3 Marks Of Christian Maturity From Hebrews 5
As a father, I spend a lot of time with a four year old. And I’ve remarked to many that he talks a lot about growing up. He often refers to what he will do when he’s older. Using his terminology, he aspires to be “big.” My son knows that he isn’t meant to remain a child. Already he is able to distinguish between the behaviour of a “big boy” and his own immaturity. Though this is not always a happy thought for parents: it is healthy, necessary, and inevitable that our children will grow up. Most of the time they desperately want to—my son certainly does.
We Don’t Really Want To Grow Up
Reflecting on the above I found myself thinking about Christian maturity. Because, like my son, I should want to grow up in my faith. I should desire maturity. All Christians should pursue spiritual progress. As the apostle Paul famously puts it, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11). This is “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves” (Ephesians 4:14). Like my son, God’s children should want to grow up in their faith. We should desire greater Christianity maturity. This is both good and a guard.
The problem is, of course, that we rarely do. Unlike my son, most of us are fairly content with our present maturity—probably because we reckon ourselves more mature than we actually are. This brings another passage to mind. In Hebrews 5:12, the author rebukes his recipients, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles…you need milk not solid food.” Then he continues, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practise to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). These verses provide us with at least three aspects of Christian maturity. They function both as a diagnostic for our own maturity and a directive in our pursuit of greater Christian maturity.
1. Being Able To Teach Others
Firstly, Christian maturity is seen in the ability to teach others. It is worth noting that the epistle to the Hebrews addresses the broader congregation (see Hebrews 13:17). It is written to the entire believing community. As New Testament scholar Markus Bockmuehl writes, “Despite the writer’s limited interest in the doctrine of the Church, it remains true that his vision for the people of God is in fact profoundly corporate…a mutuality of relationships…characterises the community as a whole.” Repeatedly in Hebrews we read that the individual Christian’s task within this community is to spur one another on to perseverance (see my post on Hebrews 10:24-25). Certainly this task involves exhortation, encouragement, and correction—or, in a word, ‘teaching.’
In making this point we must avoid at least two mistakes. One assumes teaching ability among those who have been longer in the faith. The other imagines a church without an authoritative eldership, set apart to teach. The writer of Hebrews links the ability to teach with maturity. Therefore mature Christians need not be old. Nor must they occupy an office within the church. But a mark of Christian maturity is seen in us changing from passive recipients to active participants, those who teach others. Am I a mature Christian? One way to answer this question is by asking another: Do I teach others?
2. A Rich Theological And Spiritual Diet
Secondly, a mature Christian faith can be observed in our spiritual diet. Read Hebrews 5:12 again, “You need milk, not solid food.” As we read in 1 Peter 2:2, there is a time for “pure spiritual milk.” But Peter says that the purpose for that milk is so “that by it you may grow up into salvation.” Taking these two passages together we can argue that Christian maturity involves a developing diet.
Just as it is unnatural for a teenager to still be sipping her mother’s breastmilk, the longer we have been Christians the less appropriate it is for us to subsist on a basic spiritual diet. Christian maturity is seen in a faith that nourishes itself on rich theological food, a variety of spiritually nutritious material.
Of course, the danger regarding this point is associating theological acumen or impressive libraries with maturity. Furthermore, self-assured theological nitpicking founded on great learning is rarely a sign of Christian maturity. However, these dangers should not cause us to dismiss the point made in Hebrews. Mature Christians move beyond the “basic principles” or “milk” (Hebrews 5:12), and “elementary doctrine” (Hebrews 6:1).
I am reticent to be prescriptive in applying this point. And I am hesitant to imply that there is no value in short or simple Christian books or blogs. But as I exhorted Christians in an old post, “Do some hard work, delve into doctrinal ideas, tackle theological tomes, and invest intellectually in reaching your own conclusions.” This will be both beneficial for your soul and go some way in equipping you to teach (above) and discern (below). Mature Christian faith results from deliberate attention to our theological and spiritual diets.
3. Discerning And Deliberate Personal Faith
Thirdly, mature Christians possess discernment. I didn’t quote Hebrews 5:13 above, “everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” In many ways this final point combines all three. For “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice” (Hebrews 5:14). The Christian life should not be marked by indefinite and total dependance on others. We cannot remain boys and girls in our faith, tied to the proverbial apron strings of so-called ‘giants’ of the faith, local church leaders, and mature believers. We must seek to be trained, pursuing a mature faith of our own. With such maturity comes discernment and clear convictions.
Of course this is not to suggest independence. Hebrews’ vision for the local church is one of corporate responsibility and commitment. We must always be embedded in our local church, teaching our brothers and sisters where we can and inviting them to speak into our own lives. But we cannot remain immature—unable to discern truth and goodness or unwilling to bring our beliefs to bear on how we live. The third mark of Christian maturity is well-informed discernment, being trained in righteousness by God and others. This will be expressed in our choices, convictions, and character.
Peter Pan And Christian Maturity
When I was a child, I loved the story of Peter Pan. To my shame I have never actually read J. M. Barrie’s novel. But—to my credit—I have watched a ballet production of his story. For those unfamiliar with Peter Pan, it is a fantasy story that centres on a boy who never grows up. Peter Pan refuses to grow up, desiring to remain a boy forever: puer aeternus. Though few of us would admit it, this is often our approach to Christian maturity. We are too content to remain spiritual adolescents and theologically undiscerning children, forever needing to have our hands held by mature believers. Use Hebrews 5 to spur you onto greater Christian maturity.