Jesus taught that we must be born again. We start our Christian lives as spiritual babies but we shouldn’t stay there. But unlike physical growth, spiritual growth does not happen automatically. Too many Christians grow up to be “adult babies.” Paul complained about this with the Christians at Corinth. He wrote, “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Cor. 3:1-2; see also Hebrews 5:11-14).
It may not be possible to pinpoint your spiritual age, but I think that there are markers that we can look for. Just as we see certain things happen in the physical growth of a baby, we can also look for certain markers as a baby Christian grows toward maturity. Here are a few:
• Learn to feed yourself.
Babies need milk to grow, but eventually they need to move on to solid food. A Hebrews 5:14 states, “solid food is for the mature.” But another mark of spiritual growth is being able to feed yourself rather than being spoon fed.
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” -1 Peter 2:2
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” –2 Timothy 2:15
• Stop messing yourself.
We expect that babies are going to mess their diapers. In time, however, that should stop. In the same way, new Christians need to stop messing their lives as they did before they knew Christ. None of us reach perfection in this life, but we need to start trying to keep clean.
“For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” -1 Peter 4:3
• Stop crying when you don’t get your way.
How do you react when things don’t go your own way? Do you pinch a fit or do you see yourself growing in peace, patience, gentleness and self-control?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” –Galatians 5:22-23
• Stop hitting.
Paul taught that the fighting among the Corinthians Christians was a mark of their immaturity. If we hit—with our fists, our words, or our actions—we are acting like bratty children.
“infants in Christ . . . for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?” -1 Cor. 3:1,3
• Learn to walk.
The Bible often uses walking as a metaphor for the Christian life. After we become Christians, we need to start living the way that Christians ought to live.
“…walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” –Colossians 1:10
• Lean to speak.
We need to learn to open our mouths to talk about Jesus Christ and our relationship to him. We need to learn to use our words for good. We need to learn to verbalize our faith and have the confidence to speak and pray in front of others.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” –Ephesians 4:29
• Learn right from wrong.
Children need to be taught what is right and what is wrong. Christians need to learn what God says is right and wrong. If we don’t do this, we will listen to the world and keep believing that evil is good and good is evil.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” –Hebrews 5:14
• Learn to get dressed.
There are two parts to this: Getting undressed and getting dressed. Christians are called to “take off” the practices of the old self and to “put on” the practices of the new self.
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator . . . Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” –Colossians 3:9-10,12
• Take responsibility for yourself.
As kids get older they need to learn responsibility so that one day they can live without Mom packing their lunch every day and reminding them to do their homework. As Christians grow, they need to take responsibility for their own Christian lives. If someone still has to “make” you go to church and read the Bible and to serve, it isn’t looking good for your spiritual maturity!
“ for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” –Ephesians 5:8-10
• Take responsibility for others.
Not every person is mature enough to babysit or to be a good parent. A sign of even more maturity is that a person not only takes care of his or her own self, but now also takes care of other people. God wants us to move beyond our own needs so that we can help other people to grow toward spiritual maturity.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”
• Be able to reproduce!
Part of physical maturity is being able to reproduce. The same is true spiritually. A mature Christian should be able and willing to explain the message of salvation to another person. God wants to use you to help make new baby Christians!
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . .” –Matthew 28:19
• Learn to make wise decisions.
Eventually kids leave the house. They need to be able to make good decisions on their own. (Although sometimes wisdom means knowing when to ask for advice!) Growing in wisdom means being able apply the right Biblical principles to your situation in life. It means planning long-term for the best goals. It means seeing the difference—not only between right and wrong, but between good, better, and best.
“ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” –Ephesians 5:15-17
This is a very incomplete list, but these are some of the marks that show that a person is growing toward Christian maturity.