Question: Spiritually Immature, Or Sick?

brianli asked:
Hey there, I’ve been following your blog as well as your tumblr for a while now and I just wanted to pass on some encouragement as well a ask a question that has been on my mind recently. I’ve heard the term “spiritual maturity” or even simply “oh I have/haven’t been doing well spiritually” and I was just wondering, what constitutes or defines whether someone is spiritually mature or whether they’re doing well spiritually? It’s gotta be more than an emotional thing, right?

I’m digging the idea of the Christian faith being susceptible to spiritual allergies, as if some days we can feel congested (I missed my QT) or we can’t stop sneezing (I cursed out my grandmother). But I don’t think spiritual maturity has anything to do with the strange claim of “I haven’t been doing well spiritually.”

So a little theology lesson: James 1, 1 Corinthians 3, 13, and Hebrews 5 all mention the actual definition of a legit mature Christian. You’ll notice that emotions don’t have much to do it with it, if at all. James talks about how we consider our trials, the Greek work hegeomai, which means to reason out or carefully deduce. Paul talks about infants drinking spiritual milk because they are still in love with the world, and later in 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter, Paul says to put childish ways behind you. Hebrews 5 says spiritual solid food helps us to discern between good and evil.

There are other passages about maturity, but they all have one thing in common: they are more about the attitudes of our heart than what we say, do, or feel. And from the position of our heart comes the saying, the doing, the feeling. Christian maturity is a growing process of habits, obedience, experiences, biblical learning, accountability, and church involvement that accumulate over time and tough seasons, which result in a continually changed heart. Think of the four seeds, the Parable of the Sower, and while some say the seeds represent different types of people, it could also be the stages of one person’s spiritual journey.

When someone says, “I’m not doing well spiritually,” I understand what they mean — they haven’t been reading their Bible lately, they’re not connecting in worship service, they watched Jersey Shore and liked it — but that’s usually a cop-out for lukewarmness.

A mature Christian could use this excuse to justify sin, like a loophole clause as if they’re blameless victims. If we went to the gym together and I’m obviously weaker than you, I could give an excuse like, “Yeah I’ve been feeling a little off lately” to cover up the fact that I’m actually just weak.

Those sorts of platitudes always hide a bigger truth that we don’t like to confront. I would be careful with talk about maturity and “feelings” in the same breath, since maturity happens in a process while “feelings” can just be a momentary disclaimer for active sin.

But all semantics aside, sometimes a person talking about their spiritual health is also a cry for help. I wouldn’t ignore that. Those of us who are further along are to help build those behind. That’s part of how God builds up the immature: a cloud of witnesses to cheer us on in the race. And of course, even the mature veterans get weary and need lifting up.

And thank you for the kind words!

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