Sometimes it is easy to get sidetracked and miss the real point behind what we are supposed to be doing and teaching. Because we hear so much error in the religious world these days, we can easily get caught up in simply trying to correct common errors. Then it may readily seem the purpose for our teaching and action is to fix some particular error.
Paul explains a different goal for our teaching and toil in Colossians 1:28—“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ Jesus.”
Please notice what it does not say: “Baptism we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone baptized into Christ Jesus.”
Because the mainstream religious world believes in Jesus but usually misuses, abuses, and misunderstands baptism, we have spent a great deal of our teaching trying to correct their error. Certainly, part of presenting everyone mature in Christ Jesus will include baptism. After all, we cannot present anyone in Christ Jesus except through baptism. Galatians 3:27 says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Also, Romans 6:3 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?”
However, this is simply part of being mature in Christ. It is not equivalent to being mature in Christ. We are not done simply because someone has been baptized. Our job is not simply to present them in Christ, but present them mature in Christ. When someone is baptized, we must continue pursuing our purpose.
Further, because of the many errors we have fought over the years we might think that maturity in Christ equals having the right take on the hot button issues over the past years, i.e. institutionalism, instrumental music, speaking in tongues, divorce and remarriage, etc. Certainly, Bible knowledge is part of maturity in Christ. Peter says we must add knowledge to our faith in II Peter 1:5-8. However, our goal is not to make sure young Christians grow to answer all the questions about hot topics to our satisfaction as if they are a catechumen who must memorize our special catechism in order to be mature. Sadly, I’ve met some who can answer these questions correctly but are far from mature in Jesus. They are hotheaded, quarrelsome, arrogant, self-centered, Diotropheses who would have the pre-eminence in a congregation. That is not maturity in Jesus, no matter how doctrinally correct they are.
Would you like a picture of maturity in Christ Jesus? Would you like to see the goal we are striving for everyone to reach? Take a look at I Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9. Certainly, someone does not have to be a man to be mature in Christ. Nor do they have to have been married or raised children. However, in general, the picture of the shepherd is not some special qualification list. It is simply a picture of mature Christianity.
Mature Christians are above reproach, humble, peaceful, sober, content, hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, disciplined, respectable, able to teach, gentle, experienced, and well thought of even by non-Christians. Are we working to present everyone like this in Christ? Or are we simply satisfied with getting them baptized and letting them work out the rest on their own? Paul said he toiled to present folks not just in Christ, but mature in Christ. May we work on the same goal.
I recently read a great definition for the word “maturity.” Maturity “means maximizing our skills and talents, and using them effectively, while growing into the full capability of our individual designs.”
I couldn’t help notice maturity is not about what we know. Maturity is not about what we believe. Maturity is about what we do. We need to recognize this in the spiritual realm. Spiritual maturity is not about what we know and believe; it is about what we do. Don’t misunderstand; we have to grow in knowledge and faith if we wish to be mature Christians. Knowledge and faith alone, however, are not the markers for maturity. We can be extremely knowledgeable but still spiritually immature. Maturity is when we actually take the knowledge and faith we are gaining and put them in to practice.
Notice what happened when John the Baptist started preaching in Luke 3:10-14. The people asked, “What then shall we do?” They didn’t ask what to know or what to believe, but what to do. Then John got very practical. He didn’t wax eloquent about theology, soteriology, eschatology, or any otherology. He told them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” He told the tax collectors to take nothing more than they were authorized. He told the soldiers to be content with their wages and not extort money through threats and false accusations. Interestingly, not once can we find anyone ever asking, “What must I believe to be saved?” or “What must I know to be saved?” However, they do ask, “What must I do?” Maturity is about what we do.
Look at II Peter 1:5-8. How many of those attributes are about action? Virtue, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, love. What good are my faith and knowledge if I’m not changing because of them? Maturity is about what we do.
I Peter 4:10-11 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Again, the concept of maturity is not about what we know but about what we do. Who cares if we have all knowledge but don’t do anything with it? Maturity is about what we do.
James 2:14-26 makes it quite clear. Maturity is not merely about faith. It is about action. What good does it do anyone to claim they have faith if they do not have any faith-based actions? Can a non-acting faith save that person? Absolutely not. Sadly, we usually turn to this verse when debating baptism. While this passage has application to the issues of baptism and salvation, it is not about baptism. If we take comfort in this passage simply because we’ve been properly baptized, we are missing the point of the passage. It was actually written to people who had already been baptized (note “my brothers” in James 2:14). James was writing to Christians explaining that their faith should be changing their actions. Maturity is about what we do.
So the question about maturity is not what do we believe differently than we used to? It is not what do we know differently than we used to? The question is what are we doing differently? Is what we know impacting how we live? Perhaps we need to take a different approach to every opportunity we have to teach, whether class or sermons. We tend to focus on gaining knowledge. Perhaps we need to focus more on the “so what?” Perhaps we need to focus more on what we should do with what we’ve learned. What is an action that says the lesson has increased our maturity? Even if the teacher or preacher does not always provide one, let’s make our learning about real maturity, not just about assent to facts.
Maturity is about what we do. What then are we going to do this week that will show we are growing in maturity?