Crisis Or Process?

“Six days after my conversion I became a mature Christian,” claimed a youthful believer several years ago. What a sad misunderstanding he showed of what maturity is and how it is achieved.

Various Christians disagree about the entire subject of growth and maturity. Some, like the new convert just mentioned, expect full growth all in one big spurt — instant maturity. John Stott comments, “They are looking for a second crisis comparable to the new birth, and are hoping that by it God will accomplish for them suddenly what He has ordained will grow gradually.” The result of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives is called “fruit,” and fruit ripens over a period of time–not overnight.

A second error is worse than the first. It is smug self-contentment, with no concern for maturity. Some folks are satisfied to stay as they are, so long as they’ll get to heaven (they hope). They are petrified saints. Their motto is, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.” They don’t want to grow, for growth means change. Such outgrowing of old attitudes and habits does not interest them in the least. Are such people really saved? Only God knows! But He warns us that “faith” minus works is dead.

Far distant from these two extremes lies the true path of holiness. It is the way of hunger of heart, of deep yearning after the Lord Himself, of forgetting what is behind and pressing on toward the goal (Matt. 5:6 and Psa. 106:9; Psa. 42:1, 2 and 63:1; Phil. 3:12-14). It means growing in grace and the knowledge of Christ, and abounding more and more in love (1 Pet. 3: 18; 1 Thes. 3: 12; 4: 1, 10).

Let’s examine the important question briefly mentioned already. After a person is saved, should he then seek some kind of crisis experience in addition to the justification and new birth he has received? The following quotations provide much food for thought on this recurring question.

Various Types of Crisis Experiences

Kenneth Prior, in a balanced book entitled The Way of Holiness (published by Inter Varsity Press), clarifies the problem for us. The following excerpts are direct quotations from the chapter called “Crises on the Way”:

The Christian life normally makes progress by steady growth, and this is what Scripture encourages us to expect. What then do we make of the Christian who claims to have experienced a sudden and decisive change subsequent to his conversion, which has resulted in his Christian life being victorious to a far greater degree than before?

As experience of this kind is not necessarily incompatible with the steady growth which, as we saw, is a prominent feature of the Christian life it is feasible that there will be times in a Christian’s life when he will make more progress than at other times. . . . What can be misleading, however, is to assume such an experience to be a normal part of every Christian’s life, and think that any Christian who has not had it ought to seek it.

Some examples of “Second Blessing”: a) Recovery from Backsliding. It is not surprising that some outstanding experiences in Christian life are a recovery from backsliding. The Holy Spirit is grieved by sin (Eph. 4:30) and ceases to fill the backslider. Repentance is then the only road to recovery. If the members of the church at Ephesus heeded the charge, “You have lost your first love” (Rev. 2:4), this would have involved them in a decisive turning-point in their Christian lives-a crisis experience.

b) A Crisis of Discovery. Sometimes great blessings attend the discovery of a neglected truth. For example, many Christians look back warmly on their discovery of the sovereignty of God and other truths connected with it. Verses like “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn. 15:16) have filled them with a sense of wonder at the grace of God, that He should take the initiative in bringing them to salvation in Christ.

c) An Awareness of the Cost of Discipleship. Many who grow up in Christian homes find it easy to make a Christian profession, perhaps less costly than resisting the gospel! So for a time the young Christian is oblivious to some of the issues of bearing the cross. Then he goes into the world where living for Christ is no longer the easy thing it was in the shelter of his Christian home. The matter of discipleship now must be faced, and such an experience can involve a real crisis.

d) Full Assurance. There is a difference between a faith which is enough for salvation, and that which is sufficient for full assurance. Not every Christian has the latter. It is for this that we are to seek diligently (Heb. 6: 11).

e) Crisis of Guidance. A young person’s discovery of God’s will for his life and his appropriate reaction can be a decisive step, with far-reaching effects in the quality of his life.

How then shall we summarize all this? That Christians do have crises no one can deny. They can often be beneficial. But we should not err by insisting that every Christian needs a crisis experience following salvation. Then, too, observe the way these crises vary. We have mentioned only a few.

The Three-Fold Function of Scripture

James Philip’s booklet, Christian Maturity (published by InterVarsity Press), gives additional insights that will help us. Ponder these quotations:

According to the Scriptures, conversion and consecration are simultaneous, in the sense that no conversion ever really takes place that does not involve a true consecration to Christ. One does not give part of one’s allegiance to Christ at conversion, then at a later stage make a complete surrender to Him called consecration. One does not enter into the kingdom at all except on terms of unconditional surrender. This, in fact, is what conversion means.

But — and this is important — a believer may lose the keen edge of his consecration and fall away from that attitude to total commitment which marked his entrance into the kingdom of God. If he does so, then a new consecration is necessary, and sometimes this is quite as clear-cut and decisive as a conversion experience — a crisis indeed. But it is necessary to be clear about what has happened. It is not an advance to another stage of experience so much as a return to the previous one. A great deal depends on realizing this, for obviously, if a believer does not fall away from his first consecration, but follows on to know the Lord ever more deeply, he does not require to renew it again (except in so far as our consecration is renewed day by day and hour by hour, which is not the point at issue here).

Now the ministry of the Word may be said to have a threefold function. It can be (1) illuminative, in that it enlightens the minds of those who are ignorant or confused in their understanding of the gospel. It can be (2) therapeutic, in that it is medicine for those who are spiritually sick. It can be (3) edifying, in that it provides food for those who are spiritually healthy and growing in the spiritual life. It is certainly true that spiritual illumination can take place suddenly. “1 see it now, “a man may cry, as the truth comes home to him with all the force of a new revelation, and from that point onwards there is marked difference in his life. A crisis has come, so to speak, in his spiritual thinking.

It is true in the same way that a crisis can take place when the action of the Word on a man’s soul is therapeutic, in the sense that it comes to convict and challenge him concerning things that ought not to be in his life. The pressure of the Word and Spirit of God may be such that a crisis involving a specific thing or person is precipitated in his heart. Jesus said: “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.” That is crisis indeed in the believer’s experience, in that it demands drastic action to put matters right. Similarly, in the sphere of medicine, appendicitis is a “crisis” requiring immediate surgical intervention to safeguard life and health. But this drastic” crisis-action” in the spiritual realm is therapeutic, and in one very important sense only preparatory to the real business of Christian growth. It removes the hindrance to growth, and makes it possible, but it is not the growth itself, just as surgery removes the cause of illness and makes possible better health in the future.

If a man undergoes a crisis in his spiritual experience, this is likely to be what has happened to him. We should be glad, of course; but we must not misunderstand or misinterpret it, or confuse it to mean that spiritually speaking he has “arrived”. On the contrary, he has only now set out on the real road of advance. Now he can begin to grow, when the hindrances have been removed. But to insist, as is sometimes done, that every believer must have a crisis experience before he can know the fullness of God in his life, is as misleading and erroneous as to say that everyone must have his appendix removed before true health is possible. A man who has not slipped back from his first consecration, but has progressed steadily in the spiritual life, does not need the therapy of the Word in this sense, but its nourishment, to build him up and lead him on to maturity. The therapy of the Word merely brings us to the point where new life and development are possible, and this is the beginning, not the goal, of true spiritual life.

Real, effectual Christian experience, it must be insisted, does not begin properly until the believer comes to the obedience of faith in terms of total consecration to Christ. This needs to be underlined in a time when it is all too readily assumed and taught that Christians should be striving towards consecration of life as an ideal or goal, instead of beginning from it as a base, as did all the heroes of faith whose lives are recorded in the Scriptures. Abraham did not aspire to obedience; be began with it (Heb. 11:8), and nothing else can explain the vitality of his walk with God. From the outset Daniel “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself,” and this alone accounts for the undeviating faithfulness of his witness throughout a. long and testing experience.

George Mueller’s Experience

One of the outstanding Christians of all time was George Mueller. He was a man of great faith and prayerfulness, who for decades ran an orphanage in England. Every believer should read his biography. After he reached ninety years, he gave the following testimony. Evaluate it in the light of the principles we have studied:

“I was converted in 1825 but I only came into the full surrender of my heart four years later. It was then that my love for money was taken away, and my love for position and for worldly pleasures. God, God alone became my portion: I found my all in all in Him. And by God’s grace this condition has remained and has made me an exceedingly happy man. I read a little of the Bible before, but preferred other books. But since that time God has wonderfully revealed Himself to me and I can say from my heart, God is an infinitely lovely Being.

“God showed me that His word alone is to be our standard in spiritual things, and that it can only be explained by the Holy Spirit – that He is the Teacher of His people. The work of the Holy Spirit I had not understood in my experience before that time. Understanding that point especially had a great effect on me. The first evening that I shut myself into my room to pray and meditate over the Bible I learned more in a few hours than I had learned in the previous several months. But the particular difference was that I received real strength in my soul as a result of doing this. The change was so great that it was like a second conversion.”

Our generous Father can give enriching and exciting “second blessings” like Mueller’s, perhaps–to people today, when He so chooses. Maybe you need one! He knows our needs and how to meet them. But not just a “second blessing”; He delights in imparting third and fourth blessings, and twentieth, and one hundredth as well. His mercies are new every morning.

But let’s remember He uses endless variety. He never takes a cookie-cutter approach. He is not mass-producing Christians on an assembly-line. He is a creative artist who handcrafts each product individually. Yet His goal for us all is the same: to make us holy.