Conversation with Robert Prater (but with Rich, really): Stages of Faith, from the Comments


Rich wrote, with considerable insight, that there are four stage of maturity for a Christian —

Stage One: called Borrowed Faith
This is typical for a new Christian whose main objective is to mimic the faith of the most influential people in their life. For those who grow up in a church environment it is usually the parent(s). For those who become Christians as an adult, it is usually those who were most influence in the life change.

Stage Two: Legalistic
This is where the main motive is to do the right thing and do it right. This is positive progress from Stage One by should not be the final step.

Stage Three: Questioning
This is where one begins to challenge any past beliefs or motives. It is reminiscent of doubting Thomas who needed physical proof that Jesus had been resurrected. This stage is usually triggered by one of two situations. The first is when the shallowness of following rules is discovered. The second is when a major calamity occurs and one questions how a good God could let such an event happen. This is an extremely risky step but necessary to reach the most mature stage.

Stage Four: Mature, motivated by thankfulness
This is where one’s actions are motivated by a response of thankfulness for the grace given by God. This is often following the same rules as discovered in Stage Two but for a completely different reason. They don’t feel like rules. The stage is characterized by Christ’s total focus on completing His Father’s will even when he didn’t want to do so. Another example is Paul’s dissertation (Philippians) on the joy of being a Christian that was written simultaneous with his incarceration.

Unfortunately, not all people make it to Stage Four. They become stuck in one of the previous stages. I recently talked with a 40-something deacon who told me he has only followed his parents’ belief system without questioning.

Likewise, some progress to Stage Two but get caught up in following rules rather than some of the more weightier matters.

I responded,


Again thanks for a very thoughtful comment. (I am so glad you comment here. You make me dig more deeply.)

Let me suggest a wrinkle or two on steps 1 – 4. In my experience — myself and lots of people I know — there’s a little different transition for those of us brought up in the Churches of Christ. It goes like this –

1. Inherited legalism.

2. Questioning.

3. Discovery of grace.

4. Adding grace on top of legalism. At this stage, the Christian compartmentalizes his thinking. He’s delighted to learn that grace covers many sins, but doesn’t think of grace as applying to certain pet sins — particularly those doctrinal errors that define the identity of the Churches of Christ. Thus, error in instrumental music is outside of grace and error in fellowship halls is covered by grace. (Different doctrines are identity doctrines depending on where you’re from.)

5. The Christian’s concept of grace grows to cover even the identity issues. Instrumental music is still considered a sin but not damning.

6. The Christian’s concept of grace grows even further. He realizes that God is not concerned with such things as instrumental music. Instrumental music is not a sin, but may be unwise or inexpedient in a given case.

Somewhere in 4, 5, and 6, the Christian wrestles with pride for having discovered a better Christianity, and he begins to look down on those not as far down the path as he.

7. God defeats pride and shows that grace is about far more than rejecting identity rules. Rather, grace is about being gracious — through service to others, in evangelism, in helping those in need. The Christian discovers true commitment and true cross-carrying. This leads to humility because the task is so large and the need so great — and it’s too heavy a burden to carry without God’s help.

The Christian becomes much more deeply aware of his own unworthiness and so humility leads to gratitude and to joy in an unmerited salvation. The Christian looks for ways to share his delight in God not as duty but because his heart will burst if he doesn’t.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Conversation with Robert Prater (but with Rich, really): Stages of Faith, from the Comments

  1. Jim Haugland says:

    I can agree with Jay's experience, but there is an indispensable corollary that becomes evident as ones understanding of grace deepens, and that is an ever growing awareness that the Christian life, awakened by the grasp of grace, is first and foremost a spiritual life made possible only by the transforming power of God's indwelling spirit. I would include this as the most important factor of step seven which leads to the things mentioned, which defines the true servant. I just returned from the International Renovare Conference held in San Antonio. Never have I ever experienced such unity among believers of all tribes in God's greater Kingdom. The doctrinal differences that too often divide us fell away under the unified pursuit of the supreme gospel of Christ and the call to pursue life the Jesus way – compassion, mercy, praise and servant hood.

  2. Glenn Dowling says:

    Rich, Each of us have our own unique conversion experience. Mine began somewhat like yours -emulating those great examples. However, my questioning began when I felt the helplessness of my "keeping" my salvation -being taught I could "fall from grace." I heard a noted CofC preacher describe how someone could hear the gospel and if, while coming forward, died of a heart attack before being emersed – he would be lost. I knew that was wrong. 35 years later I followed up with that preacher (in Ireland) and he recanted saying, "I was wrong; I did not know what I was talking about; and I would never say it again." Praise God he came to understand grace and the security of the believer. Is is only when we recognize the debt of our sin do we begin to understand the love, mercy, and grace of God. Then, and only then, do we fall to our knees in true graditude and begin to truly fully worship Him.

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