A friend of mine recently asked me how we ought to address the issue of spiritual immaturity among young believers. He noticed that many our age have shallow understandings of theology and possess little maturity in the things of God, and he wondered how we can help people to grow when adolescence appears to have such a firm hold on our generation. His question grows more pressing when I consider my own heart and find the same tendencies and deficiencies in myself. So how do we grow in godliness? How do we ourselves grow more mature in the faith and more biblically and theologically grounded? And how do we lead others to follow our example? Below are a few thoughts that I pray will help us along that road.
James tells believers to ask God for wisdom, trusting that God “gives generously to all without reproach” (James 1:5). Wisdom, according to Proverbs, is foundational for living rightly, maturely, in this world. And if “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10), then a prayer for wisdom may be a prayer for a deeper fear of God. Pray first for God to help you to see him more clearly and to see yourself in light of him, and then pray for him to open the eyes of those around you to that awesome reality. Pray for wisdom “in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:6) for you and for your fellow believers. Abide in the one true vine and produce fruit (John 15:5). As you abide in Christ, walking in the wisdom God provides, you and your people will grow in maturity.
Second, ground yourself in the truth.
When Paul ministered to the Corinthian church, he grounded his message on the truth of the gospel and on the power of God. He wrote,
For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:2-5)
Paul emphasized the gospel message, God’s power to save sinners. But we also see that Paul operated with a solid biblical and theological framework. Throughout his letters, Paul argued from the Old Testament Scriptures, connecting the dots from the past to the present to show how God was moving in the world. He did not leave behind all that God had said and done in history simply because Jesus had appeared; rather, he showed how Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s work in the world, the next step in the advance of the kingdom of God. He employed theology and biblical studies to ministry, both to evangelism and to discipleship, thereby giving us a model to follow.
I’ve talked with a number of people who were surprised to hear that Christians can respond to difficult questions with critical thought and with reliable evidence. Some skeptics I’ve talked with have taken the silence of some Christians to be evidence of falsehood in the message of the Bible. This is not only devastating for those who earnestly desire answers to their questions; this silence also wounds young believers who will enter a world where their God and his ways are not welcome. When skeptics ask difficult questions (and they will ask difficult questions), how will the church respond if we have not given time and thought to the full counsel of the Bible, to the challenges of culture, or to the historical basis for the resurrection (just to name a few)? God is not afraid of our questions. Let us not be afraid to ask them and to study well (2 Timothy 2:15).
Third, find your place in the kingdom.
“The Great Commission” is a familiar passage.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
But these commands, though driving, appear alongside other emphases for believers. We are to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We are to look after the widow and the orphan (James 1:26-27). We are to testify to the power of God at work within us by how we love (John 13:35). The lives we live as Christians ought to affect the world for good. We shine light, we show care, we love. And we do these things with the gifts God has given to each of us, working together for the good of the body (1 Corinthians 12). This means that your spiritual maturity is not just for you. You are saved for service. The author of Hebrews thus exhorts the reader:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
These are simple, general starting points. I don’t claim expertise in spiritual growth; my walk is far more weak than strong. But I believe that these three principles, when applied to our lives, will result in spiritual growth that will work itself out in the details. As we seek the Lord, his Spirit works within us to produce fruit. May we be found faithful in the pursuit, and may we humbly lead others to follow us in the race.
The suggestion for today’s post came from Kevin Brunner.