Let’s say you have two events on the calendar this week. They are similar in nature – let’s say each is an educational seminar that will help your life in some way. You’re busy though, and sometimes it’s hard to get back out after work. One of the seminars you had to pay $50 up front. The other is free. If you should decide to stay home one of the nights, which one do you think you’re more likely to skip?
With the lack of persecution and with the church culture we’ve developed it’s easy for folks to be nominally Christian without the commitment Christ required of those who would follow Him (Luke 9). If it costs them little more than a couple hours of sleep and a few bucks for the collection plate, it’s fairly easy to put their Christianity on life’s back burner. That’s why there are many who claim the name Christian and go on year after year showing little growth and little interest in contributing to the work of the church.
So long as people are allowed to wear the label of “Christian” without anything expected of them, we will have high numbers of weak Christians. People must learn what God expects of them – namely, maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
What does maturity look like? It looks like Jesus. How will that play out in practical terms? How will we know someone is reaching maturity?
First, they join in the unity of the faith, being interconnected with their church family. Many think it’s a sign of their superior spirituality that they can withdraw from the church and “come to God in their own way,” as the saying goes. On the contrary, that’s one of the surest signs they are greatly lacking in maturity.
Secondly with regard to maturity, they have a knowledge of the Son of God, understanding how Jesus would act in a given situation, submitting to the Father as He did, and desiring what He desires.
My favorite illustration for Christian maturity is that of a human’s progression with food. A newborn can’t handle anything beyond milk, and they need it served to them straight from the breast or the bottle. So the new Christian needs the basic milk of the Word, and they need it served to them in the very limited ways in which they can eat (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Peter 2:2). As the newborn grows, they can start digesting food that grows progressively more solid over time. So the young Christian can be spoon-fed progressively meatier truths by the spiritually mature in their lives.
Not long after, though, they learn to feed themselves the food that’s given to them. They can handle a spoon, and then a fork. The new Christian must grow to the point where they can take the food that’s been prepared for them in the form of sermons, Bible classes, articles, books, and the like, and use those to feed themselves.
Eventually the child will mature enough to prepare their own food, basic as it may be at first. Maybe they start by preparing a bowl of cereal, then a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, even scrambling an egg after a while. Eventually the young Christian should be led to develop their own food, being able to open up the Bible and glean something from it each time. Their study habits should develop to the point where they can use verses in context and grasp what’s being discussed. Many stop here and consider someone who knows the Word and has a strong personal spiritual life to be mature. Biblically, however, that’s not where the journey ends.
Finally, as the child grows into their teenage years they grow to where they can prepare foods that can be served for others. They learn how to make a casserole. They learn the skill of preparing an entree and sides and get the hang of measuring ingredients. The more practice they get at that, the better the meals they will serve. So the final step in Christian maturity is to know the kitchen (study tools) and the food (the Bible, and by extension Christ Himself) well enough to be able to prepare a meal for others and regularly engage in feeding others. This doesn’t necessarily mean preaching sermons or teaching Bible classes. Sometimes it just means something as simple as sitting across the table from a less mature Christian and helping them walk through the problems in their lives from a Gospel-centered perspective. It’s walking with Christ so you can help show others how to walk with Christ, so they can show others how to walk with Christ. It’s voluntarily carrying out the “one another” commands Jesus gave His church.
Until people reach that kind of maturity where they are proficient with the Word and can spiritually nourish others, our job isn’t done. Too many think their goal is to have a strong personal walk with God, but the journey can’t end there. Following Jesus means blessing others in return.
Where are you on the journey?