The neophyte or third-class devotee is one whose faith is not strong and, at the same time, does not recognize the decision of the revealed scripture. The neophyte's faith can be changed by someone else with strong arguments or by an opposite decision. Unlike the second-class devotee, who also cannot put forward arguments and evidences from the scripture, but who still has all faith in the objective, the neophyte has no firm faith in the objective. Thus he is called the neophyte devotee.
Further classification of the neophyte devotee is made in the Bhagavad-gītā. It is stated there that four classes of men—namely those who are distressed, those who are in need of money, those who are inquisitive and those who are wise—begin devotional service and come to the Lord for relief in the matter of their respective self-satisfaction. They go into some place of worship and pray to God for mitigation of material distress, or for some economic development, or to satisfy their inquisitiveness. And a wise man who simply realizes the greatness of God is also counted among the neophytes. Such beginners can be elevated to the second-class or first-class platform if they associate with pure devotees.
An example of the neophyte class is Mahārāj Dhruva. He was in need of his father's kingdom and therefore engaged himself in devotional service to the Lord. Then in the end when he was completely purified he declined to accept any material benediction from the Lord. Similarly, Gajendra was also distressed and prayed to Kṛṣṇa for protection, after which he became a pure devotee. Similarly, Sanaka, Sanātana, Sananda and Sanat-kumāra were all in the category of wise, saintly persons, and they were also attracted by devotional service. A similar thing happened to the assemblage in the Naimiṣāraṇya forest, headed by the sage Śaunaka. They were inquisitive and were always asking Sūta Gosvāmī about Kṛṣṇa. Thus they achieved the association of a pure devotee and became pure devotees themselves. So that is the way of elevating oneself. In whatever condition one may be, if he is fortunate enough to associate with pure devotees, then very quickly he is elevated to the second-class or first-class platform.
These four types of devotees have been described in the Seventh Chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, and they have all been accepted as pious. Without becoming pious no one can come to devotional service. It is explained in the Bhagavad-gītā that only one who has continually executed pious activities and whose sinful reactions in life have completely stopped can take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Others cannot. The neophyte devotees are classified into four groups—the distressed, those in need of money, the inquisitive and the wise—according to their gradations of pious activities. Without pious activities, if a man is in a distressed condition he becomes an agnostic, communist or something like that. Because he does not firmly believe in God, he thinks that he can adjust his distressed condition by totally disbelieving in Him.
Lord Kṛṣṇa, however, has explained in the Gītā that out of these four types of neophytes, the one who is wise is very dear to Him because a wise man, if he is attached to Kṛṣṇa, is not seeking an exchange of material benefits. A wise man who becomes attached to Kṛṣṇa does not want any return from Him, neither in the form of relieving distress, nor in gaining money. This means that from the very beginning his basic principle of attachment to Kṛṣṇa is, more or less, love. Furthermore, due to his wisdom and study of śāstras (scriptures), he can understand also that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.