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Thoughts on Christian Maturity
© 1997 by Kevin Swanson

Signs of Christian maturity are a stability in knowledge, a stability in discernment of right and wrong, and the ability to discern between the significant and the insignificant

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive. Eph. 4:14

Christian maturity is referred to many times in the Bible. The King James Version sometimes uses the word "perfect" when referring to this issue of maturity and some have incorrectly created the scripturally-incompatible doctrine of perfection from an incorrect understanding of the word and the context.

Biblical Background

The word "perfect" used by the KJV is not used to describe a state of sinlessness. The Greek word interpreted "Perfect" is Telios. Heb. 5:14 uses this word "telios":

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.

"Of full age" in this passage is Telios in the Greek, or translated "perfect" elsewhere.

Another interesting passage is I Cor. 14:20. Paul writes to the church at Corinth, a spiritually immature group: "In understanding, be men." "Men" here is Telios in the Greek, or translated "perfect" elsewhere. But the context yields a contrast between children and adulthood. The concept of maturity, or the state of maturity for Christians is derived from the picture of physical maturity.

There are aspects in our physical lives where we become men. We have achieved maturity and have become "fully" developed, but at the same time we will continue to grow in other areas. We may be in a state of maturity, and that maturity may include certain areas of accomplishment and completion. But we still may change in many ways in our lives either physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Christian maturity is desirable

Our age is somewhat characterized by a glorification of youth and a devaluation of maturity. Unfortunately, this has extended into the spiritual realm as modern day Christianity tends to prefer converts over disciples, in opposition to Christ's great commission. Christ taught us to "teach them all things whatsoever I have commanded you," which must include all of holy Scripture. This is the commission of the Church. Not converts, but disciples, mature Christians.

We are encouraged throughout the Word to seek after maturity. "He who seeks the office of an elder seeks a good thing."

Hebrews 6:1. 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.

Maturity does not infer perfection

Maturity does not necessarily infer moral perfection. John is clear that perfectionists are liars (I John 1:8, 10) There is an element of achievement or accomplishment represented by mature Christians, but there is also a sense in which progressive growth still occurs, and failures and successes intermingle in their lives.

Signs of Christian Maturity

We understand maturity then as a matter of steady spiritual growth. Perhaps sudden increases in growth are not as obvious as they were at the beginning when the plant first sprang through the soil, but then, there are not those times of discouragement and wandering out of the way as there was at the beginning. We will encapsulate the idea of maturity in the word "stability."

1. A Stability in Knowledge. This is a toughness, a built-in resistance to being deceived by every wind of doctrine. James writes with a picture in mind of a ship tossed by the wind on the waves. Less waves, less variability in our lives. This does not mean that one knows all things in full. It only means that the Christian knows enough to be able to sense what is false teaching.

that we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men...

This stability in knowledge that Paul writes of should be the goal of the ministers in the church...those who minister the Word: the teachers, the pastors, the preachers should all have this goal in mind. Maturity comes when men are taught the whole counsel of God.

Teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Col. 1:28

Isaiah prophesied about this maturity that is found in wisdom and knowledge:

And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure. Isaiah 33:6

For every one that useth milk is unskillful 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 5:13,14

The subtlety of error is surprising. I was in one particular church for nine months shortly after I graduated from college before I discerned grave doctrinal error of perfectionism being taught. The error was subtle, but the transmittal of the error, the method by which the error was taught, was even more subtle.

Much of the church's teaching today is terribly void of a robust systematic doctrinal development of Biblical truth. This has led to Christian acceptance of all sorts of aberrant teachings of cultists, pelagians, humanist philosophers, and charlatan religionists. Christians adopt cliches and terminologies that form philosophies which are foreign to Scripture. They are largely ignorant of Christian doctrines on propitiation, atonement, original sin, law, the biblical nature of man and God. They are hardly studied in the Word, and their pastors have only perfected the form of their messages and not the content. This makes for an entire church that is tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, easily taken in by prophets, religious hypnotists, and loud, empty revivals.

2. Stability in Discernment of Right and Wrong. The mature Christian is mature in the area of ethics. He can correctly label thoughts, motives, actions, and words as evil, prideful, selfish or sinful. From Hebrews 5:14 we know that those who are mature or perfect or of full age, are the same ones who ARE NOT NECESSARILY SINLESS, but they "have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." Mature Christians have come to understand their own flesh and the temptations of the world and the devil, to know what is sin. They may not always be able to avoid that sin, but they have their senses trained to sniff it out when it is about.

3. Ability to Discern between the Significant and the Insignificant. Jesus accused the Pharisees of "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel," emphasizing the tithing of mint and cummin over the "weightier" matters of the law. Jesus expects us to discern properly between relative matters of significance.

Some in our churches develop great rifs and disagreements over relatively minor issues to the neglect of more important issues. There are literally tens of thousands of issues over which we may debate in Scripture. Particularly in matters of practice (the outworking or application of law) we will find disagreement readily. The chances that any two of us will agree on all issues is nil. And, the more we talk and the longer we fellowship, the more disagreements we will find. That is one reason why church hoppers exist! They attend one church for awhile because it is reasonably "perfect" in their estimation, only because they have found a few people with whom in brief conversation they have found they agree in a few things. Then over the months and years, they begin to develop resentment over disagreements built on a collection of relatively minor issues. Then, for the "spiritual benefit of their family", they move on to the next church. The ability to discern between what is a minor issue and what is a major issue is, in my opinion, a sign of maturity.

Often churches are split over minor issues: personalities, slight differences in style and methodology, and varying interpretations regarding the minutiae of the law. Keeping the Sabbath day is a principle that is important to us and we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. However, churches should not be split over the issue of whether one can buy a Big Mac on the sabbath or not. Church members who are unable to distinguish between significant issues and insignificant issues are fodder for the devil's mills. These sort of attacks on the unity of the church are dishonoring to the Lord.

Others escalate in levels of dogma over matters on which the Bible is not entirely clear, matters of style and approach. Pride often leaps forward to defend a personal opinion that is flimsy at best; an opinion built on very little research, very little thought, and very little authoritative basis.

4. Stability in Faith. As we grow to maturity, we begin to see a stable faith in good times and hard times rather than that constant ebb and flow that predominated early in our Christian lives. James writes on maturity:

Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. James 1:6-8

Again, the meaning borne in the words "wavering" and "unstable" helps us understand the concepts involved with Christian maturity. There is a stabilizing of faith. Faith becomes a constant, continual aspect of the Christian's life. It is not here today/gone tomorrow, but it continues throughout the hard days as well as the easy days. The faith that we have is not perfect or infinite, but it becomes a constant that undergirds our prayers and our lives.

5. Stability in character and true humility. Stability in character implies consistency from day to day, in varying situations. It does not infer that one is sinless or flawless in character, but he is generally known for his self-control, humility. He abstains from gross, public sins.

An elder is commanded to enter confrontations and disagreement with gentleness. Paul lists several characteristics that should describe our elders in the church:

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. I Timothy 3:2-7

His life represents a consistency, such that he is known as a "blameless" man, a "patient" man, a "sober" man. During difficult times and when he is on vacation, he is still "patient", "blameless", and "humble". His humility is evident during disagreements, in the company of the unsaved as well as the saved. This is not to say, that he will from time to time evidence pride in his thoughts, words, or actions. But pride does not characterize him. "Humility" is a trait that is consistent enough in his life that when others think of him, they think of him as "humble".

Reprinted from Mayflower Chronicles, June 1997

Last updated: 12 April 2006
Updated by: Matt Bynum