Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Characteristics of Mature and Immature Christians

During the years when our two sons were physically growing up, we occasionally asked them to stand next to a wall, and we put a mark on the wall to indicate their height. As they grew older, we could see the change in their height quite easily. It is important to see progress in spiritual growth as well as physical growth.

New Christians, no matter what their chronological age, are spiritual children. Tragically, some remain in this stage for much too long a time. The Bible describes some characteristics of spiritual children.

First, according to Ephesians 4:14-15, spiritual children are easily deceived by false teachers and are in need of spiritual growth:

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, 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." (NASB)

Second, according to 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, spiritual children sometimes behave like non-Christians and have relationship problems with other people:

"And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes 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?"

Third, according to Hebrews 5:12-13, spiritual children are not skilled in the “word of righteousness”:

"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 a babe."

The Bible also describes some characteristics of mature Christians.

First, mature Christians should be teachers (Hebrews 5:12): We have already seen in the verse above that mature Christians should be teachers by a certain time. Mature Christians may not have an official teaching position, but they should at least be unofficial teachers (mentors) who help less mature Christians grow spiritually.

Second, mature Christians are also skilled in the word of righteousness and can discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:13-14): “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” The word “mature” in the verse is a translation of the Greek word téleios. The Greek word can also be translated as “complete” or “perfect.”

It is quite obvious that God wants all Christians to grow spiritually. Jesus gave the command to be perfect (téleios in Greek) as the “heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). He was not referring to sinless perfection when He used the word “perfect.” Christians cannot reach the state of sinless perfection while they are physically alive on earth. Rather, Jesus was commanding them to be complete and mature in moral character. The apostle Paul used the same word in Colossians 1:28 when he said, “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.” James also used this word when he said that endurance produced by the testing of a Christian’s faith produces a “perfect” (mature) Christian (James 1:4). Obviously, such testing of one’s faith takes time, but some Christians grow much faster than do other Christians over the same period of time. The Christians who grow fastest are those who take full advantage of the God-given means of spiritual growth.