What are the Stages of Christian Growth? A Lifetime Process

To be a Christian is to devote one’s lifetime to spiritual development. This development occurs in stages, and knowledge of these stages is useful for orienting oneself toward a full transformation into the likeness of Christ.

So, what are the stages of Christian growth?

Christian growth advances in four stages: the time preceding knowledge of God’s Law, the initial fall that occurs when we realize we are under the Law, a period of acceptance of God’s influence in our lives, and a state of peace when the image of Christ within us has been realized.

These are the four stages of a Christian life, and below, we’ll consider what each stage means for the developing follower of Christ.

But first…

assorted silver colored pocket watch lot selective focus photo

The Four Stages of Christian Growth (List Form)

The list below presents the four stages of Christian growth in a way that the reader may find more attractive than the paragraph above.

  • Stage 1: The Primordial State is that period of one’s life which passes before they possess knowledge of God’s Laws and the expectations placed upon man.
  • Stage 2: The Fallen State is that period which passes shortly after knowledge of God’s Law has been gained. In this state, one wrestles with the realization that they have been living in gross deviance from what the Almighty has expected of them.
  • Stage 3: The Growing State is that period of one’s life which passes after they have realized their errors and accepted that they are in need of change. It is during this stage that God’s Grace is made most apparent and the person begins their transformation for the better, that is, into the likeness of Christ.

    This transformative process is called deification in the Catholic tradition and theosis in the Orthodox.
  • Stage 4: The Peace State is that period of ones’s life which passes after being transformed into the image of Christ. People who attain this state are rightly called saints, and their lives serve as an example for how others ought to live so that they might achieve the same deified position.

A Short Video on the Four Stages of Christian Growth

St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote a handbook in which he described the process of Christian Growth over the lifetime. This video provides a dramatic narration of it, and the references it depicts can assure the reader that what they read here is reliable.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/59GOKig9Dvc

The Four Stages of Christian Growth

These are the four stages of Christian growth presented in greater detail. Most people live their lives permanently stuck in the second.

The Primordial State

Consider the case of the Garden of Eden.

While man was in the garden, God was nearby, and yet the Law had not been given. Only a single commandment had been uttered to the first humans. They were told not eat of the Tree of Good and Evil, and they would be blameless for all their misdeeds during this early state.

Now, because no commandments aside form the One had been given, Adam and Eve could not be expected to follow them, for they lacked knowledge of Good and Evil. Therefore, before breaking the One, they were blameless of sin, for God, being just, does not hold us accountable to those standards of which we are ignorant.

Yet Eve ate from the tree, and man immediately entered the Fallen State.

Now, the lives of men follow a similar course. All men go through a period during which they are ignorant of Good and Evil. During this time, they are blameless for sins they commit, for they do not know what sin is; this is the case of all infants.

However, man inevitably comes across knowledge of morality, and upon accepting it, he becomes responsible for following its precepts. Yet, because he had accumulated bad behaviors during that time of his life spent in the Primordial State, he is unfit to meet the standards which are now applied to him. He thereby enters the Fallen State.

The Primordial State is the default state of mankind, and all who have some amount of knowledge concerning God and His Law have moved away from it.

silhouette of mountain under the moon covered with clouds

The Fallen State

Man enters the Fallen State after he learns of his own inadequacies before God. This period could last for only a few seconds, or it could persist until the end of one’s life. For most people, this state endures forever.

Humans are not meant to remain in the Fallen State. Instead, they are supposed to leave it as soon as possible, for fallen is not a desirable way to be. In order to leave the Fallen State, one must accept the following statement:

“I’m not good enough, and I need help.”

A person leaves the Fallen state when they accept that they are fallen. This acknowledgement of one’s own inadequacy must then be accompanied by a desire to become adequate. This desire must be fulfilled by something external to the person.

The need for an external aid exists because if it did not, if the person who realizes that they have fallen believes himself capable of saving himself, then he will begin to fall into arrogant rationalizations and self-deceits which will pull him farther away from God. He will end up trading old flaws for new ones in the process.

At the point of acceptance of one’s own inadequacy, they enter the Growing State.

close up of tree against sky

The Growing State

The Growing State is that period of one’s life spent cultivating virtues which have been deemed pleasing to God. Through this accumulation, humans begin to uncover the image of God within themselves.

The characteristic traits of the Growing Stage include introspection, prayer, and repentance.

Through introspection, one begins to clearly identify their own inadequacy. Solitude and quiet are often needed for a person to introspect well.

Through prayer, one begins to articulate the insights which they have gained through introspection. These articulations allow one to manage their own faults more effectively. People accomplish this by clearly stating their character flaws and considering the remedies which might be found for them.

The constant request for God’s aid is also useful for reinforcing the belief that one cannot save themselves, a belief which, as described above, the Christian must retain. Self-knowledge often tempts one to become arrogant, for they now possess an understanding which most do not, and this arrogance must be suppressed in order for spiritual growth to be sustained.

Repentance is needful during the Growing State because it orients one’s introspection most effectively. When one remembers the importance of repentance while they introspect, they can more easily recognize and expunge faults within their character.

If one introspects without repentance in mind, then they tend to look for excuses to believe in their own unending goodness. These excuses often take the form of lies which people tell themselves when they want to believe that all of their actions are pure and that their intentions arise from every altruistic motive imaginable.

The Peace State

The Christian believes that men are made in the image of God. However, men sin, and, on this account, the image of God within them becomes blurred and faded. The goal of the lifetime of prayer and repentance is to slowly restore the image of God inside them.

If a person carries out the process of growth and repentance addressed above for long enough, then the image of God within them will eventually be restored to its original blameless and sinless state. At this point, the Christian enters a state of Peace. they are no longer in sin, they have returned to full unity with God, and the risk of returning to their fallen state is no longer present, for the desire to sin has been overcome. This person, living in peace with themselves and God, has achieved theosis.

Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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