When is the last time you gave thought to the subject of spiritual immaturity? If you are a pastor or other ministry leader, chances are you’ve spoken about this with your peers or supervisor in the last few months. You have wondered how long will it take before the children of God (even leaders) walk in the mature, spiritual path the Lord has desired and required.
The great apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, primarily on the theme of the purification of the church, about this very topic, although in a casual reading of the book, one might miss it. I have always found it fascinating that Paul opened his letter this way, “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus…” (1 Co 1:2) Yet, when you get past the pleasantries, you can’t help but notice his subject in Chapter 3:1, “And I, Brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” My question has always been, “well, which one was it?” How could it be that the saints were both sanctified and carnal at the same time?
Spiritual Formation is one of the most overlooked of subjects for those studying (and perhaps practicing) ministry. It is God’s will for each of His children to grow and develop in their faith, instead of remaining carnal and as spiritual babies their entire lives. How sad it is to see people who have named Jesus Christ as their Lord for decades, and yet they have never gone past the spiritual “milk” to where they are fed on spiritual “meat.” Whose fault is this? Well, in truth it is the fault of the leadership for not providing the spiritual discernment to recognize this need and correct it, instead of burying their heads in the sand, hoping it will go away. Yet, before you get all wound up, you must recognize it is also the individual believer’s fault for not allowing the “spiritual man” to grow up.
We’ve all seen them, people who don’t act their age…something I’ve been accused of from time-to-time, however, I am not speaking of it from a spiritual networking sense, rather from the standpoint that one never goes beyond the most fundamental of Scriptural teaching. It should not be that after many years of identifying ourselves as children of God, that we still act like children. It should not be that the very basics of the faith must constantly be droned on and on about by the leadership of the church because those who have “been in the faith” so long do not “act their age.” Now, you might say, “Brother McKinley, what are you talking about?” Well, I’m glad you asked. The writer of Hebrews put it this way, “For every one that useth milk, is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:11)
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS SENIORITY IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Spiritual development is the result of spiritual preparation, not time on the job. For the individual desiring to grow in faith, there are five brief benchmarks.
Such a simple truth that is often ignored. For the individual growing in the faith, there will be an ultimate fruit as the result of the growth. The same could be said for those who do NOT grow. Non-growth is most often revealed by the fruit of division, arrogance, gossip and an unbending, unforgiving spirit. Yet TRUE spiritual maturity displays the fruit of righteousness, the result of putting off the works of the flesh and putting on the fruit of the spirit. (Galatians 5:13-26) Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthian church, “Now he that ministereth seed to the sower both minister bread for your food, and multiply your seed sown, and increase the fruits of your righteousness;” (2 Co. 9:10)
2. IMITATING CHRIST
Have you ever seen someone who named Christ as their Lord, but they lived like the devil? We have a tendency to reflect our true nature (and even spiritual DNA) by who we become like. Often people will comment that I look like my father, and often, my wife shares with me that I ACT like him at times. Was it the result of living so long in his house and learning to copy his habits? Those who imitate Christ will have the fruit of Christ. Paul said, “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” (Col 1:10)
If there is anything we should all learn in order to please God it is this: That we learn to LOVE. I’m not talking about a fond affection for someone, but rather true genuine love. Love that not only picks someone up when they are down, that covers a multitude of sins, but also a love that will be HONEST and OPEN with those who are failing…or in other words, loving them enough to tell them when they are failing. After all, isn’t that what Jesus practice with everyone from the Pharisee’s to His most trusted disciples? Yes, love wins.
I am amazed at the churches who constantly talk about the “Gifts of the Spirit” operating in their church. You may attend the church and hear five messages in tongues, as many interpretations, people prophesying to each other, and folks “slain” in the Spirit. But…let me ask you this; If there is no love in such a place what good is it? I believe it to be by God’s design that 1 Corinthians 13 (known as the love chapter) is tucked between 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14…chapters outlining such events and their proper operation. How can we miss such an obvious point? Too often, such places are NOT “havens of rest” or places of peace. If we are going to attain to anything…it should be to LOVE. After all, this is how people are to know us, “by our love one to another.” (John 13:35)
4. PRESSING TOWARD PERFECTION
“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 6:1)
When someone in my position begins using the word perfection, it often makes people nervous…don’t we all make mistakes? Who can be perfect? Is he talking about “sinless perfection?” Well…the Greek word used in this context is “teleiotes (tel-i-o-tase’) which literally means “completer or finisher.” Or you might put it this way, “Let us go on to MATURITY. Now that has a nice sound, doesn’t it?
Instead of constantly living in a state of immaturity, this verse indicates that we should “press” to “maturity,” not just hope and believe it will happen. We must spend time in the Scriptures so that the Scriptures get into our hearts. We must spend time in prayer, developing our relationship with the Father. We need to spend time with people of like-minded faith who will challenge us and hold us to accountability. To remain children is NOT an option. It is time to grow up!
5. GROWING IN HIS GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE
Now this one is a no-brainer, right? Peter put it this way, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever.”