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.
God gives us spiritual parents.
One of the things that I love about God is how incredibly practical He is. Even though He is willing to give us Himself as a father, he knows that we were designed to live in relationship with other beings with skin. God stoops down to our level, changes us with His fathering heart, and even goes one step farther: He sends spiritual parents in our lives.
A spiritual parent is a human being who knows Christ as their Lord and is tasked with bringing you as an individual into your full sonship in God. Paul said to the Corinthians that though they had many teachers in Christ, they had one father—himself (1 Corinthians 4:15). He had become a father to the whole Corinthian church through being the first to bring the Gospel to Corinth. Paul had a special relationship because of that act that always gave him permission to speak into their messy situations. In an ideal setting, the person who led you to Jesus should be one of your primary spiritual parents. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
When a person comes to Christ, if the person that lead them to Jesus is either absent or non-existent (meaning the person came to know Jesus by simply reading the Bible, finding a tract, etc.) then a spiritual adoption must occur. When this happens, spiritually mature, well-fathered believers can and should reach out to new believers and assume the fathering role in their Christian walk. While this is not the best scenario for spiritual parenting, it will work in a pinch.
The goal of these spiritual parents is to raise these spiritual sons and daughters into their new Kingdom identity. The spiritual parent is tasked with loving with the Father’s love and being a physical representative of the Heavenly Father in the new believer’s life. Spiritual parents also will become channels of wisdom passed down from other believers (2 Timothy 2:1-2). They will also bring discipline and correction to those areas that are in need of it. Most who think they are spiritual parents believe it is done primarily through teaching. In reality, sonship is taught through life lived together, love shared, and wisdom passed on in life as situations arise. Spiritual parents are constantly “re-presenting” God as Father, so that the lies we naturally believe about God are dispelled.
It’s through this process of mirroring God the Father, teaching new sons how to experience sonship, and being a tangible fathering force that these spiritual parents reproduce spiritual sons. In the end the sons and daughters they raise will raise spiritual children of their own, because they’ve been well fathered. This process, continued for many generations of disciples, would pass on and expand the circle of family and sonship that God designed to rest on all of humanity.
God raises sons and daughters through natural parents, Himself, and spiritual parents. And now that we understand how God raises His children, we have to turn our attention to combatting the orphan mentality in us and in others. We’ll begin looking at that next week….
The last few weeks we’ve been discussing the implications of sonship on our walk with Christ. If you’re interested, you can check out the previous posts in the series here:
God fathers us Himself.
God has always been a father. He was the father of our Lord Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world (Colossians 1:2-3, John 17:24), He was a father to Israel (Hosea 11:1), and He has been a father to the church of every generation. God has designed the world so that even though children are born without fathers (or born with terrible fathers), He will be a father to the fatherless. Psalms 68:5-6 describes how God protects the orphan and sets the lonely in families. This is something God does because He is a father.
We see this play out specifically when a man or a woman turns from their sin and accepts Christ as the leader of his or her life. At that point God gives us “the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15). This radical adoption breaks off every form of fear and abandonment and it is God’s answer to the harsh reality that not everyone has a good dad to call their own.
This Spirit of adoption is not just a warm, fuzzy love feeling, it’s much more practical than that. I know of one brother who really had very little fathering growing up. When he became a believer, he found himself totally unable to do simple things that a father usually teaches a son. His testimony is he held on to the promise that the Lord would be a father to him and God literally fathered him into adulthood. God would actually speak to him things a father would teach his son. But even if you’ve grown up knowing how to function in life, a father gives more than just instructions. His fathering presence frees us from the fear and insecurity that plagues mankind and stops us from every really achieving anything significant. Do not minimize the impact of being fathered by the One who created the role Himself.
When we come to know Christ, we gain access to God as our father. But like we started this series off saying, many people come to know Christ but never transition out of the orphan mindset. There are several major reasons for this, but one main reason is we were designed to relate to beings with skin. God hasn’t left us alone in that arena. He’s even prepared for that. We’ll look at that next time…
We’ve been discussing for the last few weeks what it means to operate out of an orphan spirit. However, it’s not enough just realize there is a problem. We have flesh out how a person goes from living as an orphan to being a legitimized son of the Kingdom. God has designed the human experience so that no matter what your situation, you can experience the love of a Father and a family.
Most of us believe God creates sons only one way. In fact there are several major ways, all designed to reinforce and strengthen a person’s identity as a child of God. Since this love comes to us from different sources, each has a different degree of impact if we miss it. If we understand the ways in which the love a father creates true sons, then we can better address the orphan mentality that is so prevalent in our day. So how does God make us true sons?
God creates son in three main ways: God gives us natural parents, God fathers us Himself, and God gives us spiritual fathers.
God gives us natural fathers*.
Most of us enter the planet with this as the governing reality of our lives. In the ideal situation, our fathers loved us, disciplined us, pursued our hearts, and helped us become functioning adults. This reality is so prevalent that Jesus would point to unredeemed fathers and use them to showcase the heart of God (Luke 11:11-13).
The reality however is that not every child is born into a family with a father. Some fathers chose to walk out of the lives of their kids. Other children have their fathers taken from them by disease, violence, or war. Still other children have fathers in their lives, but they are emotionally absent or worse.
The point is while every child has a biological father, not every child receives the benefit of having one in their lives. Thankfully, God has other modes of raising children. We’ll look at those next week.
Here’s the question for this week’s post: How has your natural father raised you as a legitimate son? Not everyone has had this experience, so if you have, share a little bit of your reality in the comment section.
* This is not to deny the need for natural mothers. Mothers are also absolutely essential. The lack of a godly mother has a similarly significant effect on the lives of children. However, for the purpose of this post, we will focus primarily on the impact of natural fathers.
Sonship requires one thing: effective fathering. If you have been fathered well, you will be both a legitimate son and a legitimate father down the road. If you have been fathered poorly, you will operate out of an orphan mentality. That orphan mentality not only affects your time as a son, it affects your time as a father as well. This is a hard truth to hear, but our entire lives are lived based on the degree of fathering we have received.
Sons live this reality out on a daily basis. A well fathered son is confident in his dad’s love. There’s a reason—the son did nothing to earn that love. He was brought into this world through the love of the father and he has been pursued as an individual by his father. Good fathers pursue their sons. This consistent love creates a sense of identity- the son belongs to his father’s family and he wouldn’t trade that position for anything the world can offer.
Sons also are the recipients of generations of wisdom that comes from their fathers. Well-fathered sons not only benefit from the wisdom that has been passed from father to son over generations, but they pass it on themselves. This may seem like a small thing but it’s one of the most undervalued aspects of father-son relationships. Sons who couldn’t or wouldn’t take their fathers’ wisdom spend years of their life rebelling against aspects of life that will not change. If they are wise enough to change, they then spend massive amounts of time learning from hard knocks what could have been taught to them by a voice of experience.
Sonship not only comes with love and privileges, but also responsibility. Father’s teach their sons that they have a role to play in a growing family that requires sacrifice and dedication. We understand some of this naturally, but much of it is taught by fathers who care enough to teach the meaning of responsibility and work. Sons begin to understand they are not just an object of affection, but a participant in their family’s existence. This realm of responsibility is developed in a son by a father exercising discipline. Discipline can be both positive and negative experiences (which is a whole other blog post in itself) but they create an internal motivation to care for self and family in a child that is self-replicating. That means a son will grow up and teach the same principles to his son after him, hopefully for many generations.
What happens if this process is aborted and a son is not well-fathered? Unless there is some form of intervention, a son will begin to operate as an orphan. This orphan mentality will cause an individual to lose all sense of self-worth and identity. Even if a son is successful, he will constantly be insecure and need to prove himself over and over again to those around him. The son operating as an orphan will neglect and reject wisdom from all sources of authority, because the main authorities in his life have rejected him. He will walk in foolishness, unable to hear hard words that come packaged in love as anything other than rejection. He will be responsible to only himself. His self discipline will be minimal and there will be areas of his life constantly spinning out of control. He may sire children but he will never father them. While he hates being an orphan he will only create more orphans just like himself.
We are facing a generation full of men and women in their twenties and thirties consumed in these realities. Their parents were part of a generation consumed with throwing off authority and living for themselves, and very few of this generation are well-fathered. Because of this reality they lack identity, wisdom, and discipline. Yet this is the very generation that will be leading the world and serving the church. (If you want to see a great example of how this plays out in the secular arena, read this article here.) Because of this crisis, the reality of our sonship in Christ will take on great significance in the years ahead.
We’ll look at God’s answer for the oprhan spirit in weeks to come. For now, tell us how God has given you these qualities of identity, wisdom, and discipline. Did they come from your father or someone else? Let us know in the comments below.