FERGUSON: Let me begin by saying that the New Testament’s language for maturity belongs to a family of words that mean “completeness.” Therefore, I think the simplest way to describe growing to final maturity is what Paul says at the end of 2 Corinthians 3: we are being changed from one degree of glory to another, and this comes from Christ through the Spirit as we are transformed into His likeness.
In Romans 8:29, Paul says that the goal of predestination is that we should be conformed to the image of God’s Son. If you understand that, you can encapsulate the whole of the Christian life—with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and afflictions and triumphs—as the way in which the Father through the Spirit conforms us to be like His Son, while we are still our true selves in the Son.
As God conforms Steve Nichols and me to the image of Christ, we continue to speak with different accents. We couldn’t wear each other’s clothes. We have very different abilities. He is characterized by neatness of being, and I am characterized by untidiness of being. Conforming to Christ may loosen him up a little, while the struggle for sanctification in my life is creating a greater order of life so that I am more like Christ and more like Steve Nichols without shrinking or developing an American accent that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
THOMAS: When I was in ministry in Belfast forty years ago, I was in my mid-twenties. My elders were in their sixties and seventies. One of my elders was just a beautiful man in every possible meaning of that word. He had never gone to college. He had worked on the railways all his life. He had maybe one promotion in his entire life. However, when I met him, and especially when I heard him pray prayers at the prayer meeting (prayers that were quite lengthy), I always thought, “This is what Jesus is like.” When I was in his presence, I felt awe. There was something so godly and Christlike about him—his speech, his manner, his marriage, the way he related to me even though he was old enough to be my grandfather. When I was around him or visited him in his home, I thought, “This is what Jesus is like.” That’s what maturity is: when you are in someone’s presence, that person reminds you of what Jesus is like.
PARSONS: The question regarding Christian maturity is a significant matter because it pertains to everything in the Christian life. I want to highlight one thing: authentic maturity in the Christian life comes fundamentally through suffering. One of the most dangerous prayers we can pray is that God would mature us, humble us, and grow us, because that typically means He will allow suffering to come into our lives. How we respond to that suffering—not exploiting it but humbling ourselves and enduring it as we fix our eyes on Christ—is the only genuine path to Christian maturity.