called to continue progressing in our faith to the place of fatherhood.
One of the implications of this is that we all grow from knowing Christ as our savior, to overcoming our old lifestyle, to becoming one who truly knows God and passes on the life of Christ to others. I believe the church suffers currently because we all have visions of becoming young men (overcoming evil in our lives) but few of us have a vision for truly knowing Christ and becoming fathers (and mothers), passing on the life of Jesus on to new believers and helping grow them up in the faith.
When everyone in our churches believes they can grow to the place of spiritual fatherhood and begins to move in that direction, we begin to see the movement of the New Testament that Jesus started take shape. We don’t become gurus, instead we become those who know and love Christ and are helping others find that same love. We raise these children up to be young men (and women) and eventually fathers (and mothers). Spiritual families (called churches) begin to sprout up that result in more spiritual families over time.
My goal in writing this morning is that we understand that God has more for us. We aren’t designed to live forever bringing people to hear someone else teach God’s word. We are designed to become fathers and mothers in our own right and to help the children in the faith around us have spiritual children as well. Don’t believe you could never disciple someone. Don’t believe you can’t start a spiritual family. It’s in your spiritual DNA. It’s just a matter of growing up in the Lord.
*Don’t get hung up on gender language here. I’m part of the bride of Christ. Ladies are sons of God. The point isn’t the gender, the point is the stage of life.
Recently we’ve been discussing the power of understanding our position as sons and daughters of God. You can find the rest of the series “On Sonship” here.
Receiving True Sonship
I will not leave you as orphans;I will come to you. –John 14:16
The truth of the matter is it’s easy to write or talk about the orphan spirit. It’s a lot more difficult to instruct people on how to become legitimate sons and daughters. Part of the reason it’s so difficult is that there is no step by step process for receiving love from a father. Love gets communicated from a father (either God, our natural father, or our spiritual parents) in thousands of different ways, depending on who is giving love and who is receiving it.
But there are a few main ways that open the door for the Spirit of the Lord to produce the heart of a true son in us. My hope is to highlight six areas that open the door for sonship to be truly restored within us. If throughout this series you’ve found yourself lacking in the area of being a true son, then take one or two of these areas that strike you, go into your prayer closet and find out how God wants to lead you in this particular area.
If you’ve found yourself possessing an orphan spirit, you will want to do the following:
- Repent- First, you have to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ as the only way to God. The Bible is clear about the fact that when you receive Jesus as your savior from sin, you become His adopted brother and gain the God of the entire universe as your Father.
- Experience- Second, like we already have said, you can be a Christian and live like an orphan. You can even call God your Father, but until you experience God caring for you like a son or daughter, you will live an orphan lifestyle. The next step of the journey will require you to experience God as your Father. This will make the idea of God as a Father a reality in your heart. I would encourage you to continue to ask yourself “How would a good dad treat his son in this situation.” Then begin to pray and ask the Father to show you His fathering love through providing, directing, and counseling you in that situation, just like a good dad would do.
- Repent, again- Some of us became orphans because we had no fathers. Others of us live like orphans because we chose to leave our father’s house. Sometimes the reason we live out of an orphan mentality is because we’ve rejected the love of a natural or spiritual father God sent to us. Paul talks about the necessity of honoring our father and mother because it was the first commandment with a curse. When God first dealt with me on this subject, it was after I had truly received some of the His fathering love. I began to realize that much of my hurt had not come from my natural dad, but from my teenage angst that caused me to interpret his natural, disciplined love as unfairness. Sometimes our attitudes, rebellion, and anger can cause us to miss mature love that comes from both natural and spiritual fathers. This may require us to actually apologize to natural and spiritual fathers and mothers that we have rebelled against in the past. If we repent in these situations, it opens the door for fathering love to touch our spirits.
- Read- Much of our understanding of fathers and sons has been lost because of societal rebellion against previous generations that has occurred since the ’60’s. Because of that, very few individuals will truly understand the dynamics of healthy fathering relationships. One source that I’ve discovered a truly helpful window into the nature of father/son/daughter relationships is the book of Proverbs. The whole book is set in the context of a father imparting wisdom from God to his son, and if read in that context will give great insight into what we can expect to receive from God, from natural parents, and from spiritual fathers and mothers. It will also fill in many “wisdom-gaps” that are left over from living as an orphan.
- Find a spiritual father- One of the most overlooked ways of overcoming an orphan spirit is to find a spiritual father. God has designed the planet so that no Christian should be without a spiritual parent. Look around your life. Most likely there are people around you who are pouring into your walk with the Lord. These are people who are a little further along than you are. They are who you turn to for advise, counsel, and prayer. It’s crucial, though, that you’re looking for a spiritual parent and not a spiritual superstar. The spiritual parents God sends your way may not be in full-time ministry or even well known. None of that is necessary for God to restore you into your identity as a son. Just pray and ask Him to show you or send you those who will father you in the Lord.
- Become a spiritual parent-I remember lamenting throughout much of my twenties about the lack of spiritual parents. But as I began to grow in my walk with Christ, I realized that I was being fathered by the Lord as I took on more of the responsibility of fathering others. You may ask, “How can I be a spiritual parent if I’ve never been fathered by anyone myself?” In the Kingdom, when you give something you get more of it. If you step into the role of a spiritual parent, God will give you more of whatever little you’re able to give away. We begin to understand God’s role in fathering as we partner with Him in that process. If you are thirty years old or older, I would highly consider doing this until the Lord sends someone that is clearly designed to be your spiritual father.
This whole process does not rest only on your shoulders. God will come to you and be a father to you. He is always searching for lost sons who have forgotten their position. Take these steps, use them as a map back home, and I guarantee you that before you can even get any words out of your mouth, a loving Father will embrace you sooner than you can possibly imagine. The journey from being orphan to being a legitimate son begins with a first step. Let that first step begin now.
Other Posts in the “On Sonship” Series:
Photo Credit: Father and Son Surf Lesson in Morro Bay, CA 11 of 12 by mikebaird
Christians can be born again and not walk as sons and daughters of God. An orphan spirit undermines much of our walk with the Lord. But an understanding of our positions as sons and daughters of God is an inheritance that we cannot overvalue. The following series of articles express the great need we have to step into our identity as sons of God.