Saul’s conversion in Scripture is one of the most fascinating accounts to read. Early Christians were skeptical about the man who became known as Paul. In honesty, the early Christians had every right to be skeptical because Paul had killed Christians. Paul’s initial growth in the faith was rapid because of his foundation in Judaism. However, Paul still had to undergo a certain change so that his upbringing would not choke out the change the Gospel had caused.
Upon Paul being converted on the Damascus road, Paul now had to begin the journey of actively following Jesus and growing to be like Jesus. Paul was not alone in this journey. As driven as Paul was, he was not alone. Acts 9:17-30 chronicles the follow-up which occurred for the apostle by Ananias and others. Paul describes his own experience in Galatians 1:13-2:6, in which he references visiting the leaders in Jerusalem. The two passages carry similarities but also include some differences necessary for the context of writing. Rather than focus on these differences, the goal of this post will be to describe essentials for following-up with a new believer based on the spiritual journey of the apostle Paul.
Because I have two young children, I liken Paul’s initial spiritual development to a child’s development. Every young child needs to learn their identity, how to walk, talk, feed, and clean themselves. Just as children have parents, new believers have spiritual parents to aid in their spiritual development. To see new believers achieve the developmental markers, mature believers must support, teach, and encourage the young believers. These five key developmental markers are essential for conducting follow-up of a new believer. When coupled with passages such as Mark 4:1-20 and Isaiah 6:8-10, the developmental markers provide a foundation and initial fruit for potential reproduction. The ability to make disciples and be Christ’s witness is the responsibility of every believer, not just a select few pastors. Every believer has the potential for reproduction, just as every child does as they mature. Therefore, the key developmental essentials provide healthy benchmarks by which the community of faith know the believer is ready to reproduce.
Every child needs to learn their name and who is in their family (2 Cor 5:17; 1 John 3:1). Paul learned his identity and the culture of his spiritual family. After being healed, Paul was baptized (Acts 9:18). Paul also spent some time with the disciples in Damascus (Acts 9:19). These disciples would later help save him because he was set apart for a specific purpose in the family of God (Acts 9:25). Paul accounts for this purpose, knowing his role and thus identity, in his letter to the Galatians (Gal 1:16-17). Specifically, in order to fulfill his purpose, some suggest this is why Paul may have traveled to Arabia. Every young believer needs to grow in the understanding of their identity in Christ and purpose in the church.
Children eventually begin to roll over, crawl, take steps, and eventually walk. Paul learned how to walk in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25). Ananias laid hands on Paul to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). The results of such filling led to the proclamation of the Gospel. Filled with the Spirit and gaining a deeper appreciation day-by-day of the marvelous fulfillment of the Old Testament expectations of Jesus, Saul’s presentation of Jesus becomes more and more powerful. Testimony of Paul’s walking with Christ spread and people noticed (Gal 1:23). Growth in walking in obedience enabled Paul to converse and debate the Hellenistic Jews (Acts 9:29). Paul’s growth also enabled him to reproduce the faith into Titus (Gal 2:1). Every young believer needs to grow in their understanding of the Holy Spirit and walking in obedience.
Many children begin to talk by making incoherent sounds, usually screaming or crying, which eventually become words because the parents foster the ability of communication. The parents talk to the baby and as they grow it turns into coaxing certain words or phrases. Paul learned how to share his story and God’s story (
e.g. Luke 11:1; Eph 4:29; Col 4:6). After some time with the disciples, Paul began sharing how Jesus is the Son of God (Acts 19:20). The verbal sharing of his story aided his acceptance into the community in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). Further, Paul displayed competency by going with the apostles in proclaiming Jesus (Acts 9:28). Later, when Paul writes his letter to the Galatians he specifically accounts for his life pre-conversion and post-conversion (Gal 1:13-14). Every young believer needs to mature in their understanding of God’s cosmic plan of redemption and its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and sharing how God’s story impacts their life.
I remember the first time I gave my son a spoon to feed himself. He had to learn the coordination and how to use the spoon. Like my son, Paul learned how to feed himself and grow spiritually by using the tools to which he had access such as the Old Testament (Acts 9:22; 1 Peter 2:2; Jer 15:16). Paul testifies to this personal growth by venturing to Arabia (Gal 1:17). After Paul comes to understand who Jesus is, he then checks his doctrine against the Jerusalem church (Gal 1:21-2:1). Because Paul had come to understand the gospel and allowed it to shape his growth, Paul was able to identify false doctrine (Gal 2:4). Paul also persevered in holding to the truth based on his understanding of the gospel and was not swayed to abandon it (Gal 2:5). Every young believer needs to mature in their understanding of how to read and understand the Word of God.
Finally, every child needs to learn how to groom themselves and dispose of their waste properly. Paul learned how to clean himself by fleeing from sin and purifying his life (e.g. Matt 23:27; 1 John 1:9). One of the by-products of Paul’s new life in Christ was that people who knew him prior to his conversion witnessed a difference (Acts 9:21). Those in Jerusalem were still skeptical of Paul’s new life, but Barnabas was able to testify on his behalf of the change Paul experienced (Acts 9:26-27). Three years had passed and Paul had maintained his faithfulness to Christ. Further, Paul did not fall back into legalistic temptations, specifically as it pertained to the issue of circumcision (Gal 1:13-2:6). Paul’s commitment to holiness can be seen in his testimony in Acts 20:26-34 as well. Every young believer needs to grow in their understanding of their own sinfulness and how to put it to death.
When following up with a new believer they will not be able to mature alone. As they mature, the knowledge must be manifested in action. Throughout the journey, Paul had Ananias, the disciples in Damascus, Barnabas, and eventually those in Jerusalem who could account for Paul’s faith. Every development marker is interconnected with and even contingent upon the others. Just a spiritual disciplines must be practiced, the key developmental markers must being practiced and pursued. Should the “believer” be unable to articulate their conversation the seed may have fallen on the path (Mark 4:15). Should the “believer” be unable to walk in Christ or feed themselves the seed may have fallen on the rocky soil (Mark 4:17). Should the “believer” be unable to groom themselves or believe their identity the seed may have been choked out by the thorns (Mark 4:19). Being malnourished in any way results in premature death and are unable to reach an age of reproduction.
The goal for the young believer is long-term faithfulness and obedience to Christ resulting in Christlikeness. In order to ensure such development, the disciple-maker must only focus on a few spiritual babies at a time. By knowing the five developmental markers, a disciple-maker can intentionally structure conversations and action items such as spiritual disciplines needed to improve the young believer’s deficiencies. Following-up in this way is highly customizable, relational, reproducible, and missional. Paul’s journey accurately depicts the developmental markers necessary for a new believer.