Thursday, January 8, 2009

How Mature Are You?

“I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name. I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 Jn. 2:12-14).

This passage lays out three levels of Christian maturity: child, young man, and father. Which level are you at? Which level would you like to be at? Let’s examine the qualifications of each, so you can determine your level of maturity and what it will take to move to the next level.

By the way, this is a wonderful passage for churches to use in their discipleship ministry. Effective discipleship ministries will include providing the necessary vehicles, tools, and environments for Christians to advance to the next level of maturity.

The Child
The first level is the spiritual child. This is the brand new Christian – the person who has just received Christ. What he knows is that his sins are forgiven. He feels clean because he has moved from a sinner to a saint, and all by God’s grace. I have heard so many new Christians say something like, “It feels so good to be spiritually clean. I feel like a new person.”

This passage also describes the spiritual child as someone who knows the Father. He has entered a relationship with God, and as His child can cry, “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). Oh, the wonderful simplicity of a new relationship with God as our loving and accepting Heavenly Daddy.

This is not the only passage describing a new Christian as a child. In other passages God’s Word describes a new Christian as a babe who longs for milk: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pe. 2:2-3). Notice here another characteristic of a new Christian: a hunger to grow – longing for the milk of the Word. Unfortunately this hunger often dissipates as the person gets older in the Lord. How is your hunger for the Word these days?

Hebrews 5 speaks of how maturity involves going from milk to solid food: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (v. 13-14). We expect a baby to drink milk, because their stomach cannot digest solid food, but as the person grows he should eat meat. In the same way, a spiritual babe feeds on the basics of the faith, but as he grows he eats the meat of the deeper truths of God’s Word.

So, are you a spiritual babe? If you have been a Christian for less than one year, this is exactly where you should be: knowing your sins are forgiven, experiencing the fatherhood of God, and drinking in the simple truths of the faith. However, if you have been a Christian for more than a year, you should be moving to the young man stage.

Young Man
The next level of maturity is the spiritual adolescent. The young man is described as strong, abiding in the Word, and overcoming the evil one. Let’s examine each of these three characteristics. Strength requires, exercise, endurance, and good eating habits. You cannot become strong in the Lord by just sitting around and remaining passive. Abiding in the Word involves consistently spending time reading and studying the Bible, even when you don’t fee like doing so. Abiding also involves obeying God’s Word when it isn’t easy. Finally, overcoming the evil one means you are now involved in intense spiritual warfare. Satan attacks the growing Christian with relentless intensity. If you are going to mature to this level, you will have to learn tactics of spiritual warfare and overcome Satan with the Word of God, faith, and the help of others.

I think the spiritual young man has to also overcome the three enemies of our walk with God: the world, the flesh, and the devil. The pulls of the world are what Jesus spoke of when He said “the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire for other things choke out the Word and render it unfruitful” (Mk. 4:19). In addition to the world, our own flesh will often want to do those things which are not pleasing to God. Even the Apostle Paul experienced this in Romans 7. And as stated above, temptations from Satan will seek to pull the young man out of his progress toward maturity.

So, are you a spiritual young man? Are you strong in the Lord? Are you abiding in the Word? Are you overcoming the evil one? Are you resisting the world, the flesh, and the Devil? I am not suggested the spiritual adolescent is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Remember, even “young men stumble and fall” (Isaiah 43:21), but when they do, they get back up and keep running!

The final level of maturity is the spiritual father. The text says two times that the father is the one who “knows Him who has been from the beginning.” This phrase is extremely significant. It means he knows and has experienced God at many junctures in his life. God has been faithful time and time again to this person. The spiritual father has been through many tough times, wilderness experiences, and even the dark night of the soul. But through each of these challenges, this person “knows Him who has been from the beginning.”

The spiritual father particularly trusts in the sovereignty of God. Trusting in God’s sovereignty involves the deep conviction that God is in control even when the most painful things enter your life. It is like Job, when loosing everything could still say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

In addition, the spiritual father does not depend on feelings to keep going. His faith is rooted in the character of God and not in his circumstances. He is not driven and tossed by every wind of doctrine. He has convictions that determine his behavior.

Though not mentioned in this passage, another characteristic of a spiritual father is having children. A father by definition is one who has children and is actively parenting these children. Spiritual fathers have spiritual children through evangelism and discipleship.

So, are you a spiritual father? Do you know God in a deep and enduring manner? Do you follow Him more because of who He is than what He does for you? Have you fathered spiritual children and discipled others in their faith? If so, congratulations, you are a spiritual father.

In conclusion, God’s Word is clear: we are to mature in our relationship with God. God expects us to grow and develop. He predestined us to become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Maturity takes time. Maturity involves many storms. Others help us in the maturity process, so we need to surround ourselves with godly people. And maturity only occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit! “God works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

God desires for each of us to move from a child to a young man to a father. Regardless of where you are now, will you strive in the power of the Spirit to go to the next level? In a future blog, I may provide some suggestions and resources for each level of maturity. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:18).