Growing Pains and Gains
Well-rounded growth in Christ
By Michael Mxolisi Sokupa
Children often experience some growing pains as they develop toward adulthood. The Christian life is no exception. Growing in Christ is a process leading to spiritual maturity. It may involve breaking loose from powers of the spiritual world that may hold us captive and the mediums that promise protection and providence. This disengagement may be a painful experience, especially for people who come from high-context cultures in which there are strong communal bonds, but it is followed by a joyful engagement of growing in Christ.
Two Communities in Tension
When a person accepts Christ and embraces the biblical truth and an Adventist lifestyle, there are sometimes tensions between the community of faith to which he or she now belongs and the community into which he or she was born and initiated. Someone who accepted Christ can no longer rely on the spiritual support systems such as diviners, ancestors (the dead), and witch doctors for help against the demons and evil powers. Mediums, such as palm readers or fortune-tellers, are no longer appealing. All ties with mediums and the spirit world have to be severed, and the newly born child of God has to rely only on the mediatory ministry, providence, and protection of Christ.
The allegiance of a Christian changes from faith in the ancestors and spiritual mediums to faith in God only.
In 1 Samuel 28:6, 7 a king turned to such mediums in desperation. Saul himself had “cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land” (verse 9).* Thus, he was going back to former ways of apostasy and rebellion.
Paul challenges the believers in Colossae who were being persuaded to harmonize their former practices with the Christian faith. He states: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules …?” (Col. 2:20). Christian life is not compatible with any spiritual powers that are controlled by evil forces.
There are certain threats that an individual faces when they sever ties with the world of spiritualism and its mediums. They may get sick, suffer misfortune. Whatever negative experience they go through will be interpreted as directly related to their neglect or rejection of an important source of help. Breaking loose from these mediums in the context of such a community therefore means also dealing with rites of passage and community life in a new way. How does the individual associate with the community that is immersed in a web of ancestral spirits and mediums?
Paul’s encouragement to the believers of Colossae who faced similar challenges is helpful: “You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10). This does not mean that these powers and authorities are in harmony with Christ as their head, but they are overpowered by Him. Colossians 2:15 continues: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” No Christian needs to be threatened by these powers.
The allegiance of a Christian changes from faith in the ancestors and spiritual mediums to faith in God only. During this transfer of allegiance, there may be fears on the part of the new believer that things may go wrong. As tensions with family or community mount, faith needs to grow even stronger. This is the most critical time in which the church family needs to give support.
The focus should not be on severing the relationships with the community and family members who believe in these mediums, but on the systems themselves. This means that the Christian will continue to love his community and family and help them acknowledge and appreciate his or her new life in Christ.
Paul encourages believers who were in transition by giving the necessary support: “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is” (Col. 2:4, 5).
When a person has made a firm commitment to Christ, the community of believers becomes his or her new family. New relationships are formed and a new way of life emer-ges. This gradual transformation of a life affects all areas of life. Various images and metaphors are used in Scripture to portray this kind of growth: like a plant “the righteous will flourish … grow … bear fruit … stay fresh” (Ps. 92:12-14; see also 144:12). Christian growth is a gradual process and requires patience—and divine providence (Mark 4:26). Other images used in Scripture to portray spiritual growth in Christ are taken from human development: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2, 3). This growth leads to spiritual maturity—believers will not just rely on “milk” but rather “solid food” that is Scripture-based and Christ-centered (1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:11-14).
There are specific areas in which spiritual growth will be evident in the life of a Christian: knowledge of God, unselfish works, faith that is Christ-centered, to mention a few (Col. 1:10; 2 Peter 3:18; 2 Thess. 1:3). This growth is not focusing upon ourselves, but upon Christ, the Head of everything (Eph. 4:15). Growing in Christ therefore means that there is development, change, and growth in the life of an individual who has accepted Christ.
In the process of faith development Christians may experience growing pains. However, the joy of growing in Christ surpasses any apparent loss or painful experience. Growing in Christ means a complete transfer of allegiance from the powers of darkness to Christ and involves spending quality time with the new Master (Bible study and a dynamic prayer life). It also means developing and growing in faith and love (for God and fellow humans), and reaching spiritual maturity in all aspects of life.
*All Scripture quotations in this article have been taken from the New International Version (NIV).
Michael Mxolisi Sokupa, Ph.D., is lecturer in New Testament at Helderberg College, South Africa. He is married to Zanele and has three children.