By Chuck Lawless
It’s been a long time since I became a Christ follower (39+ years ago), but I still think about what I wish I had known back then. You see, my first years as a believer were not easy. My family was not a Christian family. I was in my early teens, wanting to be faithful to God but also seeking to fit in with my peers. My church loved me, but discipleship was not intentional. I wish someone had helped prepare me for the journey.
If I were writing a new believer’s guide today for people like me, I would include a simple “lessons learned” section with at least these lessons:
- It’s okay to be a baby in Christ. Everybody in my Bible study class knew all the answers, it seemed. I watched as others found the Bible passage while I pretended to know the right page. Others knew the song lyrics by heart, and they knew exactly what to do at every church event. I didn’t know any of that – and I was both awkward and ashamed. No one told me that every believer begins as a baby in Christ.
- The Bible is not always easy to read. I was fascinated when I first started reading the Bible. Genesis was great, because I knew nothing about the beginnings of the world. The book of Exodus was equally exciting, filled with burning bushes, judgment plagues, dividing seas, and shaking mountains. But, then I reached Leviticus. . . . and I quit reading. I needed someone to help me when the reading became difficult.
- The Christian life will have ups and downs. We usually learn this lesson the hard way. Because I did not know Christianity has mountains and valleys, I assumed that the “down” moments were the result of a lack of faith or an unconfessed sin. Sometimes that was the case, but sometimes God was stretching and testing my faith. Even the obedient believer can wrestle with a thorn – but I didn’t know that.
- You are not alone in your struggles. I was sure nobody else battled with temptation like I did. Nobody had sin lurking in the shadows like I did. Surely every other believer had conquered sin – at least, it seemed that way on Sunday. I was so certain of that truth that I didn’t dare talk to anyone about my struggles. The result in my life was continued failure and increasing defeat.
- The devil is real. In my young mind, the devil was a Halloween character rather than a supernatural enemy against God and His people. Because I didn’t recognize the reality of the devil, I thought I could win spiritual battles in my own power. Prayer was not important, and cries for the power of God were non-existent. I was losing a war I didn’t even know existed.
- Many people don’t pray well. The only prayers I heard then were prayers from the pastor, a deacon, or a Bible study teacher. The petitions were polished, eloquent, and deep (or so I thought then). I didn’t always understand the words used, and I was certain I’d never reach that level of praying. Little did I know these same folks often struggled in their private prayer life, and perhaps we could have helped each other grow in prayer.
- Some people won’t share your excitement. My Christian conversion was powerful. A friend had shared Christ with me, and I couldn’t wait to tell others about Him. I was at times obnoxious with my evangelism. Rude, even. I just couldn’t understand why anybody would choose not to follow Jesus. Had I known then that not everyone listens, perhaps I would have felt less defeated in my evangelism efforts.
- Churches are not perfect. I was unprepared for the tares among the wheat, the sin in the camp, the arrogance among the redeemed. It was years of discouragement before I realized that Jesus Himself had a fake in His group, and the apostle Paul loved a church as messed up as the church at Corinth. It took some time for me to learn that the church exists for the sick and the needy – that is, for people like me.
- God will always be faithful. Perhaps you learn this lesson only through the years, but I wish someone would have challenged me then to trust – and even memorize – these words: “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous abandoned or his children begging for bread” (Psa. 37:25). God really does take care of His own. Always.
If you were writing a new believer’s guide, what lessons would you include?
Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary.
You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.
Posted on October 1, 2013
Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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Thank Dr. Chuck Lawless for this important and inspiring piece !! This will help me and my family to acknowledge the challenge we are going through in our Christian faith as we grow.
What happene when you. Backslide and it doesn’t work is God done with you
I loved all the areas you wrote about.We go through them all at one time or another.I would put in that we are in a process and that process takes time.God sometimes does instant things in our life, but the race we are in seems to be more about “pressing toward the mark”.Dont get discouraged or lose heart God is working things out.
I would add one thing more, understanding the weapons of warfare, how we fight the devil. As a Christian they were a number of things I didn’t know would not just go away with time. Some things we needed to face head on, with spiritual tools. Like deliverance. Sometimes we never move forward in our walk unless we learn how to leave the past behind, for good.
I wish someone would have told me the disciples didn’t have it all together from their beginnings. Peter BECAME a rock, John GREW in love, and Paul MATURED in wisdom. And God called/drew them all in different ways. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all” salvation experience.
Good point, Lisa. The Lord graciously calls all of us — and not one of us has it all together.
#4 was the biggest for me
#4 was probably the biggest one for me, too, Kevin. Good to hear from you!
What a great tool to use with newer believers! I wish I had a list like this three years ago. At some point I think I dealt with each of these and still encounter them today. Thanks for the insights.
Thanks, Donny. We just keep learning as believers, don’t we?
The guide is a great idea, but I would suggest it be giving to an appropriate deacon/deacon’s wife, etc who is assigned to give it to the new believer to use as a tool for mentoring. I believe this is much more effective in building relationships within the church and developing spiritual maturity and accountability. We can’t just hand them a book and walk away.
Agreed, Teresa. I would want someone walking alongside new believers to help them get grounded.
Absolutely. That’s how new believers are lost from the flock. We ( I ) have failed to nurture and be a friend.
Every month the ladies prison here has baptism. I visit with the ladies who were baptized and give them a Bible study I put together for new Christians. What do I need to do to get permission to copy this and put it (as it is written) with that study? AC
Anita, you have permission to use this material. Please be sure to cite Dr. Rainer’s blog as the source. Thanks!