What it Means to be a Mature Christian: Coming of Age
The Wonder Years
Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new,” (2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV).
I often think about when I first gave my life to Christ and what that experience was like. The simplicity surrounding it was very ordinary. It was nothing more than a simple prayer. The faith which followed was a total surrender of my life, both in word and action. That took shape in many ways, very quickly leading to drastic changes that manifested on a deep level. I realize that my salvation experience was radical, and for anyone who knew me at that stage in life would no doubt agree. My parents were convinced I had joined a cult, and my friends were amazed at young woman I had become. They didn’t even know me anymore. In fact, I didn’t even recognize myself. This new person born again by His Spirit was someone I had to get to know. The evidence of Christ in my life was more real than anything I could have ever said or merely spoken. Everything changed.
My early life in Christ was very literally one manifestation after another of sanctification, healing, and deliverance. Every time I turned around Christ was proving Himself to me. He very literally entertained me with miracles, signs and wonders on a consistent basis for years. As I look back I stand in awe at His loving-kindness. I realize that not everyone has this experience. But I will tell you, my life was such a mess that I required it, and He knew exactly what I needed. It didn’t take long at all for my family to realize this Jesus I followed was REAL, and God began to do a deep work in them as well.
The old Erin was truly dead. The new Erin sprang to life. And in that season everything revolved around me and my private issues. Christ permitted that for a time. Yet that season eventually ended. And when it did, it was not only painful, but also an incredible awakening to the fulfillment of my destiny in Him, which in contrast was not about me at all.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples,” (John 15:8, KJV).
Flash forward twenty-five years. My life is no less a miracle, and Jesus is no less a part of it. However, the evidence is different now than it was before. And here is what I believe God wants us to realize as we grow forward: In our early years (our wonder years) Christ spends much of our time serving us. We become the recipients of all He has to offer. We come to Him with our mess, and He gives us His perfection. We are often bound, broken, and hurting individuals with confusion and a ton of baggage that needs sorting. We live in an overwhelming tangled web of pain and there is often more to work through than we realize until He exposes our darkness. Only once we see our destitution do we finally venture into the liberty, health and wholeness He truly has for us.
Yet in due time, the shift occurs. We are no longer living life in a spiritual orb that revolves around our issues. That spiritual cycle begins to cease. And if you’re wondering why, it’s time to realize this is not about you. It’s about Him and His kingdom.
Christ performs His redemptive work to bring us into wholeness where we are finally liberated, not only because He loves us individually, but because He loves the world. He sees each person we will one day reach. Once we reach that level ground or “spiritual plateau” of wholeness, the dynamics of our relationship with Christ must change. Our focus is no longer on what He can do for us, but on what we can do for Him. We are no longer consumed with our own needs, but on the demands of the kingdom and the needs of others. We become kingdom-minded. The narcissistic, or otherwise self-centered walk that characterized our relationship with Him falls away, and we exchange it for a sacrificial lifestyle that is being ever-consumed with those things that consume Christ. The focus of our lives becomes outward instead of inward.
That is not to say that we never have issues that need tending. Quite the contrary. We are sheep who are in constant need of our Shepherd. The intimate process of sanctification never stops. But our motivations for coming to Christ are for the sake of the Gospel and His kingdom and not merely our own affairs. And although He still serves us and tends to us, those things lose centrality. Their centrifugal force no longer pulls us inward. Our souls and lives orbit around Him, and those things that He wants to accomplish through us (not merely in us) are what motivate us to seek Him and know Him fully — and to be fully known.
The Christian bubble that we were once incubated within is finally shed. For those who have experienced this, it’s purpose was never to stifle and suffocate, but to provide a sanctuary for the healing on a hallowed level that is sanctified and accomplished by Him. But God does not permit us to live out our Christianity in such a bubble. He calls us into the fullness of His Spirit unto perfect life and liberty.
My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work,” (John 4:34, KJV).
Christ talks about the meat of doing God’s perfect will. That was His food — His ultimate spiritual sustenance. He made it very clear that those who do the will of God are the children of God — and they will inherit the kingdom of God. Paul talks about this in the context of leaving the elementary principles and graduating toward those things that “accompany salvation” (see Hebrews 6:1-12).
When I think about my early walk with the LORD and contrast it with my walk today, much of my time with Him was centered upon what I needed from Him in my own life — not on what I was able to give. My prayer life, my church life, and my intimate spiritual walk very much revolved around me and my own private needs. And although God still ministers to me, I will tell you there comes a time when that central focus must shift if you’re going to walk with Him and be fruitful in the kingdom. Your spiritual walk with Christ can no longer orbit around your own issues. Your motivations for intimacy with Christ must revolve around a genuine desire to know Him and enter into the things that are on His heart, embrace His kingdom agenda, and perform His perfect will for your individual life. To fulfill your destiny you must get beyond yourself. Otherwise you will never come of age. You will never ripen with the true maturity that is the hallmark of a genuine Christian life, which bears exponential fruit — even one hundred fold.
Surrender vs. Self-Centered Christianity
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing,” (John 15:5, KJV).
For years the Church and its leaders have fostered a very self-absorbed, even narcissistic type of Christianity that has been almost entirely centered upon self. We’ve been glutted with material that has taught us how to be “blessed”, “prosper”, “heal”, “be delivered” and walk in the favor of God. Yet it’s very likely that we’ve never been taught in equal depth about sacrifice, suffering, servitude, and sanctification.
I’m here to tell you that God is done with that on a corporate scale. That kind of spiritual gluttony must end. The Church is entering a season corporately where God is demanding maturity that brings forth genuine fruit. We must graduate beyond ourselves. He wants to teach us how to live the sacrificial life He called each of us to fully embrace. We have yet to learn how to lay down our lives for others. We have yet to understand that the hope of our calling and the fulfillment of our destiny is not in focusing upon ourselves and our agenda, but upon Him and the eternal kingdom of God.
When was the last time you surrendered yourself in prayer and asked Jesus what was on His heart and how you could best serve Him?
When was the last time you came to Him and inquired about His agenda?
When was the last time you asked Him what He wanted to do through you?
When was the last time you were touched with Christ’s heart and carried a burden for His people?
We all need the wonder years. We all need the honeymoon with God. We all need the service Christ Jesus offers us in our broken unregenerate state. We desperately need His healing, deliverance, and salvation — so much that God sometimes invests an exorbitant amount of time toward making us whole just so He can use us effectively. That is what laying a foundation is all about — and He does that in each one of us.
The Evidence of Maturity
But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: that ye be not slothful but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises,” (Hebrews 6:9-12, KJV).
Understand, there comes a time when a shift must occur if you are to graduate. Your motivations in seeking Christ and desiring His presence and power must change. They can no longer be about you or revolve around you and your issues. Your time with Him and your relationship with Him will instead be centered upon those things of His kingdom and the passions of His heart. You will begin to experience the burden of the LORD much like Jeremiah the prophet and many others, such as Moses, David, and even Christ Himself.
This is why the laborers are few.
We have not been schooled in sacrifice. We’ve been schooled in self-absorption. We’ve not learned suffering. We’ve learned sorrow and self-help. Only when we can say with Christ that we truly hunger and thirst for doing the perfect will of God, have we reached a maturity and depth in Him whereby He can use us fully. Maturity in Christ is not about how much you know. It’s about the evidence of Christ in your life whereby fruitfulness actually begins to exponentially multiply.
If you are not satisfied in your walk with God, it’s time to examine your relationship with Him honestly, and consider coming of age. Until you can share Christ’s heart and experience His burdens, you’ll live in a perpetual state of stunted spiritual growth that is largely narcissistic and self-absorbed. If you want to fulfill His call and destiny on your life maturity is not optional — it is obligate.
Knowing Christ in this manner requires that we become more than recipients of the salvation He offers — we become servants who sacrifice.
Only then will we truly be like Him.
Cheers & Shalom,