The poet Ogden Nash once said, "You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely." Immaturity plagues us all. We are made clean by the blood of Christ at conversion, but we wait for eternity to be fully and finally saved from the flesh that dogs us at every waking moment. This blessed hope keeps us battling the inertia of immaturity. God's Spirit is with us. Perfection cannot be fully attained in this life, but a life of increasing maturity is our calling. It is toward this end that we strive and our sanctification aims. While we are saved by grace and not by works, it is the responsibility of the believer "to work out [his] salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12).
I was in ninth grade when my family was invited to attend a picnic with multiple other families. There were tons of rowdy kids, so we were banished to the backyard to play a game of kickball and burn off some energy. In the midst of all the excitement, pride entered my heart and I displayed a covertly acquired M-80 firecracker. (I can't recall if the firecracker was legal then, but I'm certain it is not legal now.) As my heart swelled, I got the brilliant idea that I should throw it in the family-sized shiny black charcoal grill. I imagined a large bang, the applause of friends, and a pure hilarious moment. Like most novices in life, I failed to realize the comprehensive effect. There was a large bang (yes!), and then all you could see was a massive plume of charcoal smoke moving across the yard. To my horror, there was not one briquette of charcoal left in that now not-so-shiny, black, square grill. If you know anything about 1980s charcoal, it required a generous amount of energy and time to get the coals hot enough to cook. Hearing the explosion, my father walked out the back door, and I thought it was the end of life as I knew it. This childish behavior yielded and warranted swift punishment. To this day, I choose gas over charcoal so that I don't break out in hives while grilling.
Sadly, such immaturity creeps into areas of life where graver consequences result. Such immaturity is a serious problem in the church, where too many have replaced childlike faith (Matt. 18:4) with childish faith. The fruits of this substitution are massively destructive on this generation and future followers of Christ.
We find the contemporary church not spotless and without blemish but rather shallow, worldly, inept, and downright content in its immaturity. Sadly, there are some who prefer childish faith over against childlike faith. Some actually prefer a life ensconced in immaturity. "Simplicity equals happiness" is their mantra, but the Proverbs tell us that being a simpleton results in shallowness.
How did we arrive here? What are the root causes for immature Christian living that currently stunt the church's growth and impede her necessary sanctification? I believe there are three primary reasons and a host of secondary causes why we remain immature rather than pursuing maturity in Christ. Immaturity is available for any and all who do virtually nothing about it. Maturity, on the other hand, is the fruit of days and hours of walking in the Spirit, a steady and intentional pursuit of Christ, developing a biblical value system, a healthy disdain for even respectable sins, and strong effort to kill our besetting sins—or, as the Apostle John categorizes them, idols of the heart (1 John 5:21).
Apathy is a primary maturity killer. When self-focus enters our hearts and consumes us, the hunger for spiritual things exits. The cold hard fact is that some people just don't care and have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). Small thoughts of God yield a small view of sanctification.
Little thoughts of God snuff out the necessary zeal for mature Christlikeness. The backslider has said in his heart, "I don't care." A cold, apathetic faith is an immature faith. Immaturity as a result of apathy doesn't animate anything; it only steals, kills, and destroys maturity. Apathy cannot be reasoned with and makes us numb to spiritual realities. All sin makes us stupid, but apathy makes us cold and stupid.
Laziness is the second primary maturity killer. While apathy says, "I don't care," laziness cares but doesn't do anything about it. The harsh reality is that many Christians are unwilling to pay the high price of personal discipline to pursue Christ above all else. There is a refusal to work diligently (1 Cor. 9:27).
The Apostle Paul, at the very end of his life, said that he wanted to know Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:10). Countless times it fell on him, under the inspiration of the Spirit, to admonish the church to "excel still more" (1 Thess. 4:1). Keep in mind that immaturity isn't just a modern problem—there were immature Christians in the first century, too. Listen to Paul's challenge to the Corinthian church, a church fraught with immaturity:
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Cor. 3:1–4)
Laziness must be replaced with the rigorous discipline that results in growing maturity in Christ.
A third primary cause for immaturity is ignorance. I am not being pejorative here but speaking of the spiritual competency needed to grow in Christ. Ignorance can be willful and sinful, or it can be that someone's a new Christian or has simply never been taught how to walk with Christ. Regardless of the reason, ignorance is no state in which to remain. Peter said we have everything we need from God for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Excuses are mere speed bumps to the straight path of obedience that Christ wants us to pursue. We have direct access to the mind of Christ, the Word of Christ, the church of Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of Christ that aids us in putting off the works of the flesh and its excuses in exchange for genuine maturity. We can claim ignorance for a short while, but after a while, it becomes a poor excuse.
We are expected—even called—to live a mature Christian life. Maturity is something we must strive to attain. If it's expected from believers in Scripture, it is possible. Ignorance for any reason is a slayer of maturity and something we must resist with all our might.
The church needs mature Christians to be examples for others to follow, to serve God's kingdom, and to be salt and light to a skeptical and dark world. Immaturity smothers our testimony and makes us the laughingstock of the community. Childish living turns people off more than anything else. It's high time that we act our age, put off childish things, gain some gospel composure, and grow up.
The Apostle Peter challenged believers to crave the Word of God the same way infants long for milk (1 Peter 2:2–3). Infants are milk-aholics. Put a Milky Way Midnight (the best candy bar on the globe) in front of a crying baby, and he will scoff at that fine piece of delectable chocolate. But put plain milk in front of him and he will rejoice. This insatiable appetite for milk (the Word, in Peter's analogy) is to be replicated in the believer's pursuit of maturity. Granted, we will still have our moments of immaturity, but as we fill our hearts with the Word of Christ, there will be less and less room for sin, and the frequency of our immature acts should be less and less. Maturity must be something we prize and strive to attain even if we fail to be mature at times.
We must have sanctification in our sights. Make maturity a high-value target. Ask God to awaken zeal in you to fight the flesh. Ask Him to ignite your zeal for truth. Maturity is not for a select few but is the goal for all of us. Once you've tasted maturity, it's hard to go back. As my boys have grown, they have outgrown some childish behaviors, causing Jane and me to rejoice and remark how glad we are they are done with that phase of immaturity.
As you climb the mountain of maturity, you will certainly spot immaturity a mile away. Nothing gets under my skin or my boys' skin more than calling them immature or telling them they're acting like babies. No one wants to be labeled as immature. There is something very biting about that characterization. However, the reality is that we have far more immature Christians than mature ones. This ought not to be the case, but our churches are suffering from the dark consequences of our own making. We bite and devour one another. We love the world, not the Word (1 John 2:15–16). We misplace our priorities. We have feasted on this world's junk food and set aside a nutritional diet of the Word.
It's easy and quite convenient to sco at the Corinthian church for its pronounced immaturity, but there is equal, if not greater, immaturity in the contemporary church. Our sins may be more respectable, but they are no less sinful.
We must exchange apathy, laziness, and ignorance for a zeal for spiritual maturity, an insatiable appetite for the Word, the necessary discipline to consistently walk in the Spirit, and a passion for modeling maturity for the next generation. My prayer is that God will awaken us to our apathy, give us a healthy disdain for immaturity, a right theological perspective regarding sanctification, the necessary discipline to pursue maturity with diligence, and a hunger and thirst for a more mature faith.