DISCIPLING THE NEW BELIEVER

-by Brigadier Ian Dobbie

Introduction

The arrival of a new infant into a human family is rightly cause for joy and happiness. Jesus taught that the arrival of a new Christian is cause for joy not only on earth but also in Heaven - "there will be more rejoicing over one sinner who repents"(1) However just as a new-born human-being is weak, vulnerable and in need of love and nurture, so also is the new believer who has just been born again.(2) The parallel continues, for in the same way as a baby matures into sturdy adulthood through the correct application of Food, Air and Exercise, so the new Christian needs the spiritual equivalents throughout his earthly pilgrimage.

This article emphasises the early and developing use of these resources, but not without first stating that an assured welcome into the Christian family is of paramount importance. That welcome from other Christians, all rejoicing and glorying in Christís finished work of redemption on their behalf at the cross, all confident of their standing as forgiven people due to His word of promise, and now incorporated as God the Fatherís adopted sons and daughters into His family, will encourage the new believer enormously.

Food - The Bible

It is noteworthy that new Christians are instructed to "crave pure spiritual milk" or in the Authorised Version "to desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby".(3) Elsewhere the writer to the Hebrews reveals his disappointment at the poor progress or backsliding of his Jewish Christian readers and regrets their unreadiness for "solid food".(4)

The new Christian should be thrilled to discover the Bible as a new book, and he should be encouraged from the start to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" it(5) in private and in public situations. Indeed cultivating the habit of beginning and ending each day with Godís word is worthy of immediate action. It is good to listen to the Lordís opinions each day before listening to the worldís. From what he reads, preferably using an ordered, consecutive system with explanatory notes, the new Christian can look for promises to claim, warnings to heed, commands to obey and something new of the character and purposes of God. He will find it profitable to learn some of these and their references off by heart. The Holy Spirit has a wonderful way of bringing these to remembrance at the apposite time. Markís Gospel, which is the shortest, and the first Epistle of John, which was written to bring new believers to assurance of their salvation, are recommended as ideal books with which to begin personal Bible reading.

As the new Christianís appetite grows, he should be drawn to well-chosen Christian books. For example he will find Christian biography absorbing and commentaries indispensible. Within a year or two he should be ready to read a book which presents essential Christian doctrine simply and attractively: for just as individual species of plant and flower are gathered in a botanical garden for closer study which opens the secrets of the natural world, so also a grasp of doctrine can give a better understanding of the Gospel as whole.* The new believer also needs to be directed to places where he can be fed spiritually in public in the company of the Lordís people. This may be through joining a Bible study group where he can benefit from learning with others and seeing how Godís word can be applied. Yet he will also derive advantage from listening to accurate, clear, warm-hearted expository Biblical preaching. He will not be content with a shallow homily, but rather seek authoritative teaching which strengthens his relationship with his Saviour. He will understand the saying of Martin Luther: "We go to the Scriptures for the same reason as the shepherds went to the manger - to view Christ".

Air - Prayer

The Christian life begins with a man or woman praying the equivalent of the tax-collectors prayer - "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner".(6) The new Christian can now be encouraged to pray to God the Father in the name of God the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.(7) He may find a structure helpful - ACTS - an acronym for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. Under these four headings a methodical prayer life may be developed. If this is combined with the morning and evening Bible reading outlined already, he will have the opportunity to pray in what he has read and learnt. This combined discipline, sometimes called the Quiet Time, may not be specifically commanded in Scripture, but it would be hard to identify any Christian who, having formed this habit, has ever regretted it.

As with Bible study, so also the young believerís prayer life may develop through a corporate dimension. Many Bible study groups conclude by members sharing needs and praying for one another and giving thanks for answers received. If there is a church prayer meeting, the attendance of the new Christian may help that church to avoid that regrettable, but alas all-too-frequent, statistic of this activity being the worst attended in the programme! But it may be in the company of just one or two believers in a prayer triplet that his confidence to pray out loud first developes. It is wise for this and other small personal meetings to be undertaken with someone of the same sex and on a regular, ideally, weekly basis.

Exercise - Witness

The best churches and fellowships could be described as a mixture of spiritual maternity wards and gymnasiums! Not only are new Christians born there, they are also strengthened by exercising their faith. They are encouraged to testify to their salvation. "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so".(8) The new Christian may be amazed at how he is not only used from his earliest days as a believer to encourage seasoned Christians but also by his effectiveness at drawing his unsaved colleagues under the influence of the Gospel. This may be in personal conversation or by invitation to a presentation of Christian truth. He may find it helpful to present the way of salvation to an older Christian, acting as an unbeliever who offers the common excuses made by men to refuse the claims of Christ on their lives. This will help the young Christianís understanding of the Gospel and his skill in explaining it if the exercise is followed by an unhurried debrief with an open Bible.

Spiritual gifts are usually natural gifts sanctified. This is not surprising for what the Lord gives in creation is available to be put to His use after a man has been redeemed. The older Christian may be able to discern, test and encourage the young believer in what field his strongest suit in Christian service may be: but all Christians are saved to serve their heavenly Master, and there are to be "no drones in Godís beehive"!

All Christians are called to be "salt" and "light".(9) In spiritual, domestic and professional responsibilities our allegiance to Christ is to be manifest. As the new believer reads Godís word and prays through issues, a Christlike influence will emerge in all these areas. Growth may be faster in some than others, but the concept of "sowing and reaping" occurs often in the New Testament, and all Christians need to be reminded that this process is occurring continuously in thought, word and deed for good or ill.(10) Adherence to this principle will help to lead the new believer into true Biblical worship - not just singing and praying! - but presenting our whole bodies as "a living sacrifice, wholly acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable worship".(11)

Conclusion

The "busyness" of this short article is a reminder of how much all Christians have to learn. The process of "learning Christ"(12) (a true definition of a disciple) never ceases this side of Heaven. In the Christian life the learner status is never forsaken. Those who seek to encourage, rebuke (in love!) and train new believers will need to lead by example and be patient. The three themes of Food, Air and Exercise with their spiritual equivalents are offered to help focus on priorities in "presenting every man mature in Christ".(13)

The following are especially recommended and are available in most well stocked Christian bookshops:
Commentaries
All of "The Bible Speaks Today" Commentaries
"Expository Thoughts on the Gospels" by Bishop JC Ryle
The New Bible Commentary - IVP

Biographies
All or any written by John Pollock

Doctrine
"Know the Truth" by Bruce Milne

General
"Basic Christianity" by John Stott
"Know and tell the Gospel" by John Chapman
"Turning Points" by Vaughan Roberts
"Understanding the Bible" by JRW Stott

 

Notes:
1. Luke 15 v7
2. John 3 v1-15
3. 1Pet 2 v2
4. Heb 5 12-14
5. Collect for 2nd Sunday in Advent
6. Luke 18 v13
7. John 16 v23-24
8. Psalm 107 v2
9. Matt 5 v13-16
10. Gal 6 v7-10
11. Rom 12 v1-2
12. Eph 4 v20(AV)
13. Col 1 v28(AV)


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