And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness….And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so.Genesis 1:4, 6, 7
Growing up in a rural community can be quite an adventure. I can remember many an afternoon, weekend, or summer day rummaging through the woods surrounding our home, or running through the pastures at my grandfather beef cattle farm. Often we would spend the summers “bushhogging” one or both of the large fields behind my parents’ home and letting the cut grass sit for a week and dry in the hot Louisiana late summer sun. The following weekend, my brothers and I would join my grandfather, dad, and uncle and occasionally other hired hands and partners of my grandfather to rake the hay in a giant spiral and follow behind with a baler. My younger brothers and I would scramble to stack the bales on a old trailer while my dad or uncle would drive the truck alongside.
One of the joys of the end of summer was the annual trip to the auction near Forest Festival time. Grandpa would gather all the same folks together again and we would round up selected cattle that were ready for market. Typically he would separate out six to eight heads, including all bull calves, unless it was a year where he needed to keep a bull calf as his stud bull would reach age. I was always fascinated with the precision and careful eye that my grandpa would take in selecting the cattle that were ready for market in an effort to maximize the return on his investment in raising them for market. Only the best cattle would be chosen, those that were destined to bring honor to his farm (and his wallet).
There were times as well that I recall grandpa separating diseased cattle from the healthy, in order to protect the health of the herd. He would call in a vet to have the sick bovine examined and treated and would leave the cow in isolation until the sickness had abated before returning her to the herd. But one of the most amazing miracles of being raised on my grandpa’s cattle farm was to witness the birth of new calves. The birth of new calves would often occur in isolation, so as to protect the young from the potential of being trampled by rival mother cows. Grandpa would watch over the mother but would only assist when necessary in order to allow the calf to be born as naturally as possible. In rare cases, grandpa would “arm up” and assist with the birth in order to save both the mother and the newborn from a potentially disastrous birth experience.
Typically, grandpa would keep the mother and her newborn calf in isolation for a couple of weeks in order to give time for the two to bond and the calf to strengthen and get used to walking on its wobbly legs. In cases where the calf wouldn’t feed from the mother or the unfortunate incident of the mother dying during birth, I would mix up a special milk formula bottle for the calf and go out and feed her from the bottle and nurture the calf until she was ready for the pasture. It was a beautiful time of bonding with the calf and building up trust between the calf and I, until ultimately it was time to turn the calf loose on her own.
A New Birth
Jesus compared the beginnings of a transformed life as His follower to that of being “born again.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) The Greek phrase for “born again” is gennaō anōthen, which can literally be translated “to be born from above”. A new life in Christ is indeed a bit of a birthing process that requires careful transition from an old life shrouded in the darkness of sin to a new life following the “light of men.” (John 1:4) And with this new life, it is important that the transition and growth begin immediately in order to allow the new convert to stand on their own two feet as quickly as possible. This is the process that we know as discipleship.
The study Real-Life Discipleship1 describes discipleship as progressive and typically occurring in stages, much like the same stages that we as humans go through – infant, child, young adult, and parent. As a new believer, it is true that we are very much like spiritual infants, very dependent upon mature believers in order to learn and absorb the reality of this new life we have been given. Without a spiritual “parent” to walk alongside and feed us and encourage us and hold our hand in those early days, we will not only struggle with understanding but we can often find ourselves starving and crying out in frustration, hungry for some sense of understanding, until eventually we either “die out” or fade away from the faith altogether. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2, 3)
Separated for Growth
From a practical standpoint, just as my grandpa would isolate a newborn calf and her mother from the rest of the herd, new believers should be corralled into a fellowship and one or two mature believers should invest time and energy is helping to grow this new believer. This should always be at the initiative of the mature believers, not the new believer. The new Christian doesn’t know what they don’t know. In fact, they likely do not even understand that they need to be nurtured in their new faith so that they can grow up and be stronger to walk on their own, before they are thrown in with the rest of the herd.
Small group Bible Studies are great for introducing new believers to other members of the flock, but are not always conducive for answering the basic questions that new believers are going to have as it relates to understanding Scripture, understanding doctrine, understanding Biblical truth as it applies to their lives. This is best done in isolation, with one or two mature believers walking with the new believer together in an effort to give them the strength and encouragement to walk on their own, to answer the questions they may have about what they are studying in the Word, to encourage them when they inevitably encounter the fear of sharing their new faith with their peers who may not readily accept them.
Yes, they will cry. Yes, they will scream in frustration. Yes, they will sometimes call in the middle of the night hungry for attention and guidance and understanding. And we must be patient guides and spiritual “parents” to help them grow in order that they can learn how to turn over, crawl, pull themselves up, walk, and eventually run on their own, sharing the gospel truth with those around them.
Separated for Service
The apostle Paul once referred to himself as “set apart for the gospel of God.” (Romans 1:1) In his final letter to his protege Timothy, he writes “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21) Throughout Paul’s letters, he encourages believers to be different from the world around them, to be transformed and grow into the likeness of Christ. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
In Peter’s first epistle, he exhorts the readers “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) The careful choice of words that Paul uses here harken to the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6 – “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” However, he also alludes to Jesus’ words in John 15:19 – “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Even the Psalmist of the Old Testament understood what it meant to be separated for service when he wrote “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.” (Psalm 4:3) God has called us to be set apart, different, transformed and reshaped for His glory.
Separated for His Glory
Just like any farmer keeps his livestock separated, so does Christ keep His own flock separated. Just like any farmer will brand his cattle in order to more easily identify which livestock are his compared to others, so does Jesus write His word on our hearts to identify us as His own. As believers, as we have grown into maturity, we will bear the fruit of service to Him for His glory, and His glory alone.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.Matthew 25:31-40
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Transformation Through Separation
As a believer, we are called to be separated from the world, even though we are in the world and must be active within it. We are called to be transformed into a new creation, progressing to the image of the Son into Christlikeness. The gospel is both transformational and conformational, but it requires separation from the ways of the world for that to take place. While we are not meant to be “conformed to the ways of this world” (Romans 12:2), we are called to be conformed to the image of Christ. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29, 30)
This means repenting of our old ways and learning how to live in accordance with the word of God. Sometimes, separation can be painful and requires time to adjust, but it will always require patience and determination on the part of the disciple and the discipler. God knew you before the world was even created and He called you. He justified you. This is transformative and a cause for conformity to the image of Christ. For in the end, the glory we receive through our justification is His and His alone, that only He can impart unto us.
- Putnam, Jim; Avery T. Willis, Brandon Guindon, Bill Krause. Real Life Discipleship. (Colorado Springs: NavPress. 2010)