Over the past few years sociologists and other commentators on contemporary trends in society have been quick to identify a condition some have called ‘adultescence’ (a play on ‘adolescence’). They have charted the emergence of ‘kidults’ (those still with the preoccupations of kids but in adult bodies). Perhaps you know what they’re talking about? Twenty-five to thirty-five year old adults (more often male) who still act in many significant ways as they did when they were in their mid-teens. They have arrived at a time in life when many in previous generations were responsible contributors to the church and society, yet they are still acting like immature fifteen year olds. Still addicted to spending way too much time on computer games, etc. Still avoiding responsibility in many spheres of life and leaving it all up to others.
Sadly, we too often see a parallel problem among Christians. Spiritual immaturity. I’m not talking about new Christians who are in the exciting infancy of their spiritual lives, who have only recently come to faith, and for whom everything is new (2 Corinthians 5:17). I’m talking about a culpable, unnatural, spiritual immaturity on the part of those who really should be much further down the road in their spiritual pilgrimage than they are. The Bible addresses this condition in many places, and I recently came across this again while preaching through the book of Hebrews, and it caused me to once again take stock of my own spiritual state. The writer of Hebrews wanted his readers to take a good look at their own lives, and ask the hard questions. Am I really growing as a Christian? Or am I spiritually immature, and has my growth been stunted? Is my life the spiritual equivalent of a 25 year old man sucking a dummy and being pushed around in a pram? Peter O’Brien points out that Hebrews 5:11-6:3 is the first time in that letter where the author “explicitly cites the critical problem with his hearers: they are sluggish learners who need to move on to spiritual maturity.”
So join me in honestly measuring ourselves against five marks of spiritual immaturity pictured in this part of Hebrews:
1. Dullness in hearing (Hebrews 5:11). This has to do with our reception of God’s Truth. Once things were different. Their hearing was sharp. They had a keen interest in the things of God. They couldn’t get enough of the Bible. Now they are dull, they are sluggish. Where they once ran to drink in the Word of God, now they drag their feet, if they can be bothered at all. What about us? Is there a reluctance to think seriously about the truths of the Bible? Is there a resistance to working out the life implications of God’s Word?
2. Shallowness of understanding (Hebrews 5:11-12 and 6:1-2). The spiritually immature still “need someone to teach [them] again the first principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). They are still on a ‘milk only’ diet. They are stalled on the ‘first principles’, the ABCs of the faith.These basics form an essential foundation that we must never forget about or leave behind, but we must be building on that foundation. What about us? Do we lack ambition to know more? To explore the wonders of God’s character, the miracles of God’s grace, and the depths of His Word? Or do we have the Word of Christ dwelling richly in us? (Colossians 3:16)
3. Uselessness in the service of Christ and His people (Hebrews 5:12-13). “By this time you ought to be teachers.” What a challenge! Not necessarily all teachers in the 1 Timothy 3:2 sense required of leaders in the church, but in the sense of knowing and being able to communicate Christian truth to teach my children, encourage my brethren, give an answer to those who ask about my faith, etc. (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Hebrews 3:13; 1 Peter 3:15; Titus 2:3-5)
There is a real difference between the child-like faith Jesus commended (expressive of humilty, genuine dependence, trust) and a childish faith (expressive of neglect and unbelief) which is everywhere condemned in the Word of God. What about us? Are we well-equipped and active in the service of our Lord and His Church?
4. Undiscerning in practical living (Hebrews 5:14). Maturity is attained by growing in our knowledge of, and obedience to, God’s truth. Learning to identify and appreciate what God loves and what God hates; being able to discern between good and evil, and consistently choosing the good. Immaturity will often be seen in the making of ‘dumb choices’, going with the flow and not pursuing a God-pleasing life with energy and consistency.
5. Independence of God and reliance on self (Hebrews 6:3).The writer to the Hebrews acknowledges, as a growing Christian and a mature leader, that self-effort and self-discipline is not enough to ‘do’ the Christian life consistently and authentically. We are in a spiritual battle and the going is often tough. Instead, the mature Christian acknowledges “this we will do if God permits.” We will leave behind the ABCs and press on to Christian maturity with the help of the Lord (Psalm 127:1). The spiritually immature person thinks “I can do it”. The growing Christian knows that apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
May God help us so that the churches of New Zealand will be filled with a growing band of growing disciples of Christ, truly committed to Jesus Christ and the cause of the gospel.