Christian Maturity: Part I

Christian Maturity

Newborn babies are beautiful when they emerge into this world from their mothers’ wombs, especially when they recover from a difficult entry into the world, cry a while, and finally slip into a restful sleep.  They are so innocent and pure, yet we know that their true nature will become manifest very soon.  They are essentially self-centered, the center of their own universe, and only concerned about themselves.  And since they are innately sinful, they need to be taught how to be mature and sinless through Christ.
 
The Scriptures speak of all humans as being innately sinful, in need of spiritual rebirth:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)
They need to be birthed into the Kingdom of Heaven, not merely the physical realm.  Jesus said to Nicodemus that a person needs to be “born again” if he is to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3).
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” (John 3:5-7)
Even Nicodemus, a spiritual leader in Israel, was told that he needed to be reborn in order to be truly spiritual and enter God’s Kingdom.  
This story leads us to the conclusion that even recently born children need to be reborn spiritually, for they have only been born into the natural world. Thus, although Jesus said, “A child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6), their understanding of the spiritual world is lacking, for they cannot see or understand spiritual truths.

Natural Versus Spiritual

Therefore, the first step towards Christian maturity is to be born a second time as a newborn into the Kingdom of God.  Otherwise, spiritual truths will not be understood or made a part of the person’s life and being:

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. (I Corinthians 2:14-15
Our lives in Christ must not end where they begin, however, as spiritual infants, for we must grow and mature spiritually.
 
We begin with a hunger for the “milk of the word,” as Peter writes:
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (I Peter 2:1-3)
Yes, infants subsist on their mothers’ milk, but they soon must begin to grow and begin eating more solid foods.  The Apostle Paul’s message to the Corinthians chastises them for not growing beyond the infant stage.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (I Corinthians 3:1-3)
Thus, while we all delight in the infants and babies around us, we are very disappointed when they continue to act like babies into their later months and years of life.  And some older adults even tend to continue acting like babies and children later in life.

Marks of Immaturity

What are the marks of a lack of spiritual maturity? Babies in Christ are like human infants, who are lovable, cute, and look like their parents.  And although  we may overlook and forgive their lack of maturity, they will likely exhibit some of the following characteristics at one time or another:
  • Spiritual babies are still carnal, are governed by their five physical senses, rather than “walking in the Spirit” and moved by God’s Holy Spirit.
  • Spiritual babies, like natural infants, get dirty and soil themselves, easily led into the uncleanliness of sin in the world.
  • Spiritual babies think they know everything they need to know.
  • Spiritual babies are not always spiritually motivated and may lack the spiritual power to live righteously. Instead, they must be motivated by rules, laws, and regulations enforced by punishments and chastisements, rather than being guided by the Holy Spirit.
  • Like natural babies and immature children, spiritual babies are impatient and lack endurance in the midst of persecution, trials, or hardships.
  • Spiritual babies may be self-centered and inconsiderate, yet hard to please, especially when they are older adults.
  • Spiritual babies are easily deluded and deceived, following the latest sensational teaching or television trends without discernment.
  • Spiritual babies may easily take offense, hold grudges, and find it difficult to forgive others.
  • Like the Children of Israel in the wilderness, spiritual babies may be complainers and crybabies.
  • Some spiritual babies are mean spirited rather than exhibiting the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Finally, like the immature children in the natural realm, spiritual babies may engage in bullying, teasing, and other group behaviors that seek to exercise control over others.

  

Stunted Growth Christians

Ironically, not all spiritual babies are young in years like natural children. Instead, some Christians have failed to grow up in all things in Christ:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head,even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
Such immature Christians may even have assumed positions of leadership in the Church even though they essentially are spiritual babies, having failed to grow and mature in the Lord.
In addition, too often they have outlasted true spiritual leaders in the local church who may have moved on to other churches.  Consequently, these spiritual babies tend to assume more leadership than anyone else in the church because they have been around longer. “We have never done it this way,” they say, and they try to take control even over the physical facilities and make the building their “church,” rather than realizing that the people make up the true Church.  
 
Thus, Christians who have never fully matured in spite of their many years in the church may exhibit all of the same behaviors of spiritual babies, but they are even more ridiculously pathetic, similar to adults who think they are mature but are constantly drinking from a baby bottle, crying, or complaining.
 
The Book of Hebrews reveals the characteristics of some of these spiritually immature Christians:
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
Thus, if they hear a message they have not heard before, or if it seems to contradict the basic doctrines they are familiar with, they will reject it the same way a little child will not eat adult foods. They have become “dull of hearing,” and therefore only hear what they want to hear rather receiving the “solid food” of mature believers.
 
The solution lies with the plans God has revealed through His Holy Spirit and the Scriptures: The ministries of the Holy Spirit have been given to the Church to bring about the full maturity of the members:

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.  (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Who Are the Mature Believers?

By submitting to, and learning from, these spiritual leaders, the babies in Christ will grow to maturity, learning from the words and actions of the mature leaders in the Body:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Ultimately, the time must also come when the Body of believers in the Church must even move past the basic teachings of the Word in order press on to the fullness of Christ’s ministry in the world.  This is what it says in Hebrews:
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.
 Thus, the mature believers in the Church exhibit the following characteristics:
  • The mature believer is led by the Holy Spirit rather than the flesh, or the natural knowledge that only comes from the five physical senses.
  • A mature believer seeks not his or her own way, but dies daily to personal desires, taking up the cross to allow Christ to live inside.
  • A mature believer shares willingly with others and is not controlling or manipulative to receive acclaim or authority.
  • Thus, a mature believer does not engage in “pity parties” or use unspiritual methods to get his or her own way.
  • A mature believer is led by the Holy Spirit rather than the latest best selling book, popular cultural fad, or the desires of the flesh (five physical senses).
  • A Mature believer is humble and appreciative, giving thanks to God and others believers who do God’s work.
  • A mature believer is a teacher, helping others grow up in the life of Christ.
  • A mature believer is becoming more and more like Christ, being transformed into His image day by day.
  • A mature believer subsists not just on the “milk” of the Word, but on the “meat” of the Word. Thus, even their physical senses are “trained” to discern good and evil: (Hebrews 5:13-14).
We must determine to examine ourselves and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance to discern our own maturity level, seeking ultimately to be diligently prepared and powerful witnesses in the Lord’s Kingdom.

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