The Process of Maturity
Dr. A. C. George
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me”. St. Paul (1Cori. 13:11.
The Apostle Paul makes this interesting statement as he concludes his short discourse on love. When we analyse this statement carefully we can see the whole concept of growth and maturity. But the key to understand the process of growth is in the word became. Between childhood and adulthood there is a becoming - a process that leads ultimately to adulthood or maturity. In this article I like to deal with some of the issues involved in that process of growth and maturity that every Christian is seeking to attain.
1. Lessons from nature
Since there is a correlation between the physical (natural) and spiritual realms, it is good to focus first on the biological aspects of growth so that we can draw some lessons that are applicable to spiritual growth also.
Growth is a universal law. Every organism has an inherent potential for growth and development. This law operates in the vegetable kingdom, the animal kingdom and the world of human beings. Take for instance the miracle of life that begins in a woman’s womb. Life begins as a single cell in the form of a fertilized ovum. But the process of growth begins immediately through cell division. That one cell multiplies into millions and billions of cells that turn into bones, tissues and the various organs of the foetus. Who can explain the mystery and wonder connected with the birth of an infant? Well said the Psalmist: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14).
The new born babe has to go through the process of growth continually. Otherwise, survival is impossible. Let us note these facts regarding growth.
a. Growth is a “must”, but growth does not take place automatically. The genetic clock built into each person ticks differently. That is why we see that growth rates differ from one child to another. Some children may be able to pick themselves up and walk before they are one year old,while some other children begin to walk only a few months later. Heredity is a decisive factor in the process of growth and maturation.
b. Heredity alone is not enough, environment also plays an important role in the process of growth. The analogy of a seed will illustrate this fact. A seed has the potential for growth and fruit bearing. But only when it is planted in the soil and nurtured well after it germinates, It can grow and produce the desired fruit. This is also true of humans who need a favourable environment to maximize all the potentials bestowed upon them through hereditary factors. Environment can either facilitate or blunt the process of growth.
c. The Prolonged period of Infancy in humans is a significant stage. Human beings, unlike animals, go through a stage of infancy for a longer period of time. We have all seen what happens to a new born calf. Within a few hours after birth, with some struggle it rises to its feet and then goes to the mother to drink the nourishing milk. In a day or two we can see that calf skipping and running with excitement. That is not the picture we get of a human infant. He/she has to be carried, fed, changed and constantly watched and cared for. It is at least a year before that infant can take a few steps and walk- and that with adults’ help.
Have you ever wondered about this stage of human life? It is a helpless stage, but it is a very significant stage of development. While the baby grows physically, other things also happen to that child. It includes dependence and attachment to the family, awareness of their small world. The most valuable thing that happens to the child is the bonding that takes place with the immediate family, especially with the mother. That relationship will be the key to all the future relationships of that growing child.
2. The growth process of a spiritual infant
There is an amazing parallel between our physical growth and our spiritual development. The accent here is on the spiritual growth and maturity of a child of God.
Christian life also begins with a birth process, which the Bible defines as “being born again”, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus gives us details of this truth (Jn. 3:1-10). Other terms used for this supernatural phenomenon include: “born of God” (Jn. 3: 9), “newcreation”, (2Cor. 5:17) and “rebirth” (Tit.3:5). They are descriptive of the nature and character of the change that comes upon an individual when he/she accepts Christ and enters the Kingdom of God.
Similar to the new born infant who has to grow, develop, learn and become a useful citizen of the society, “the babe in Christ” has to go through the long process of spiritual growth through which he/she reaches new dimensions of spirituality. At regeneration one inherits the basic spiritual frame that has the potential for growth and transformation. As children of God we inherit the family traits which identify as with the household of God. The image of God which became corrupt through sin, is restored to us in seminal form through the miracle of regeneration. That is why the apostle Paul states categorically,” if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come” (2Cori. 5:17). This marks the beginning of a new journey, a new nature that partakes of the divine nature which reflects the image of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; 2Pet. 1: 4). It needs to be underscored here that even though new babe in Christ bears the Father’s image in a small measure, that image becomes stronger and more visible to others only as the process of growth continues. Believers are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness” of Christ, (Rom.8:29) and they will attain total conformity to the image of Christ at His appearing (1John 3:2). But between these two points, a believer has to go through a long and difficult process of growth and transformation in line with God’s plan for each of His Children (cf. Rom.12:1-2).
As in the case of physical growth which is dependent on several factors, spiritual growth is also conditioned by a proper spiritual environment. The components of that environment must include the following:
a. Spiritual Nourishment
Just as a new born baby needs proper nutrition for growth and development of the physical body, a spiritual infant also needs the essential nutrients for a balanced growth. Thankfully, God has provided for this need through His word. God’s word is the unadulterated milk for the spiritual infants (1 Pet. 2:1,2). It is “sweeter than honey” for the spiritual organism (Ps. 119: 103). It also contains solid food for those who desire to develop their spiritual muscles and strength (Heb. 6: 13, 14). It is imperative that every Christian – young or old- feeds on God’s word on a daily basis so that he/she will become saturated with the word of God. It is also important for the ministers of the gospel to preach the word rather than entertain people with humorous stories and unimportant stuff. A true shepherd will not feed the flock with junk food but will lead them to the green pastures of God’s word which alone can build them up in their faith.
b. Spiritual Oxygen
Everyone knows oxygen is essential for survival. People who live in the big cities of our country breathe in polluted air which is detrimental to their health. Such people will have to get away to places where they can breathe cleaner air. In the same way Christians who are living in this polluted environment must get into the prayer closet to breathe in that fresh air that invigorates their Souls. Prayer is their life sustaining oxygen. The prayer closet provides the opportunity to the children of God to exhale the polluted air of the world out of their system and inhale the pure and refreshing air of heaven into their spiritual organism. This constant communion with our heavenly Father through prayer promotes our growth in Christ.
c. Spiritual Companions
Social skills can develop only through interaction with others. A child’s world is confined to his/her own family first. Then as growth continues, the boundaries of that world expand through interaction and relationship with others. In the same manner, spiritual infants need to depend on others who can help, encourage, guide and even correct them in their journey towards spiritual maturity. The Bible calls this aspect of growth as “fellowship or koinonia.” (1Jn.1:7). It involves mutual dependence, sharing and discharging of mutual obligations of loving, caring and building up (Jn.13:34, 35; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thes. 5:4).
It is important for us to recognize the truth that spiritual growth cannot take place in isolation. Those who think that they can maintain a super level of spirituality by isolating themselves from the main stream of the church, are deceiving themselves and living in a fantasy island. Unfortunately many Christians live in their own islands that are not connected to each other or to the mainland. Island Christianity is not biblical. We cannot grow alone, but we grow along with others who have the same faith, passion and goal.
d. Spiritual Discipline
Normal healthy growth can take place only when our life is controlled by proper discipline. Discipline comes from the same root as disciple. The basic meaning of disciple is: “a learner”. And learning takes place through many avenues: adult examples, instructions from others, corrections for wrong doings, the moral code of society, trial and error experiments and bitter experiences of life.
Christian life ought to be a disciplined life. It means we have boundaries, standards, do’s and don’ts that guard our lives. It also means that while we are free from the bondage of sin through Christ, our Liberator (Jn. 8:31) we are also bound by the law of the Spirit which controls and guides our steps. As we walk in the spirit, as God’s children, we are given the empowerment by the Spirit to go beyond the gravitational pull of the flesh and soar high on the wings of the Spirit to live a life on the highest plane (Rom. 8:1-5). A disciplined life is a crucified life. Such a person can says, as Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20). The testimony of the scripture about the disciplined Christians is: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).
In this article I have tried to show that growth is a universal law, but growth can take place only through the interplay of hereditary and environmental factors. Unlike physical growth which stops at a particular stage – depending on the genetic clock – spiritual growth does not cease. Believers need to keep on growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2Pet. 3:28). By taking advantage of all the resources and means God has provided for His children, let us keep growing until we reach the full measure of our inheritance. No Christian can say: “I have arrived, I have attained”. Instead, we must press forward toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil.3: 12-14).