By far, the most incredible privilege I’ve had in church planting is to be present when someone responds to the gospel and turns in faith to Jesus Christ. In that moment, this new Christian has moved from spiritual death to spiritual life (John 5:24). Their allegiance has changed from focusing on self to living for Christ (Gal. 2:20). The apostle Paul, writing to the Colossians, captures this incredible change: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).
Praise God for the change He brings spiritually into a person’s life when they believe! As fellow Christians, God then allows us the privilege and responsibility to come alongside new believers and disciple them toward Christ-likeness by taking steps of spiritual growth. We can help new Christians grow spiritually in two ways: giving context to their new identity and directing them to key actions of response.
1. Give Context: Identity Drives Activity
There can be a general confusion on what first steps to take with a new believer. When I was younger, I heard that the first steps of discipleship were Bible reading and prayer. After some years in the church, I heard of a wider set of actions, such as evangelism, worship and serving, connected to Bible study and prayer. For sure, all these actions have a good and correct place in building up one’s spiritual life and I believe we should help new Christians see their importance.
However, I would suggest the first step to take with a new believer is to help them understand their new identity in Christ. A larger principle is important here: God created us to be worshipers – responders to His loving rule, faithful provision and merciful care over us. This identity and call to response is what the relationship with God looked like in Eden. But sin destroyed this relationship as man chose to live for self and stepped into God’s place. Every person assumes the false identity as lord over their own life, responding to their own desires and direction. When a person responds to the gospel, however, they submit to Christ as Lord and their identity is restored to that of worshiper. They are responding to Jesus as king and take action steps to live for Him.
Second Corinthians 5:17-21 explicitly states this truth of new identity for Christ-followers who “no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” This truth helps gives context to the spiritual steps of action believers take as they live for Him. Any steps of spiritual growth are meant to enable us and ready us for a life of obedient response to Christ. The spiritual activities we take up must flow from and be connected to our identity as a worshiper responding to the Lord Jesus. Identity drives action, and actions divorced from this understanding could lead to a spiritual to-do list disconnected from right meaning. Helping new believers understand their identity and then give direction to their spiritual activity is important.
2. Give Direction: Activity Denotes Response
To help new believers rightly connect the identity of response to the activities of spiritual growth, encourage them to start with three priorities: Respond, Renew and Remind.
- Respond with Obedience: The life of a disciple is one of obedience to Jesus and His Word. A practical first step for every new believer is to publicly profess faith through believer’s baptism. Mentioned multiple times in the book of Acts (2:42; 8:34-38; 9:31; 10:48; 16:31-33) as an immediate follow-up to one’s faith in Christ, baptism gives public testimony to spiritual change. This choice of obedience and testimony is key to setting a pattern of obedience in all areas of life. It also helps one take up the mission of God by helping others know the truth of the gospel. Baptism is a physical picture of a spiritual reality – we have died to our old life because we’ve been united to Christ. (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:11-15) Because Jesus lives, we live. The first response of a new believer should be to obey Christ by publicly professing faith to others through believer’s baptism.
- Renew the Mind: Because so much has changed in our hearts spiritually, our minds need to change as well. Romans 12:1-2 talks about living life as an act of worship to God. This requires the transformation of our minds. It is the only way we will fulfill the mandate to no longer be conformed to this world. We need truth! The truth about God, ourselves, our world and the gospel is necessary to live a life of worship to God. These truths are found in the pages of Scripture. Every follower of Christ needs to dive deeply and frequently into the Bible. We are told in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” If we would live the life of a Christ-follower and take hold of the good works God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10) then we must renew our minds with the Word of God. Start with reading the Bible – whether it is seeing the life of Christ in the Gospels and giving attention to His teaching or seeing the character of God and how His children respond through worship in the book of Exodus. Help new believers begin to renew the mind through the Scripture. Have new believers pick a Bible reading plan and begin diving into the Word every day. As they read more and more, encourage them to slow down and study the passages closely. Meditate on the Word and memorize it.
- Remind the Heart: It is good to keep the gospel ever in front of us and to regularly remember who we were before Christ and how He saved us out of our sin. To focus continually on God’s sacrificial love, rich mercy and extravagant grace will help keep life rooted in the soil of gratitude and submission. Regularly pouring through the truths of Ephesians 2:1-10 or 1 Peter 1:3-9 will help every believer keep the gospel fresh in the mind and heart. Help new believers choose to daily rehearse gospel, knowing that this same spiritual activity happens with other believers when the Lord’s Supper is taken in the church – worshipers responding in gratitude to the Lord who has saved us as we remember His sacrifice and all it accomplished.
Salvation belongs to our God. It is His kind gift to allow us to experience this salvation and see it occur in others. Don’t miss the privilege of helping new believers step forward in discipleship. Serve them well by helping them understand their new identity in Christ and take active steps of response as they worship Him.
Published February 22, 2023