Do you have any Christians in your church who should be way past the baby stage, but they’re not? Unfortunately, this article is not mainly about them. The question here is, have you ever found yourself acting immaturely, like a spiritual infant, when you should know better? When you take an introspective look, do you recall times when out of your mouth came “spit up” which made hard-to-clean-up messes? Maybe you found yourself fussing for no apparent reason or hollering because you didn’t get your way?
Prolonged spiritual infancy was a problem in the early church too.
The Epistle to the Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who weren’t ready for some of the weightier theology about Jesus’ high priesthood, and here’s why:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12-14)
How do you grow up out of prolonged—or relapsed—Christian babyhood?
First, you admit that you’ve got some immaturity in your life that you need to “burp up.” Such immaturity is easily spotted in the Christian who thinks his only job is to show up at church for an hour or two and then go home. Such a Christian needs to be reminded that the point isn’t just to come to a building, but to actually be the church.
What is more difficult to spot—especially in yourself—is the kind of immaturity that can bubble up in people who actually serve in church.
They can begin to feel like they run the church. They can get very whiny and entitled, thinking that they are much bigger than they really are. We all have the potential in us to think that our needs and agendas come first. This thinking can propel us backward toward infancy. If that’s been you, then it’s time to admit you’ve been behaving like a baby.
“We all have the potential in us to think that our needs and agendas come first.”
Second, you return to the basics. Hebrews 5:12 calls them “elementary principles” (NASB), “basic principles” (ESV), or “first principles” (KJV) of the Word of God.
Notice that Hebrews could have simply called them “principles” (stoichea), and that would have alone meant the basics. But he calls them the “basic” or “first” (arche) principles. We’re talking the basics of the basics.
What are the basics of the basics in the Bible? From Hebrews 5, we can tell that these first principles have to do both with what we believe (“you ought to be teachers,” vs. 12) and how we live (“discern good and evil,” vs. 14). And it is bewildering how possible it is for even longtime Christians to forget the most basic basics of what we believe and how we live.
“These first principles have to do both with what we believe and how we live.”
For example, when you are tempted to think that you run the universe, is it possible that you have forgotten the very first verse of the Bible? “In the beginning, God.” Not you, but God. Plan a picnic and watch it rain.
Or when you are prioritizing the events in your day, is it ever possible to forget the first principles of how we should live? “Love God.” “Love people.”
If you’ve been living and thinking immaturely, it’s time to return to the basics.
Feeding regularly on the basics, you are ready to start maturing as a Christian. However, just as with picky toddlers, it is often tempting to avoid what you don’t feel like eating. You can dodge the spoon by turning your head.
But as you mature, you become better able to discern what’s really good for you, no matter how it tastes at first. “Because of practice,” we have our “senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14, ESV). Rather than allowing our powers of discernment to atrophy, we have our “senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (KJV).
Notice the language of training and exercise. This is a diligence that presses through, regardless of the mood of the day. I’m not talking about going to the gym once, and then not going back the next day because you’re sore. Then the next day, you don’t go because the family’s got something going on. Then the next day—well, that’s your birthday. Can’t go on your birthday.
“Notice the language of training and exercise. This is a diligence that presses through, regardless of the mood of the day.”
It’s doing what you said you would do even when the mood passes. At your wedding, you promised to be committed to your spouse through sickness and health, poverty and wealth. You were in a good mood that day. Some days the mood passes. Maturity is pressing through even when the mood isn’t there.
Some days, you will not feel like following Christ. You will feel like following something else. But the feelings aren’t what count, are they? “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Maturity means following Christ regardless of what seems like a better option on a particular day.
We as the church have got to get back to learning these first principles. We must press through on the days we don’t feel like it. Why? Well, because our job is to be a training ground for disciple makers, not a nursery. Where the church intends to go, it’s going to take a whole lot of maturity.