What is Christian Maturity?

There are two definitions of maturity that Christians today consider as they think of how they can grow in their Christian faith. The first, is the maturity one has in his or her relationship with God. To symbolize this definition, I could ask how close you are to God. The second, and most often used in western culture, refers to a degree of knowledge about God. This type of maturity is a maturity based in the intellect and can be symbolized by my asking the question, “What has God taught you about Himself?” Though the two are often practiced separately, we must recognize that both types of maturity are entirely dependent upon one another. For, how can we know more about God if God does not reveal Himself, and why would God reveal Himself more deeply to us if we are not in relationship with Him? Furthermore, how can we know God more if we refuse to learn more about God? Though we live as these two forms of maturity are separate from one another, there is actually only one way to grow in maturity as a Christian, and that is to both rely on God more and more and to learn more and more about God simultaneously. Thus, we should consider that the more we rely on God, the more we will want to learn of Him and the more we earn of God the more we will want to rely on Him. This is a never-ending cycle that causes our minds and our hearts (which are one)[1] to become slaves of Christ.

Let us consider, then, what it means that a Christian should strive for maturity. And ask ourselves, “Is there a relationship we can have with God above and beyond His saving us from damnation?” We will find that the answer is yes, there is more to our relationship with God than our own salvation.

“About this 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 need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”[2]

The problem is not our being watered-down

            I have heard, many times, that western Christianity is the epitome of watered-down faith. This, I fear, is a false diagnoses of the lack of faithfulness among western Christians (both to one another and to God). To say that Christians are watered down, and place this as the reason for the state of western Christianity is to ideologically take God’s sovereignty and give it to western Christians. Though there is a seemingly watered-down nature to the western church, we cannot place responsibility for the health of the Church in mankind’s hands, else it fails entirely to be the Church. We live in an age that declares salvation to be God’s work, yet reserves the work of sanctification for humanity. We must realize that sanctification, our maturing in the faith or growing closer to God, is also God’s work. We cannot save ourselves; we cannot become more mature on our own.

The author of Hebrews seems, here, to bring an indictment against God’s peoples, accusing them of becoming hard of hearing. This was not long after Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father.[3] Saying that, by this time, God’s people should have become teachers but instead needed, once again, to be taught the basics of the faith. God’s people, mentioned here, were failing to grow both closer to God and in their knowledge of God. They were failing to grow more mature.

Sunday after Sunday virtually every western church renders messages of salvation and morality from the pulpit. Though some of these churches have specialized classes for the more spiritually mature, many do not. This forces those who are spiritually mature to dumb down their faith and lives a burnt-out Christian lifestyle. It also encourages those who are not spiritually mature to remain a spiritual infant. This is not watered down Christianity, it is a burnt out, unexciting relationship with God, and it is what we preach from our pulpits or from our stages within the church. The problem is not our being watered down, it is the fact that we are never curious about Christian life beyond salvation and morality. We are not concerned with knowing God or knowing about God, we are obsessed with safety and that is an ironically dangerous place for us to be. We are hard of hearing, needing once again to be taught the basics of the faith even though we should be teachers!

The faith is more exciting than heaven and hell

While the question of our salvation is the most important question we must ask, it becomes spiritually devastating if we are content to only ask this one question. As we ask the question, over and over again, we are content to constantly question our own faith instead of trusting God to do what He has done for us. We become burnt out in the faith because all the faith is, to us, is avoiding a place called Hell or getting into a place called Heaven. We desire to be with God, but in our constantly going back to the idea of salvation, we fail to pursue God and thus fail to accept God’s work of maturing us. We must always remember that it is God who saved us, but to pursue salvation after it is attained is nonsensical!

The author of Hebrews, after mentioning the importance of gaining the skill of reading scripture and the skill of discernment, refers to “leaving the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” What! As Christians who are growing more mature in the faith, which depends entirely on Christ, are to leave the elementary doctrine of Christ? Yes, but not so to forsake them, instead to build on those doctrines as a foundation for more mature pursuits! Our relationship with God is more than salvation, but it depends entirely on God’s work of salvation.

The author also refers to several doctrines to show us what he means by what are the elementary doctrines of Christ. He mentions repentance from dead works, faith toward God, instructions about washing, instruction about the laying on of hands, doctrine concerning the resurrection of the dead and doctrine concerning the eternal judgment. As western Christianity, rarely, if ever, do we move beyond these things. Instead, even the most scholarly among us spends virtually all of his time debating and exploring these issues. Though we must seek to understand these things, the author of Hebrews considers them ‘elementary’ doctrine. These doctrines hold Christians back and keep Christians from growing into a greater maturity with Christ. Many times, the western Christian even fails to explore what is elementary. If he fails to explore what is elementary, how can he ever move on to a greater maturity in his relationship with God? He cannot.

What is maturity?

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”[4]

It seems ironic that the above verse of scripture is often used as a proof to defend the idea that certain individuals can lose their salvation, especially after the author chose to prelude it with a conversation about the immaturity of laying again the elementary doctrine of redemption. Simply because if its context, this passage cannot be used to defend the insecurity of the believer. The tasting of the heavenly gift, which is the Holy Spirit who is received at salvation, here is the definition imposed on those who have once been enlightened and have shared in the Holy Spirit. This thought seems to refer to an act of the intellect apart from the emotion and an act of knowledge apart from experience. To taste is not to enjoy the fullness of the meal and to share in is not to have completely for one’s self. Those who focus completely on knowledge about God will never move on to maturity because the will always run back to elementary doctrines about Christ. They will try to fully understand them when, in all likelihood, it seems impossible to understand fully an infinitely comprehensive being. We are not infinite. The pursuit seems futile and keeps Christians from moving on to maturity. Though exploring these elementary doctrines is important, understanding them fully is unlikely. Many of those who taste of this enlightenment often will never accept the lordship of Christ because they never experience the Lordship of Christ. Looking to gain knowledge about God without experiencing a relationship with God is again crucifying the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt. Christian maturity is growing in relationship with God. Though knowledge about God is part of that, to focus wholly on knowledge is to remain spiritually immature. We must experience God!

To illustrate this, I ask just one simple question. What would my marriage be like if I only chose to learn as much as I could about my wife without ever spending time with her? My marriage would never mature and would most likely end. In fact, it is unlikely that I would ever have had the chance to ask my wife to marry me.

The challenge

Therefore, do not be content with knowledge about God no matter how exhaustive! We must live in relationship. Get out and serve God! Worship God both in spirit and in truth! Live in the community God has established! Grow closer to God!

As we do so, our hunger for knowledge about God will intensify. We will know more than we ever thought possible. As we come to know more about God, we will desire a fuller relationship with Him. This creates for a faith that is more exciting than we could ever have realized! It is not easy, but it is the only pursuit that is worthwhile!

[1] The heart is used in today’s culture to refer to the seat of the emotions and the mind to the seat of the intellect. Scripture often refers to the heart as the seat of the intellect and to the bowels as the seat of the emotion. If a person is to consist of both feeling and thought, then both the intellect and the emotion are also entirely dependant upon one another, thus creating what we often refer to as the soul or the spirit.

[2] Hebrews 5:11-6:6 ESV

[3] Acts 1:6-11

[4] Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV

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