What is Christian maturity? Is this synonymous with being an older Christian, or does it involve something more than just chronological age?
“But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
Christian maturity is not the same thing as being an older Christian. And while there are older people who are spiritually mature, you don’t have to be over sixty-five to exhibit this quality. Conversely, some Christians, regardless of age, have never quite grown up spiritually.
God’s goal is that we grow up into Christ—that we not stay spiritual babies forever. Hebrews 5:12-14 explains:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first 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 unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
According to this passage, a spiritually mature person is skilled in the word of righteousness—he knows God’s word. Second Timothy 2:15 tells us, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” We become better at handling God’s word the more we study it. Jesus Himself said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide [stay] in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:3-4) Because Jesus is identified as the Word of God (John 1), we know that the way to remain in Him is by reading and studying the Bible. Moreover, spiritual maturity is impossible without it.
A spiritually mature person is also discerning. By reason of use—because he has a track record of making Biblically sound decisions—choosing right over wrong—he has exercised his senses to tell good from evil and is spiritually discerning. It is certainly the case here that practice makes perfect. Only by making decisions that consistently reflect our respect for what God says do we exercise the spiritual muscles that cause us to be able to grow in our understanding of right and wrong.
It is interesting that God frequently commands us to obey, even though we do not initially understand the full impact of that obedience. This is what is meant by the verse, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) God expects us to do what He says is right, even if we cannot quite fathom beforehand the significance of that obedience. Once we step out in faith and do what He says, however, He opens up our understanding and causes us to see what He is doing and how big both He and His plan are. That was the situation when Israel was poised to enter the Promised Land:
“[God said] You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan.’” So Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God.” And Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites: Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan…And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.” So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.” (Joshua 3:8-17)
God caused a miracle to happen—the water parted to let the people of Israel through. But nothing happened until the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into it. The same happens when we step out in faith and say, “God, I don’t understand why You want me to do this thing that I don’t want to do and which I really think will make me unhappy. But because You are God, I am obeying You.” And miraculously, once we obey Him He opens our eyes to see His bigger plan. It becomes clear that not only is it better for God’s purposes, it is also better for us! Jesus explained it like this: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) But we will never get to see God’s bigger purpose if we cling to our disobedient desires!
In contrast to the spiritually mature, those who are baby Christians are neither skilled in the word of righteousness, nor practiced in choosing good over evil. The writer of Hebrews reproves them, because even though by now they should know better, their lack of spiritual maturity is their own fault—they are immature Christians because they aren’t studying the Bible and are giving in to sin.
“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.” (Hebrews 6:1-3)
The writer of Hebrews concludes by listing the elementary principles of Christ–a list not quite so elementary for many Christians today—and urging us to go on to perfection. We are to allow God to accomplish everything He wants in and through us by the power of Christ—to grow up in all things into Him who is the head, Christ. May we truly do this!
Thank You that Your plan is so much better than what we think is good for us. Help us to grow up in all things into Christ. Give us a desire to know Your Word and the discernment that comes from consistently choosing right over wrong. In Jesus’ name, Amen.