A second place a person might be spiritually is a baby. The person you are discipling might be spiritually dead or second, the person you are discipling might be a spiritual baby.
Now of course calling someone a spiritual baby isn’t always a way to win friends, but it’s a reality. And it’s not really all that surprising to meet people who are spiritual babies. I think knowing what we know about sanctification and how God changes people, we would expect it.
You are not saved, and then kachow, you know everything and you can do everything spiritually, no, change, growth it’s a process.
And really, there should be a lot of spiritual babies in the church, because we are all going out and sharing the gospel, and people are hopefully getting saved, and there they are, you know, babies, and they need to be discipled, so they don’t stay that way.
Because what is really sad is that, sometimes there are a lot of spiritual babies in the church, but it’s not because people are going out and telling people the gospel, but instead it is because the people who got saved a long time ago, aren’t really being discipled, they just got left there, and so they stay in this state of spiritual babyhood and that’s a problem.
I mean, even physically, it’s one thing to hold a newborn baby in your arm and it is another to meet a thirty year old who is still wearing nappies. And the same thing is true spiritually. Being a spiritual baby is normal and great at a certain time, but it’s not meant to be where someone stays forever. Thirty-year old spiritual babies are not nearly as cute as newly converted spiritual ones.
We have to be able to identify if someone is a spiritual baby, so we can help them move past that in the appropriate time.
Now it sometimes can be a little bit difficult honestly when you are trying to help someone to always tell the difference between someone who is spiritually dead and someone who is a spiritual baby, because they do have certain characteristics in common.
For example, as we said a spiritually dead person is focused on himself and often, a person who becomes a Christian, has been focusing on himself for so long, that even though he is a Christian now, he has still these habitual ways of thinking, where it’s an intense focus on self. And that’s a common characteristic of a spiritual baby. It can take him a little while to get his eyes off self.
I think of how the disciples were when they were following Jesus and always arguing about who was going to be the greatest, even sometimes as Jesus was talking to them about his upcoming crucifixion. Spiritual babies are a little bit like that, everything sort of revolves around them, their issues are the most urgent ones and it is very difficult for them to put themselves in other people’s shoes.
Maybe one big difference would be how they respond when they are confronted about this focus on self, whereas the dead person just gets madder, the baby might struggle and whine, like babies do, but ultimately they are going to want to put that self focus off.
Obviously one thing that is true of a lot of spiritual babies is that they don’t know a lot of the facts of the Bible. There’s another kind of spiritual baby that’s a little scarier, and that’s the kinds that knows a lot of Bible facts but doesn’t really understand how those facts fit in with the big story of the Bible or what is most important in the Bible and they don’t always understand a whole lot about how those facts apply to their lives.
Spiritual babies, at least newborn spiritual babies, are often pretty excited about Jesus and the gospel, only sometimes their excitement about Jesus is much greater than their knowledge and discernment and so they end up doing some foolish things for good reasons.
You will find that spiritual babies often are mixing worldly and cultural beliefs with the gospel. You know how physical babies will put anything in their mouths, good and bad, spiritual babies do that to and this is where a lot of their problems come in and your discipleship comes in, it makes sense for them to struggle with this because that’s all they had known before, worldly thinking and now, they are having to change their whole way of thinking, and without help, that’s going to be difficult obviously and so a lot of times what you find a spiritual baby doing is they do the same things worldly people do, only they do it with religious things.
So whereas a worldly person might try to prove they are smarter than others through their knowledge of I don’t know, soccer statistics, a spiritual baby might try to prove he is smarter than others through his knowledge of Bible verses.
They are often overly controlled by their emotions and their feelings, and so if they are feeling great, they will study the Bible and if they aren’t then, no, they won’t discipline themselves to do what’s right.
As far as identifying phrases go (I found this idea in Jim Putnam’s book Real Life Discipleship and some of these quotes come from there), you’ll probably hear things like:
“I didn’t know the Bible talked about that.”
“I don’t see why people are having such a struggle overcoming their sin. I mean, just do it.”
Or the opposite, “I want to change, but it seems impossible, and I don’t know how.”
“I don’t see what the big deal is about church. I can just worship God by myself.”
“I don’t understand what is wrong with that person.”
“I don’t know what God wants from me.”
“The Bible is a great book, but I don’t get much from it when I read it.”
“Am I the only one who struggles with sin at church?”
Now like physical babies, spiritual babies have pretty serious needs. They need attention from a spiritually mature believer. They need protection, someone to watch out for them. They need information, a clear explanation of the gospel and how it applies to their life. They need a model, someone to show them an example of what it looks like to live for Christ. They need clarity, they need you to speak clearly and simply and sometimes need basic, pointed instruction in Christian living.
If you are looking at the person you are wanting to disciple and they are seeming to be a spiritual baby, again start praying for them on a regular basis. Spend time with them. Spiritual babies need a relationship with a mature believer who they know cares for them. Now you need to remember, they are a baby so they probably won’t pursue you. They may not even know how much they need you. Try to let them get to know you and spend time watching you as you go about your life. Be open with them about your own spiritual journey. Talk with them about what God is doing in your life right now. Spiritual babies need instruction desperately, so teach. You might ask them to get together and begin using some of the basic resources we have at church to instruct them. When you do teach them, be simple and straight. Be careful not to assume they know more than they really do.
What are the kinds of things you should really talk to them about?
Definitely the gospel, and then how the gospel applies to life. How to read the Bible is important. The story of the Bible is also vital, I mean how does the whole Bible connect together, so many Christians miss out on so much because they don’t learn that until later in their Christian journey. Work with them on basic Bible terms like justification and sanctification and what they mean. How to change and grow spiritually. What the church is and why it is important. You can talk about practical issues like forgiveness and guidance.
Remember as you work with spiritual babies, that babies are often a little messy and they often make your life messy as well, that’s part of the work. Babies aren’t usually thankful either and sometimes they throw up all over you, so get ready for it. If you are working with a baby, it may be easy for you to get a little proud, because you are further along, so remind yourself that if you are further along, it’s only grace that brought you there. And finally, this is important, babies often don’t know exactly what they need. Babies will stick anything in their mouth. They will complain when you try to help them. But that’s part of what you are there for.