When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I no longer used childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11, GWV)
Let’s face it: age and maturity are not the same thing. Some people can show great maturity and wisdom at a very young age, while others want to live like Peter Pan. Sociologists used to consider adolescence to be finished no later than age 20, but now some extend it as late as 28, due to a general lack of maturity and independence among the younger generation. But the Bible also calls on us to be spiritually mature. In his book, Real Life Discipleship, Jim Putman divides spiritual maturity into five stages. Here’s what each one looks like, based on what those who are in that stage tend to say. Note that, from time to time, depending on what’s going on in our lives, we may regress, just as children being taken out of their homes and put into foster care can suddenly act like they are much younger, but think about how you usually act, and what you often find yourself saying, and you can see where your spiritual maturity level is and what should come next for you.
People may say that there are gods in heaven and on earth–many gods and many lords, as they would call them. But for us, “There is only one God, the Father. Everything came from him, and we live for him. There is only one Lord, Jesus Christ. Everything came into being through him, and we live because of him.” (1 Corinthians 8:5, 6, GWV)
The spiritually dead do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. You will hear them say things like, “I don’t believe in God,” “I haven’t killed anyone, so I believe I will go to heaven,” “A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell,” or “There is no absolute right or wrong.”
Those who are spiritually dead need to see and hear God’s love as we live it out in our lives and have explained to them why we live the way we do, because of Jesus’ love.
So get rid of every kind of evil, every kind of deception, hypocrisy, jealousy, and every kind of slander. Desire God’s pure word as newborn babies desire milk. Then you will grow in your salvation. Certainly you have tasted that the Lord is good! (1 Peter 2:1-3, GWV)
Spiritual infants are new Christians. They tend to be excited about this new faith, but they sometimes struggle to get rid of beliefs and habits of their old lives. You’ll find them saying things like, “I know that Jesus is Lord and Savior, but what about karma?” Or “if I pray and read my Bible, is that enough?”
Infants need to be fed, so they depend on others to keep them out of trouble and make sure they’re getting the spiritual nutrients of God’s Word. They need others to be patient with them and care for them and be there for them when they find themselves in spiritual danger. It’s important that they have a spiritual parent to answer their questions and serve in a mentoring role.
Brothers and sisters, I couldn’t talk to you as spiritual people but as people still influenced by your corrupt nature. You were infants in your faith in Christ. I gave you milk to drink. I didn’t give you solid food because you weren’t ready for it. Even now you aren’t ready for it because you’re still influenced by your corrupt nature. When you are jealous and quarrel among yourselves, aren’t you influenced by your corrupt nature and living by human standards? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, GWV)
A spiritual child is beginning to grow in the faith. They tend to have a better knowledge of the basic teachings of the Bible, but “Mine!” tends to be a common theme for them, and they need to learn to share, making sacrifices for the sake of others. You will hear them say things like, “I’m not being fed in my church,” or, “Who are these new people coming to our church? The church is getting too big. I used to know everyone, but now I don’t.” Spiritual children tend to want things done for them instead of wanting primarily to do things for others. Spiritual children need to be taught and encouraged to feed themselves and learn more about what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual Young Adult
We have a lot to explain about this. But since you have become too lazy to pay attention, explaining it to you is hard. By now you should be teachers. Instead, you still need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food. All those who live on milk lack the experience to talk about what is right. They are still babies. However, solid food is for mature people, whose minds are trained by practice to know the difference between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14, GWV)
A spiritual young adult is maturing in the faith and interested in serving others, not out of compulsion, but with a true sense of joy. They live more and more sacrificially, stepping outside of their comfort zones and giving up things that are important to them for the sake of the needs of others. You will hear them say things like, “Look how many are at church today — this is great! I had to park across the street because our parking lot was full!” “In my personal Bible reading, I came across something that I have a question about.” “I was talking to a coworker who isn’t a Christian about Jesus, and she asked me a question I wasn’t sure how to answer. How would you deal with this?” “A couple more people in our small group, and we can become two! I know just who to invite.”
Spiritual young adults need opportunities to grow in their faith and serve their community. They will grow by themselves, because they feed themselves regularly on God’s Word, and they know the value of gathering around Scripture with other Christians. They need to be taught patience in dealing with those who are less mature than them, and, although to a lesser degree, they still benefit from having a spiritual parents in their lives to discuss their faith journey. Spiritual young adults also need training to allow them to take the next step into spiritual parenthood.
He also gave apostles, prophets, missionaries, as well as pastors and teachers as gifts to his church. Their purpose is to prepare God’s people, to serve, and to build up the body of Christ. This is to continue until all of us are united in our faith and in our knowledge about God’s Son, until we become mature, until we measure up to Christ, who is the standard. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed and carried about by all kinds of teachings that change like the wind. We will no longer be influenced by people who use cunning and clever strategies to lead us astray. Instead, as we lovingly speak the truth, we will grow up completely in our relationship to Christ, who is the head. (Ephesians 4:11-15, GWV)
God’s intention for everyone of his disciples is to become a spiritual parent, someone who has reached a level of maturity and training to lead others in spiritual growth. A spiritual parent does not just lead people to faith in Jesus — a spiritual parent nurtures that faith. Spiritual parents are proactive in seeking the lost and looking for opportunities to help others grow deeper in their faith, all the while recognizing their own need to continue to grow so that they can be more effective witnesses and mentors. They want people who care about them to hold them accountable, and their preferences for how to do things at church center on what others need, not just setting aside their preferences for others, but honestly rejoicing when they see outreach and the spiritual growth of others centered in church emphases and activities.
Spiritual parents need ongoing relationships, training, encouragement, and accountability to continue to grow and to help others grow with them.
Where Are You?
Think about those stages. Which of those expressions do you find coming out of your mouth or in your thoughts frequently? What do you need in order to mature into the next stage? What about those around you? What do you hear them saying? And based on that, what do they need, and what can you do for them to help them? This is not about thinking you’re better than anyone else, because the only person you should be comparing yourself to is Jesus. But how can you use this tool to meet the needs of others and help them on their path? What do you need in order to mature, and what are you going to do to meet that need?
As much as I love my children, I know that they need to grow up and become independent, so even if they want me to spoon feed them and do everything for them, I know that’s not in their best interest, and I would be an irresponsible parent if I didn’t challenge them to mature and stand by themselves without me holding their hand every step of the way, all the while reassuring them that I love them no matter how mature they are, even if they act immature for their age. And no matter where you’re at, Jesus loves you too. He ministered to his disciples when they were spiritual infants, and even after Pentecost, He still cared for them, but he was always pushing them, sometimes gently, and sometimes not so gently, to continue to grow.
Happy Birthday! Because of your Baptism, you are a new creation in Christ today (Romans 6:3-4), so figure out how mature you are, mark a notch on the doorpost, and let’s see how much we can grow together!