Faithfully going to church doesn’t automatically make you a mature Christian. I’d never discourage you from being in church every Sunday, but hearing the word isn’t the same thing as heeding it. I fear that some believers, despite their ability to articulate true things about God, are not progressing in Christian maturity. Real gospel growth depends on a right understanding of God, and it manifests itself in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24). It is possible to be in a church with sound teaching for many years and have stunted growth, though. The author to the Hebrews lamented that after several years of solid biblical teaching, his audience still had not progressed much in their Christian life. He wrote,
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb. 5:12-14)
Picture a grown man, who should be teaching others, drinking out of a sippy cup and re-enrolling in pre-school. Spiritually speaking, that’s how the author to the Hebrews described the recipients of his letter. They had been under the ministry of the word for a long time, but tragically they remained children. Has the same thing happened to you? Here are three biblical signs that you might be spiritually immature:
Spiritually immature Christians are gullible to strange doctrines.
Paul told the Ephesians that God gives us pastors and teachers to build us up in the word so that, “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14).
Growing up by the beach, I spent a bit of time in the ocean as a kid. I can tell you, few things are more terrifying than seeing a large set of waves headed your way when you’re no taller than four feet! I remember a few occasions in which I was taken under by a wave and tumbled beneath the surface of the water. It’s disorienting! Spiritually immature believers are like small children in the ocean, frequently disoriented by waves of bad theology. One sign of being a spiritual child is that every time some new teaching or doctrine blows by, your faith is shaken by it.
As we mature in faith, certain perspectives we had about God often do develop, but the spiritually immature are marked by instability. With each new book or blog post they read, they change their views whichever way the wind is blowing. As we grow up in that gospel, the waves and winds of weird doctrines don’t knock us down as they once did.
Spiritually immature Christians aren’t able to play nice with other believers.
Having four children under seven, I’ve learned that when you take your kids to the park there are certain phrases that get repeated a lot: “Don’t take that, it doesn’t belong to you!”; “Make sure you share!”; “It’s her turn to go down the slide now!”; “Don’t bite!” Children need to learn to play nice with each other, and this is true of the spiritually immature. Paul told the Corinthians,
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? (1 Cor. 3:1-3)
A sure sign of spiritual immaturity is that there is strife between us and our brothers and sisters in Jesus. When they do something to offend us, we retaliate by hurting them with our words (to them, or to others about them), or severing the relationship entirely. When things go well for other believers, instead of rejoicing with them, we’re jealous that it happened to them and not to us. This leads to viewing others in the church with contempt. There’s a terrible selfishness that manifests itself in the spiritually immature, and when unchecked it leads to broken relationships and even church splits. If you can’t forgive others and resolve tension with your family in Christ, you may very well be an “infant in Christ.”
Spiritually immature Christians are controlled by their fleshly impulses.
Paul tied being an infant in Christ with being fleshly(1 Cor. 3:1-3). Writing to the Galatians, he described the works of the flesh as these, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies” (Gal. 5:19-21). This list wasn’t meant to be exhaustive, but it gives you a good idea of the kinds of things Paul had in mind. Like a small child who doesn’t get his way and throws a fit, the spiritually immature yield to their carnal impulses rather than surrendering them to God and exercising self-control. These fleshly impulses run contrary to our new identity as baptized followers of Jesus. Spiritual infants have a difficult time walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), and the fruit of Christian maturity (Gal. 5:22-24) is not yet fully formed in them. Of course, all baptized Christians struggle with this for the duration of their Christian lives, but if we find ourselves continually giving in to fits of anger, sensual behavior, envy, etc., it is a sign that we are “people of the flesh, infants in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1).
Like any kind of growth, Christian maturity happens slowly over time. As the author to the Hebrews said, the mature are those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice. Training and constant practice are lifelong activities, and if we neglect them, we’ll be doomed to perpetual spiritual infancy: unsettled, unable to get along with others, and unable to control our impulses. If you’ve been assuming that God will one day zap you from toddler to teacher, you’re sorely mistaken. Make use of the means that God has generously given you to help you grow in your faith. Get into a habit of prayer, personal Bible study, and especially fellowship in the local church under the preached word. Be diligent to attend to that word with all humility, eager to receive it for yourself. When you make this your constant practice, you’ll find that over time your feet are firmly planted in the truth, your hands are open to brothers and sisters in need, and your heart is moved less by carnal impulses and more by God’s Holy Spirit. Brothers and sisters, let’s press on to maturity!
Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer