Posts tagged ‘growth’

August 1, 2011

A description of Christian maturity

by Calvin Goligher

After issuing his call for Christian maturity, the writer to the Hebrews explains his idea of Christian maturity in terms of food. These Hebrew Christians, he says, need milk because they are unable to handle “strong meat.” The analogy is evident: babies eat milk because that is all their digestive system is able to handle. If you give a baby steak, it will cause all sorts of problems. The same is true of young Christians: they need to be spiritually nourished with simple and easy things from the Scriptures. If the first spiritual food a new Christian tastes is a lecture on historical-grammatical exegesis, for instance, it will likely do them more harm than good.

The problem works the other way too, though. An eight-year-old that only wants milk for supper has as big a problem as the steak-eating newborn. In time, it is necessary for children to stop eating pablum and move on to vegetables, cereals, and meats in order to grow to physical maturity. The same is true of the Christian life. It is very proper for a new Christian to spend time learning the “first principles” of God’s Word. In fact, it is very necessary. Nevertheless, their diet must eventually expand if they are to continue growing.

The author’s idea of Christian immaturity, then, is very straightforward. A “baby Christian” is someone who is “unskilful in the word of righteousness” (5:14). He doesn’t know all the Bible stories, he isn’t familiar with all the important doctrines of God and salvation, and he doesn’t see how all the  instructions in the Bible apply to him. No matter how intelligent, experienced, sane, or informed a Christian individual may be, he is an immature Christian until he is skilful in these matters.

So we see that Christian maturity consists in being skilful in using the Scriptures. What, then, does this skill look like? The author tells us more in the following verse (5:15): mature Christians, he says, are “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” That is to say, their minds have been trained through practice to recognize right and wrong.

There are three elements, then, that comprise Christian maturity. First, Christian maturity requires a knowledge of the Bible. The author evidently intends to say as much, for by what other standard are to identify “good and evil“? We must know what the Bible says is right, and what it identifies as wrong.

Second, Christian maturity requires biblical discernment. It is not enough to know “good” and “evil” as they appear in the Scriptures. We must also be able to identify, based on the Bible’s teaching, “good” and “evil” in our own lives and circumstances. Knowing the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” is one thing; being able to recognize deception in the world around us and in our own hearts is another.

Third, Christian maturity requires sustained effort. The author uses the phrase “by reason of use” and the word “exercised” to remind us of this fact. Biblical knowledge and biblical discernment don’t drop from the sky. They are to be acquired progressively by constant spiritual effort and exercise.

July 25, 2011

A call for Christian maturity

by Calvin Goligher

The book of Hebrews is full of incredibly rich teaching on the person and work of Jesus Christ. The last verses of chapter four mark the beginning of a lengthy discussion of Christ’s work as our High Priest—a theme that lies at the heart of the Gospel message. As our High Priest, Christ sympathises with us (4:15), represents us before God (5:1), perfectly obeyed the Father’s will in His life and death on earth (5:8), and “became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (5:9).

Deep theological truth is a wonderful thing. The author of the book of Hebrews obviously thought it was very important for his readers to know all of this about Christ’s work as our great high priest. There was only one problem: the people to whom he was writing weren’t able to handle all of this rich theology. The author laments that he has many more things to say, though he is not sure that his readers will profit from it: the teaching is complicated and involved (“hard to be uttered”), and his readers are “dull of hearing” (5:11).

The author explains the problem a little further. These Hebrews were likely members of the older Christian communities in Palestine, so they were more experienced than most in the Christian life. They “ought to be teachers” by now, says the author (5:12). Their experience, however, had not translated into maturity: they needed to be taught “the first principles” of God’s word all over again. They should be ready for the strong meat that grown men and women eat, but they are only able to digest a baby’s milk.

What a tragedy! The author wants to give them some really great spiritual steak (filet mignon, even): the truths of the high priestly work of Christ, and all of its incredibly wonderful implications for the believer. Alas, because they are immature, these Hebrew Christians can’t handle it, and they have to settle for the same old baby mush.

That’s the problem with immaturity: it keeps us back from a greater knowledge of Jesus Christ, a deeper understanding of His gospel, and a closer familiarity with the results of His saving work. Our worship suffers as a result, for we have less to include in our praises. Our witness suffers, because we have less to offer hopeless sinners. Our churches suffer, because they have fewer teachers of the Word. Our prayer life suffers, because we have fewer promises to plead.

Let maturity, then, be the aim of every Christian.

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