“Let us . . . go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1)
God expects every Christian to move toward spiritual maturity. The Bible urges us to “flee youthful passions” (2 Tim. 2:22), “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ” (Heb. 6:1), and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord” (2 Pet. 3:18). There is certainly a season for spiritual infancy—babes in the faith aren’t expected to be fathers in the faith! But God doesn’t will for us to live on spiritual milk forever (1 Cor. 3:12). He calls us to grow up into salvation (1 Pet. 2:2) as we feast on the meat of his Word (Heb. 5:12).
I fear, though, that a twisted view of spiritual maturity has infiltrated the church. Our society tends to equate maturity with conservativeness or sophistication. Exuberance and passion are things thought to belong to youthfulness—things we are expected to grow out of. While this may be partially true, I don’t believe that true maturity necessitates being so cool, calm, and collected that we utterly lack enthusiasm, spontaneity, and zeal.
Nevertheless, many people—including many in the church—believe maturity is this always-composed, genteel manner of behaving. Just consider the way we tend to view new converts. We think their initial enthusiasm about the things of God is cute. We smile as we watch their emotional responses in worship, their shouts of “Amen!” during sermons, and their excitement over seeing the Lord move in the smallest of ways. But we also think to ourselves, “Just give it some time—they’ll grow out of this.” How sad it is that we assume maturation in Christ must result in milder expressions of faith!
I am convinced that many of our spiritual lives feel stale because, in our incessant striving to fit society’s definition of maturity, we actually stifle the work of the Holy Spirit. I see this in my own life!
- When the Spirit is moving me to raise my hands and sing loudly in worship, why do I often refrain? Because mature people don’t exhibit too much emotion in public.
- When I want to verbally and enthusiastically give praise to God, why do I often keep silent or tone down my passion? Because I don’t want to sound silly.
- Why don’t I let myself get excited about God moving in seemingly little ways? Because grown-up Christians don’t get worked up over things like that.
Growth in Christ is not the cause of my increasingly stale expressions of faith; conformity to this world is the cause. The lack of visible fervor in my faith-life is not evidence of my spiritual maturity; it is evidence of my spiritual dullness and my fear of man.
Remember when King David danced with all his might before the Lord as the Ark was being brought into Jerusalem? His wife, Michal, abhorred his “shameless” behavior and “despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6: 16). His response to her was very matter-of-fact: “It was before the LORD . . . and I will celebrate before the LORD” (2 Sam. 6:21). I don’t think all of us need to run up to the front of the church on Sunday mornings and dance so erratically that we accidentally “uncover ourselves,” as David did (more on that in a minute). But I think we would all do well to emulate his unabashed passion for the Lord. King David wasn’t immature. He wasn’t “too emotional.” He just loved God and was most concerned about pleasing and praising him.
Spiritual maturity is not ashamed to look foolish or “immature” in the eyes of other people. However, I think it’s necessary to note that spiritual maturity is also not helter-skelter. There are some Christian circles in which people think they demonstrate how “deep in the Spirit” they are by running laps around the sanctuary or rolling around on the floor in fits of uncontrollable laughter or smacking people around (I have witnessed all these things). This type of behavior is fleshly, not spiritual. Paul taught that all things “should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). Mature believers do not intentionally distract others or demand to be the center of attention. They obey the promptings of the Spirit and fearlessly express their love for God, but they do so in a spirit of wisdom and self-control.