“As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).
Out of all human beings, some of the most helpless are newborns. As in physical life, so also in spiritual life, newborn Christians need the most help–not only from their pastors, but also from the entire body of believers. There is no way that a pastor alone can provide the kind of daily encouragement that Scripture requires and a newborn needs (cf. Hebrews 3:12-13). Therefore, as a church, we need to ask ourselves: What does a newborn Christian need?
First, a newborn Christian needs to be forewarned about the pressures of life. When Paul and Barnabas revisited the churches they had just planted, their basic message was: “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The word “tribulation” means pressure, embodying various forces that will try to push us off the road to heaven. Praise be to Him who keeps our feet from slipping (Psalm 121:3)! Please note: There will be many such forces (“much tribulation”) and there is no other way to heaven except to persevere through them (“we must [go] through much tribulation”).
We do young Christians no favor when we hide from them the realities of persecution, indwelling sin, and hypocrisy in the church, to name a few tribulations. Nor are we faithful to the Gospel message itself, if we present Christ as the one who will fix their outward marriage, finances, or health, as if these were the essence of Gospel salvation. Those who have signed up for such a deal will soon find themselves tempted to drop away, as the rootless plants on the shallow soil. Instead, we are promised a new heart, and the joy and peace of Jesus Himself to overcome the world through its various pressures (John 14:27; 15:11; 16:33; 1 John 4:4; 5:4-5).
Second, a newborn Christian needs to realize his own instability. In life, we crawl, toddle, and then walk. Similarly, newborn Christians experience many highs and many lows in the initial years of spiritual growth. It is important for the newborn Christian not to be alarmed, as though some strange thing has overtaken him. Moreover, it is important for those who care for the newborns to expect many falls and scrapes, to comfort the spiritual child, and to nurse him back to health through close and loving attention. That is the way Paul treated the newborns at Thessalonica–like a nursing mother. His concern was their stability in Christ (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8; 3:1-13).
Stability is one huge reason God has ordained the ministry of the word in the church. Christ Jesus appointed “pastors and teachers” for the maturing and building-up of the saints, so that we would no longer be “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:11-14). A newborn Christian should be especially close and open with his pastors; in turn, the pastors of a church should give extra care to the newborns, just as a mother of seven favors her youngest with extra attention. And again, ultimately, it will be the entire body, “speaking the truth in love” to each other, that will cause the entire body to grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).
In the final analysis, a newborn Christian needs one thing most: the word. Just as suckling babes have a diet of one thing, it would do well for newborn Christians to cut out all other media input, and drink in the word of God alone for the first few years. Catch that? Years. We bring so much faulty thinking into our salvation–so many assumptions, reactions, goals, and habits–that it takes years to really deep-scrub these out of our minds. Though it may be a simple Gospel that saves us initially, it will take a much deeper grasp of the Gospel to preserve us eternally. For this reason, we see Paul, on the one hand, establishing teaching elders in every church for the care of newborn saints (Acts 14:23), and, on the other hand, preaching the Gospel to mature Christians in Rome (Romans 1:15-16; 15:14-15). All Christians need the Gospel preached to them over and over again, in greater and deeper detail.
In practice, what will feeding on the word look like for the newborn Christian? First, newborns should meet weekly with a pastor or mature saint to discuss spiritual struggles openly and to receive prayer. Second, newborns should learn to toddle their way through the spiritual disciplines of meditation, singing, memorization, and prayer. (Some helpful hints are given below.) Third, newborns should embrace every opportunity for loving others, especially other Christians. Muscles grow in exercise, and spiritual muscles are no exception. In this way, it is possible for newborn Christians to imitate the new believers at Thessalonica, who, by God’s grace, grew both in faith and in love, even “every one of [them] all toward each other” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). May it be! Amen and amen.
Helpful Hints for the Newborn Christian
The basic goal: Drink in the pure milk of the word (2 Peter 2:2). How?
1. Every day, meditate on these three truths about the past, present, and future:
The Cross – Christ loved me and died for me, taking away the penalty of my sin.
Born Again – Christ lives in me by the Spirit, and prays for me in heaven, taking away the power of sin.
The Second Coming – Christ longs for me, and prepares a place for me, to take away the presence of sin.
Ultimately, His name is Jesus (“Savior”) because “He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
2. Make sure your mind is constantly playing songs rich in the word about Christ (Colossians 3:16).
The easiest way is to listen to Christian radio, but beware: Much that is “Christian” is not rich in truth.
Far better is to listen to a CD that is rich in Scripture (e.g. Tom Pryde, Sorrow to Hope, Sermons in Song).
Borrow a hymnal from church, and sing from it at home until you have memorized a hymn.
3. Memorize important Scripture sayings.
Write out the saying in full, post it in your house, and read it over slowly once a day (cf. Deuteronomy 6:9).
4. Attend all the Bible studies and worship services that you can.
Encouragement comes through other believers (Hebrews 10:25); discouragement comes in isolation.
5. Maintain a close and open relationship with a mature believer, and especially with your pastors.
All sheep need shepherding, but the little lambs often need it the most (cf. Acts 20:28).
Thank God for your church and its leaders, praying for them as they, in turn, pray for you.