THE GREATEST TASK BEFORE US
There is perhaps no more intensive task one can choose to undertake than the raising of children. For parents, children are their posterity, with the potential to extend their destiny beyond their natural lifespan. In the Body of Christ, however, we all are sons of God. We come into the family of God through birth. Our initial stage is that of newborn children. As in natural families, there is an anticipated growth through various stages resulting in one becoming mature. We start as children whose growth and maturity is determined and stewarded by the head, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ has organized His Body as a multigenerational family. The foundation of this family is Father-Son relationship, established by God as Father and as Son, and cultivated intentionally through spiritual fathers. The complete picture of this family is that of a Holy Nation that exists as one functioning Body under Christ's headship that displays the Kingdom of God in the earth.
Therefore let us leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement. And God permitting, we will do so (Hebrews 6:1-3 NIV).
THE CULTURE OF THE CORPORATE SON
The Elementary Doctrines both identify aspects of the culture of the corporate Son and provide the means by which that culture is established in every believer. This process is inextricably tied to the concept of maturity. Specifically, the stages of the maturing son of God depend upon the working of the Elementary Doctrines in a believer’s daily life. Scripture identifies these stages of sonship as a means of identifying one’s maturity level within the range of an infant son to one who has reached his or her full representation of God the Father within the greater Body. Similarly, the stages of sonship may describe the maturing of the corporate Son, the Body of Christ, as the Body matures through new revelation across epochs of time.
STAGES OF SONSHIP
The stages of sonship begin with the infant, or newly born-again believer, and progress to the mature son. Each stage refers to a particular Greek term for “son,” its meaning, and the manner in which it is used in Scripture. The infant son, or earliest stage, is called the nēpios stage [see Strong's #3516]. When one is first born again, that person is a son of God and, therefore, an heir in the house of God. However, the nēpios, though an heir, “does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything" (Galatians 4:1 NASB). The newborn believer is like an heir under guardianship. Such an heir is not sufficiently trained or mature enough to have free access to the resources of the household, though he is heir to everything in it. Regarding the teaching and training of the nēpios, that person is ready only for “milk,”which is described in Scripture as the opposite of “a message of wisdom among the mature” (2 Corinthians 2:6). For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant [nēpios]. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5: 12-14 NASB). One should note that the writer of Hebrews prescribes, specifically, the Elementary Doctrines as the starting place for the infant son of God and identifies the mature as one who has practiced them. Paul also equated the message for those in this infantile state as preaching “nothing …except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,”and that this message is in contrast to a message of wisdom for the mature. The nēpios stage is one in which great learning and foundation are necessary, but one in which the individual does not freely or intentionally access the resources of the House of God for lack of maturity.
The next stage of sonship is the paidion stage, often translated in Scripture as a child or children (pl.). John writes, I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men [neaniskos], because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children [paidion], because you know the Father (1 John 2: 13 NASB).
A paidion is a young child. In Scripture, the term is used for one who is able to recognize the Father. This stage may be considered the second stage of sonship as it is at times synonymous with a child who is an infant (See Strong's #3813).
The teknon stage comes next, and it is the first stage in which the son is sufficiently mature to be given responsibility and the opportunity to respond to rule. In terms of maturity, the teknon is still considered a child. (See John 2:12.) In terms of sonship, however, the teknon is a son who is sufficiently mature to engage a reciprocal relationship with the Father. Jesus told the following parable, which involves sons who are in the teknon stage of maturity: “…A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21: 28-31 NASB).
These sons are of sufficient maturity to be given rule and responsibility but whose inconsistencies in carrying out the will of their father show that more training is necessary before they are sons who are the complete representation of the father.
The next stage, the neaniskos stage, is similar to the maturity of “young men”: I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men [neaniskos], because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men [neaniskos], because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (1 John 2: 13-15 NASB).
This is the stage of the overcomer. It is a son who has been tested and displayed strength, and who, in the testing, has represented the word of God. The neaniskos is no longer a child, and the implication of overcoming the evil one indicates one who has been refined greatly through suffering.
THE SON SETS THE STANDARD
The final stage of sonship is huios. This is the son who may be sent as the full, complete representation of the Father. Perhaps the most important distinction of the huios in Scripture follows the parable described above of the man with two, teknon, sons, when Jesus tells the following parable: “…There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vinegrowers to receive his produce. The vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son [huios] to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ They took him, and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes'? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust” (Matthew 21: 33-44 NASB). The Son in the parable references Christ, the Son who was sent.
This Son’s representation of the Father is so complete that He may be knowingly sent into harm or death and that such harm is itself an indictment against those who would reject him. The huios son carries a measure of the House of God when he is sent, establishing the standards of righteousness by his representation of the Father. This is the fully mature, Christ-like son.