Maturity in Christ

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food…

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

Hebrews 5:12; 6:1-3 (New Living Translation)

At some point in the Christian life, one must move past the basic teachings of the faith in order to mature. The writer of Hebrews tells us that there are meatier lessons for us to learn if we could only move past the foundations of the faith. So much of the church in America is still stuck on the basics and this has stagnated its spiritual maturity.

So why haven’t we moved on to the deeper things of God?

I think it is because we’ve lost trust in God’s revelation, His word. Instead, we have made our reason and experience our primary authority. Our rational understanding can only take us so far. We can only “make sense” of so much, then we reach our limit. The only way to go deeper is to trust that what God has revealed in His word is wiser than human wisdom. Trusting God’s revelation takes us further into the mind of Christ than simply trusting our own understanding.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is one way to think about the four main sources of truth we use as we process our faith. Scripture is the first and primary authority for faith and practice. Picture a pyramid with scripture at the very top point. Experience, Reason, and Tradition are the other three (the three points at the bottom of the pyramid). These three are used by God to help us bring greater understanding, but they never supersede God’s revelation in scripture. God’s wisdom is different and better than human wisdom.

When people get stuck on the basics of the faith, they start arguing about silly theological minutia. Because they haven’t moved on to maturity in their relationship with the Lord, they participate in a kind of imitation of maturity, a counterfeit maturity, by arguing about things that don’t matter. Paul warned Timothy about this. He said, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23). Paul warned Titus of the same thing only with stronger language.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.

Titus 3:9-10

It’s one thing to raise questions because you are curious and want to learn. This kind of person has a posture of teachability. But there is another kind of posture that is obstinate. This person raises questions not because they want to learn but because they want to raise doubts, look smart, and feel important. If too much of this is in a church community, the church is never allowed to move beyond the basics and into the deeper things of God. Like the writer of Hebrews says, by this time, a person with this much theological knowledge should be a teacher and, instead, their lack of spiritual maturity still has them drinking milk.

Spiritual maturity isn’t about the acquisition of knowledge but about intimacy with the Lord the application of revelation. It’s less about how much one has “figured out” and more about how much one has surrendered their mind, will, and emotions to the Lord. It’s less about theology and more about trust. And trust will take you much further than your reason and understanding. Reason can only take us so far, then we must trust God’s revelation of Himself to us. And the embrace of revelation comes from intimate time with the Lord, time in prayer, time reading God’s word, time listening to the promptings of the Spirit, and obedience to God’s direction.

Higher

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Matthew 16:21-23

Peter was articulating the common expectation of the Messiah. Everyone expected the Messiah to overthrow the oppressive powers of Rome. Peter’s reaction was a logical reaction to the idea that the Messiah would have to suffer and die. Peter had in mind human concerns but he missed God’s plan. God didn’t just want to overthrow Rome, He wanted to overthrow the very power of sin and death itself. God’s vision was much bigger!

Notice that Jesus first rebukes Satan. Jesus can hear in Peter’s voice the accent of the enemy. Jesus understands that the source of Peter’s rational and reasonable thought was Satan himself. Satan often does his best deceiving when he sounds reasonable and rational. This is how the enemy sounded in the Garden of Eden. It’s how he sounded when he tempted Jesus (Matthew 4). And here the enemy was doing it again.

This is a stark reminder that just because something sounds rational and reasonable doesn’t mean it is from the Lord. The concerns of God are clearly different than the concerns of humanity. God spoke this truth to the prophet Samuel.

“…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

The prophet Isaiah also gives us a powerful word from the Lord in this regard.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

The Bible gives us helpful analogies in our relationship with God so that we can understand how to interact with Him. We have the family analogy where we are sons and daughters of the Father. We have the marriage analogy where the Church is the Bride of Christ. We have the anatomical analogy where the Church is the Body of Christ. We have the friendship analogy where Jesus no longer calls us servants but friends. We have the sibling analogy where Christ, the firstborn from the dead, is our brother. We have the Kingdom analogy where we are a royal priesthood.

All of these analogies and pictures help us understand how to connect with and relate to God. But we should never assume God is just like us. In fact, the goal in the Christian life is to become more and more like Him. This should tells us that our starting line is the truth that we are not exactly like Him. Yet, the fact that were originally created in God’s image, that in Christ we are new creations, and that we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us gives us hope that we can grow to become more and more like Jesus.

God is so loving that He can’t help but want to draw near to us. But He is also completely “other” than us. He thinks differently, acts differently, and feels differently than we do. Our job is to learn His ways so that we can conform our life to His (not to demand that He conform His ways to ours).

Where is God calling you to conform your ways to His, your plans to His, or your thoughts to His?

Reasoning Faith

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”[Genesis 21:12] Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19

This passage is found in the famous “hall of faith” section of Hebrews chapter 11. This is where the writer of Hebrews recounts all the many acts of faith done by those in the old covenant. The phrase “by faith” is used 22 times in this chapter. And it all points to the reality that they acted by faith even though they didn’t see the completion or fullness of the promise given to them. How much more should we, who now know the fullness of the promise in the new covenant through Jesus, act in faith? Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Yet, what I find so striking about this passage is the combination of faith and reasoning that we see from Abraham in his decision to do something that seems crazy. Sometimes people of faith, and faith itself, get pitted against reasoning…as if you can either choose faith or reason but not both.

But what we find in Abraham is a different kind of reasoning that is empowered by faith. Abraham was asked by God to do something that seems crazy. But context is everything. First of all, the crazy thing he was asked to do wasn’t to sacrifice his son. In the pagan world, it was very common to offer children as sacrifices to the gods. This was sort of standard practice for pagans. This was culturally “normal” for Abraham’s day. And before we get too judgmental, we need to remember that even in all of our modern advancements we live in a society that has legalized the murder of babies in the womb by their own mother.

The crazy part was that all the promises that God had given Abraham all rested on Isaac. Not only was God asking Abraham to do something that felt more like a pagan practice, but he was asking Abraham to give up all the promises that God made in favor of obedience to God. God was asking Abraham to choose the Promise Maker over the actual promises themselves. God continues to ask this of us today.

But notice Abraham’s reasoning. This wasn’t haphazard fideism or irrationally blind faith. Just as Abraham’s faith was grounded in the nature of God, so was his reasoning. He reasoned that God can raise the dead. In other words, his reasoning factored in the miraculous power of God and the goodness of God. So his obedience was both an act of faith and an act of reasoning.

Is it irrational to give your life in order to spread the gospel in closed countries knowing that you might be killed? It might seem that way to some. But if your reasoning factors in a God who is good, a God who sacrificed everything for you, a God who is powerful and loving, a God who longs to see others come to know the truth of Jesus, then it’s reasonable to give your life for such a God.

When God is factored into our reasoning, suddenly the impossible looks possible, the irrational becomes rational. As we see from Abraham, a life of faith is not just having God factored into our beliefs but having God factored into our reasoning. This is the God who can raise the dead to life, give sight to the blind, and heal impossibly broken hearts.