How To Potty Train A Christian
Parenting is a lovely business. Recently, Judah began expressing interest in using the toilet to pee. That is a fun experience. These types of encounters are provocative to my mind. Once again I will be speaking analogically.
I believe the church struggles to see new believers as infants (Heb 5:12; 1 Pet 2:2). We know such a distinction exists. Still, I believe that what this infantile state looks like is lost. This is evidenced by a lack of concise AND comforting communication on the subject of sanctification. The church risks adopting a perspective of extreme acceleration or relative standstill being healthy. I acknowledge that both of these extremes occur. But they are not the norm. For instance, I don't expect Judah to be born potty trained. I don't have a hard date on when Judah needs to be out of diapers. And I won't be unhappy if he switches to underwear overnight. Life and development are analog curves not digital deadlines. General Christian upbringing is something in the middle. There should be no hard line. There should be grace. The general Christian is like Judah — pooping in his diaper, peeing on the toilet seat, and beaming with pride.
This point is easily understood when it is presented to us in the form of children. The sanctification expected in covenant children is slow. Because of their stature, we expect a gradual development in obedience to God's word. We can imagine they will grow and mature spiritually along with age and intelligence. For the most part, we do not expect adult behavior or thoughts from a young child. We are excited when we see glimmers of it.
When we discuss the sanctification of children we see more closely the analogy of spiritual and physical development. We expect young Christians who are young in physical age to still behave as children. They still need to go through potty training. We should expect the same of young Christians who are older in physical age.
Yet, for some reason the often church works differently. We should expect new believers to pee themselves. They certainly poop their proverbial diapers...even in public sometimes. So where is the disconnect? Let me put forth that the modern church is so infatuated with the Enlightenment that we presume intelligence and knowledge are the answers to everything. They become the highest regard concerning "faith." And thus they become the signs of maturity in Christianity — "theology = maturity."
What does potty training look like under this paradigm? Typically, books and lecture series get thrown in front of new believers. Intellectual ascent and assent to Christian doctrine is expected to naturally catch up with their physical development. Thus, it is presumed that good questions or deep theological discussions are proof of regeneration and a maturing believer. There is a sense that they have finally understood Christianity. But this is not a healthy standard for Christianity is not something to be understood — it is something to be lived. Maturity is regeneration in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, living through us. Knowledge follows. And yes knowledge is easier for grown adult. But neither of these points means it is a valid marker.
Knowledge and holy living should not be in competition. Unfortunately, they are often not stacked on the same side. For example, an individual can be praised for theological acumen only to be slapped on the wrist for an "immature sin." "They should know better" is the chorus — never "accidents happen." Theological knowledge should not set our expectations about the maturity of a believer. They may still need potty training. That is the reality of growing and maturing believers in Jesus Christ.
So how do we potty train? Frankly, like with children, I cannot answer with complete certainty. Potty training is a mysterious thing that every parent thinks they have figured out. Our advice almost never works for any other parent. Knowledge helps, but there is no end-all parental guide. The same is true with potty training Christians. We certainly cannot do it through imparting knowledge or some special system. So let me attempt to say some of the things that can be said about potty training a young Christian.
The Positive Affirmations
What does a mature adult who is infantile in their faith look like? They look like a three-year-old person who is brimming with spiritual development. It will still look childish. New believers cannot speak what the Spirit has not taught them. But they can recite definitions. New believers cannot produce true fruit without the Spirit. But they can perform works. There are many things the worldly mind can logically understand the Scriptures and God. Only the Spirit reveals spiritual truth, and He makes no assurance He will follow our physical development.
There is a secretive work to the Holy Spirit in potty training that is sometimes more evidenced by a believer missing the seat. Maturity presents itself in confessing sin, admitting mistakes, offering forgiveness, and bending over backwards for restoration. These are works that we should be slow to judge. Yet, at their heart they represent the gospel in a way that knowledge and works cannot. To me, these evidence a slow development to Christian maturity as the Spirit brings to life our hearts and minds. The church should expect and encourage these types of slow development both in thinking and behavior. The church must encourage along the way and help clean up the messes.
So the church must potty train with patience. They must teach the core doctrines of the Christian faith while emphasizing that Christianity is not a religion of knowledge. They must teach Christian ethics without encouraging legalism. The church must expect disastrous blowouts at the most inopportune time and respond with grace. In this way, they exemplify maturity.
We can never allow ourselves to think more highly of knowledge than we ought. And we cannot allow it to dictate how we respond to infantile believers (even those who use big theological phrases). We need to be ready to clean the soiled undergarments, the bathroom, and the bed sheets without drawing attention or embarrassing our young brothers and sisters in Christ.
[Editor's Note: This post is a post-processing and refinement of many articles shared with Gospel-Centered Discipleship]