How mature is the congregation we belong to? More to the point, how am I tracking in Christian maturity? We don’t like to think about this too much. Embarrassingly, the inner child, inherited from our first parents, emerges all too often. Pride, impatience, jealousy, grudges, unabashed self-interest.
Maturity is not guaranteed by age or experience. For me, this stage of life with fewer formal responsibilities and more discretionary time is a test of my actual heart motivations. Thinking about maturity is both confronting and deeply motivating. Is it God himself or the challenge of the next project that energises me; the chase or the prize?
We’re all committed to the idea of maturity. So, what does the mature Christian look like? How can we know if we are growing to maturity?
We know that, as 2 Timothy says, all Scripture is given by God for our salvation and training in righteousness, that we might be complete, equipped for every good work. So, we could list a depressingly endless number of virtues and attributes of the mature Christian. Or study central themes like sanctification or godliness, or go to purple passages like Romans 12 or the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5, or consider the attributes of children born of God in 1 John. Or simply settle for faith, hope and love.
The measure of maturity
How high is the bar? It’s tempting to settle for a fairly low maturity bar, to pander to our comforts. But that is not an option.
Christ himself is the measure of maturity. The goal of all ministry is to build Christ’s body, the church, “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13, cf. Rom 8:30). In the case of loving our enemies, we are called to be perfect (or mature), as God is perfect (Mat 5:43-48). The maturity bar is uncomfortably high.
Christ himself is the measure of maturity
God’s grand, eternal plan is to build a people of extraordinary Christ-like maturity, a God-like people. Maturity is at the heart of God’s purpose for us, to restore his fallen image-bearers, for his glory. Nothing could be more important than rightly assessing our maturity and making progress.
The knowledge of God is the means of our maturity. We need to be filled with the knowledge of his will, through knowing Christ.
We need “all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ”. This is because we are in imminent danger of being taken captive “by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:1-8).
We are caught up in a war between Christ and the principalities and powers of Satan, as he furiously resists the serpent-crusher.
The immature Christian will be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:13-14). With our unlimited access online, and in social media, to every conceivable doctrine, it feels to me that every wind of doctrine is more like a cyclone of confusion threatening to swallow us up in its vortex. Probably no different in the less “techy” world of the first century.
The framework of reality that is in Christ is the only reality that is not fake. Maturity begins with the mind, thinking like God about the real world where Christ is Lord and Saviour.
In one of his most well-known Collects (short prayers) written for the second Sunday of Advent, Thomas Cranmer captures the sufficiency of the Bible for our faith and maturity.
who has caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:
grant us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,
that by patience and comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.
This is a prayer for our diligence in knowing the Bible well in order to hold on to the salvation we have in Christ.