When I was in college, my schedule was full of events and activities with my church and campus ministry. Being on the leadership teams of both meant I was occupied Monday through Sunday. Though this characterized one of my busiest seasons, spiritually, I often look back at those years as my most enjoyable, spiritually. But were they my most mature years, spiritually?
For a large number of evangelical Christians, busyness is the judge of our maturity in Christ. We think maturity is measured by how much we read our Bibles, how long we pray, how many ministries we’re involved in, or how often we serve. Though all of these are good things that can contribute to and build maturity in a believer, what does it actually mean to be mature in Christ? What does it look like to be a mature Christian?
After preaching Ephesians 4:1-16 this past Sunday, I’ve found three simple answers Paul gives for what maturity looks like, and how we can measure it: 1) Know Christ; 2) Be like Christ; 3) Be with His Body.
“…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…” – Ephesians 4:13a
This may sound like a given, but the more I’m in ministry, the more I’m realizing how much people don’t know about their Savior. Though there is a good resurgence these days of believers wanting to actually know what they believe, it’s not uncommon to find people who have been Christians their entire lives but know little more than that Jesus died for them and loves them.
Many Christians have never picked up a systematic theology book, learned basic hermeneutics, or consulted a commentary while reading their Bibles. This doesn’t mean every Christian needs to be a scholar or a theologian. But it does mean every believer should seek to grow their knowledge of doctrine, and not just leave it to our pastors to be our spiritual Google search. To ignore the study of doctrine is spiritual suicide:
“…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” – Ephesians 4:14
Maturity cannot happen without sound doctrine and a growing understanding of Scripture. If it’s been a while since we’ve learned something new about our faith, maybe it’s time to pick up a book, pick up commentary, or just plain pick up our Bibles.
BE LIKE CHRIST
“…to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” – Ephesians 4:13b
The second thing Paul mentions is “mature manhood”. Paul is not saying men are the standard for maturity; he is using this word in juxtaposition with “children” in 4:14. To grow into “manhood” is to grow up into adulthood in Christ. He qualifies this further by saying we are to reach “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” – in other words, the full size of Jesus in every way.
Maturity is no less than knowing doctrine; but it is not just knowing doctrine. I’ve met Christians who know quite a bit of theology, but I would not categorize them as mature believers. Maturity means not just knowing Jesus, but being like Him and continually “growing up” into Him. Though we are to exhibit “faith like a child”, it does not mean we act like spiritual children.
A good measure of our maturity is if we’ve become more like Christ since when we first came to faith. Have we seen the Spirit sanctify us in areas of known sin, or are we the same (or even worse) as we’ve always been? Have we been continually putting off the old and putting on the new (Ephesians 4:20-24)? Maturity means our faith and knowledge of Christ are bearing fruit in Christ-like character.
BE WITH HIS BODY
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16
The third, and most often overlooked, means and measure of maturity, is the believer’s life in the body of Christ. When we talk about maturity, we mostly think about our individual pursuit of Christ. Each believer should indeed be seeking Christ individually, but not apart from the church (lower chase, denoting local church, not just the universal Church).
If we’re not in committed, consistent community with a specific group of believers, how will we know if we’re actually “growing up” in Christ? How can the traits that Paul mentions in 4:2-3 – humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, eager for unity – happen outside of the church? How can our sins be exposed and the Gospel applied if we do not have people who know us deeply and are walking with us through life?
We won’t know if we’re becoming more like Christ without people to affirm us, sharpen us, challenge us, and even butt heads with. And the church is that community, ordained by God, and bought with the blood of Christ, in which maturity is formed. It’s foolish to think otherwise.
Faithful, Ordinary, Maturity
Most of us have a desire to grow in maturity in Christ; and yet, many of us may not know what it actually means to be mature in Christ. Though events, programs, and ministries may help, a busier Christian life does not equate to a holier Christian life.
The most mature Christians I’ve met have not necessarily been the busiest, but have had a strong knowledge of their faith that led to Christ-like character, and a strong commitment to a local church. It may not sound profound, but the faithful, ordinary pursuit of knowing Christ, becoming like him, and being with His people, is God’s design for producing disciples who will grow up spiritually and mature into Christ-like “adults” in the faith (c.f., 4:15).