We all enter the Christian life as newborn babies. Jesus explained this to religious Nicodemas as being born again or born from above. From that point, we begin the process of growth.
I read of a little girl named Brooke Greenberg who was born normally but did not grow. Brooke died Oct. 24, 2013 at age 20. As a 16-year-old, she weighed 16 pounds and was 30 inches tall. She physically looked like a six-month-old. For her short life, she had basically remained an infant. She traveled in a stroller and spent most of her time rocking back and forth in a baby swing. Brooke was fed through a feeding tube and was unable to speak. She seemed to have no conception of time. When I read of this young lady’s situation, my heart broke for her and for her family, not because she was not loved and cared for, but because of unrealized potential.
This physical account brought vividly to my mind the fact that many receive Christ as personal Savior and are born from above spiritually by God’s grace, have a new nature and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, but never mature as believers. From the point of the new birth, we are admonished to begin the growth process with the end result to become more like our Savior. The ultimate goal is to be complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). This process is accomplished through two key ingredients: The providences of life and the precepts of Scripture. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). When a believer filters life’s circumstances through the crucible of God’s Word, that believer grows and matures (James 1:4). The believer who ignores and refuses to implement Scripture into everyday life decisions will remain an immature baby described in I Corinthians 3:1 as carnal (fleshly), babes in Christ.
My wife and I are privilege to have three children and seven grandchildren. Although it has been a while since we have had a baby in our home, I still remember their characteristics. Babies cannot feed themselves and often ingest whatever is handy even it may be detrimental to their health. Immature Christians swallow bad doctrine and swerve from the truth unless cared for and taught correctly.
I recall when our babies began to take their first steps. Walking straight required encouragement and a bit of help. Still there were spills and skinned knees. Baby talk was cute at the time. Often babies play with dangerous things, have to be entertained, and are selfish and do not share. In retrospect, we never expected more because you simply do not expect much from an infant or toddler. There comes a time, however, when children are to grow up, learn to walk straight, talk correctly, have discernment, make good decisions, and know how to feed themselves.
By now, you note the correlation between growth physically and growth spiritually. Growth requires four things: Proper food — for the believer is the Word of God. I Peter 2:2 describes the Bible as the milk of the Word. In Hebrews 5:1, 11-14, the Bible is described as the meat of the Word. The Bible is described as the bread in Matthew 4:4 and Psalm 119:103 describes the Bible as honey.
The importance of reading, studying, memorizing, and applying the Bible in a new Christian’s life cannot be overestimated. Babies in Christ (new converts) remain babies unless they make the Scriptures their daily necessary spiritual food. This fact stresses the importance of our church’s providing sound doctrinal preaching and teaching along with evangelism. New converts do not need to be entertained and spoiled but mentored and instructed by seasoned saints who have a command of Scripture.
The second aspect of proper growth is exercise. I certainly feel sorry for the youth of our generation who are glued to their phones, iPads, computer screens, and T.V.’s. If it were not for antiperspirant commercials, most would have no idea where their sweat glands are. As a country boy growing up on our family farm, I only thought our house had three rooms — the kitchen, bedroom, and outside. My folks made sure we had opportunity for exercise with farm chores and a world to explore. Spiritual exercise that strengthens and flexes our spiritual muscles is available through Bible study, prayer times, giving of time, talent, treasure, witnessing and church attendance. We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works.
The second most important spiritual decision apart from salvation is your church membership. Choose a Bible-based church with sound doctrine and a world evangelism burden, and a heavy emphasis on teaching and preaching. Faithfulness to all services and personal involvement in projects and programs will fill your life with the kind of spiritual exercise that contributes to growth and maturity.
Everyone needs periods of rest.
Jesus said to weary disciples, “Come apart and rest for a while.”
Spiritual rest is not a secession of activity, but time spent sitting at His feet learning about the Savior and listening to Him (Matthew 11:28-30). I have heard older folks say that babies grow while they are sleeping. A new Christian has to take time to come apart and rest in Christ in order to mature in Him.
Last of all, God has provided new believers with helpers.
Ephesians 4:11-12, “And he gave some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints.”
Ephesians 4:14a, “that we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro.”
Take the maturity test. How long have you been a Christian? Are you still a baby Christian, even a carnal Christian or are you growing and maturing? The indicators are spelled out graphically in Scripture.
James spoke of the testings of life having a perfecting work, so that we might be perfect (mature) and entire wanting nothing. This requires wisdom that is available in ample supply from God (James 1:4-5). The mature man seeks godly wisdom, which is readily found in God’s Word. Believers, who lack Bible wisdom, are wavering and unstable.
An excellent indicator of spiritual maturity is our attitude toward others.
A good motto is: “Others, Lord, yes others, let this my motto be. Help me to live for others that I might live like Thee.”
Paul exhorts strong spiritual believers to help others who are overtaken in a fault (Galatians 6:1).
The mature believer has discretion in conversation. James 3:1-3 equates maturity with control of the tongue. Truly out of the heart, the mouth speaks. Listen to anyone talk for a few minutes and you will know where their treasures are, the condition of their heart, the things that motivate their lives and their moral compass.
I never cease to be amazed when I am privileged to see a believer under pressure. Adversity, whether external or self-inflicted, reveals the level of maturity. In short, the believer who strives to be like Christ will have a spiritual appetite for the things of God. Sound doctrine, a craving to be with other believers, discernment between good and evil, and a desire to see others know the Savior all play prominent roles in a maturing Christian’s life. Spiritual immaturity is the major cause of problems in our churches, homes, and personal lives. Grow up!
Dr. Jack Scallions serves as pastor emeritus of Fairview Baptist Church in Athens.