By Joe Arminio
Paul challenges the Church of Ephesus, “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, NIV). Ephesus was a city of idolatry and immorality. Paul’s letter to them is powerful, as he was concerned with the progression of the people in the Ephesian church. Paul uses the words mature, measure and fullness to emphasize progression. Desire, devotion and determination are the backdrop of any relationship that is going to develop and progress. With this in mind, let us look at what I call Five Levels of Relationship with Christ.
The beginning level or phase of our relationship with the Lord is called being a believer. It is not about what we can do. Our good works are not good enough (Ephesians 2:8-9) and our righteousness is dirty (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus did all the work by sacrificing His righteous life for us. We must do the believing!
Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is glorious, life-changing, and wonderful, but that is not the end-all. Believing is good, but the demons also believe in God and tremble (James 2:19). If a Christian only remained in the believing phase of relationship with Christ, he too will tremble, that is, only see one facet of God––a judge for his rebellion and sin. We must progress in our relationship with the Lord to know Him in all of His many facets. We must move on to a new level of relationship with Christ, called disciple.
As we desire to progress from believer to disciple, there must be a strong desire to get to know God through His Word. Jesus is the Word of God. In any relationship, words are important. If you desire to grow it will take more than a few words spoken once in a while. There must be a constant flow of communication for that relationship to have the potential to blossom. Jesus said in John 8:31 (KJV), “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed.” There must be a continual, constant interaction with the Word of God to become true disciples of Christ. A disciple is one who is disciplined; one who takes the time to get into God’s Word and lets God’s Word get into him (or her). Failure to discipline your life in the Word of God will stagnate you and slow down the progression of your relationship with Jesus. As we develop and grow from believers to disciples, the next phase of a deeper relationship with Christ is called a convert.
There is a beautiful story of an intimate dialogue between Jesus and His friend, Peter. Luke 22:31-32 (NIV) reads, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Notice Peter already was a believer, and called a disciple of Christ. Jesus was challenging Peter to a new level of relationship with Him. According to Jesus, His friend, Peter, who was walking with Him for almost three years, was not converted yet. Believers and disciples have their focus for the most part on themselves. But when you rise to the level of convert, your focus and concern turns towards others. True converts of Christ want to help others become strong in their relationship with Christ. When your attention gets off self and on to others that is an indication that you are progressing in your relationship with Jesus. Let us progress to biblical conversion and begin to strengthen others. “Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:4, NIV).
As we progress in relationship with Christ, from a believer, to a disciple, to a convert, we are now ready to step into stewardship. A steward is one who has been entrusted by God to oversee and lead people, places or things. A steward is responsible and accountable to God and those whom God sets over them. Stewards who oversee and lead God’s entrusted people, places and things treat them as their very own, yet remain aware they have been entrusted with them by God. 1 Corinthians 4:2 (NIV) says, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Believers believe, disciples follow, converts strengthen others and stewards are faithful overseers to whom and what they have been charged with. Stewards are individuals who are selfless, sacrificial people deep in their relationship with the Lord. God feels comfortable entrusting and empowering them with His precious commodities. Can God trust you with such precious cargo? Are you faithful in the small so that God can trust you with more?
I believe God wants to bring us to a final revelation of relationship with Him, to the point of the understanding becoming co-heirs. Romans 8:17 (NIV) says, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” When we walk in that kind of relationship, knowing we are co-heirs with Jesus, we become more Kingdom-minded, more Holy Spirit directed, more soul-saving conscious, and more God-pleasing. Jesus came to do the will of His Father and to please Him (John 8:29). If we are co-heirs, we also are co-laborers with Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1).
Our relationship with the Father should be such that when we wake up in the morning, we are very aware of the fact that we are sons and daughters of God, and even greater, that we are co-heirs with Jesus Christ. As Jesus was determined to say what the Father wanted Him to say, go where the Father wanted Him to go, and do what the Father wanted Him to do, we too would have that kind of desire, determination and dedication to do the will of the Father and all of Heaven’s requests. May we all progress to that level of revelation of relationship that we are about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49) and seek through our obedience to please Him by doing His will daily (John 4:34).
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Joe Arminio is the Senior Pastor and founder of Abundant Life Whippany in New Jersey, Executive Director and Overseer of Renovation House (drug/alcohol rehab for men), Executive Director of Renovation House for Women, Chancellor of Abundant Life Christian School (K4-12th Grade), Founder of Abundant Life Bible Institute Ministry Training Center, Founder and CEO of ROC (Recreational Outreach Center) Gym, Founder and CEO of Kings Kids Day Care Center (infant to PreK3), Executive Overseer of Abundant Life Ministries International, church planter, author, husband, father and grandfather. Learn more at abundantlifewhippany.com.