The Aim of Maturity

August 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

How are mature followers of Jesus to engage the world around them? What does spiritual maturity look like in this area? Do we abstain from watching this or drinking that? Or is it just the opposite, doing everything and anything we run across? What’s the answer? Well, it may help to think of a Christian’s engagement with the world on a spectrum with three different responses. The first two are found on the extremes of the spectrum.

The RULE KEEPER road sees life as black and white. If something is gray it’s wrong. Every aspect of life is governed by rules. The Bible is seen as Great Big Rule Book which shows us all the things followers of Jesus shouldn’t see, eat, listen, touch, feel, or enjoy as a whole. It is the life that is defined by how much you can’t do. On the opposite side, the FREE BIRD defines spiritual maturity by how much of world one can enjoy, consume, and experience at the expense of the rest of the Body of Christ. They trample consciences in parading their so-called “freedoms,” and frankly, they may not be sure if those activities are really healthy for themselves as well. Neither of these options display spiritual maturity but exactly the opposite. The Rule Keeper defines maturity by how much of world he cuts out of his life. The Free Bird by how much of the world he adds into it. Fortunately, the Bible gives us a better path to tread toward spiritual maturity.

Spiritually mature believers aim for a life that discerns the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the right from the wrong. It’s the life that takes from the world around it “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, [and thinks]  about these things” (Phil. 4:8)

Biblical discernment avoids the legalism of Rule Keeper and the licentiousness of Free Bird by charting a God-honoring, creation-enjoying, community-keeping path. That’s why discernment is the aim of believers who desire to engage the world in a spiritually mature way. No wonder the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:9-11, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Aim not at legalism or licentiousness, but the liberty found in biblical discernment.

Mature followers of Jesus are discerning followers of Jesus.

Biblical discernment allows us to…

  • Enjoy the fullness of God’s common grace found in the world
  • Have courage to engage the world instead of retreat into a Christian ghetto
  • Increase our understanding of the culture in which we seek to relate
  • Provide good examples to those younger in the faith about how mature Christians live in the world
  • Know how the gospel intersects each area of life, indeed, it is to see how all of life is centered around the gospel

This is why Heb 5:14 can confidently proclaim, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” You might need to grow your level of biblical discernment “by constant practice” if you…

  • expect the pastor’s sermon to be the primary way you get the Bible in your life.
  • believe every book which sits upon the bestseller shelf at the local Christian bookstore is a quality read.
  • continually expose yourself to media (magazines, music, movies) that shrinks, not expands, your soul
  • think a preacher is solid simply because his sermons make you feel good as you leave
  • refrain from certain activities simply because someone (e.g., a pastor) told you not do to it but you don’t know why
  • do whatever you like without first thinking, “How does the Bible address this?”
  • always find yourself asking others what the biblical thing to do is without doing the hard work of cracking open a Bible and discovering the answer yourself

Don’t settle for those poor habits. Aim at discernment because mature followers of Jesus are discerning followers of Jesus.

Newsflash: your pastor’s a sinner.

Yup. The pastor you love, esteem, and admire not only makes mistakes but at times intentionally commits wrong, rebellious, and harmful actions. I’m not saying he endorses that kind of behavior. I bet he can’t stand the fact he struggles with certain sins. Maybe he’s the pastor who gets too angry and says hurtful things, or engages regularly in lustful thoughts, or finds it hard not to eat in a gluttonous fashion. Whatever his struggles, the failures only demonstrate that he is all but human, and a sinful one at that. Indeed, your pastor is just like you.

This doesn’t mean a church leader shouldn’t be kept accountable for his actions. He should. That bears repeating. A pastor should most definitely, absolutely, unequivocally be held accountable for a life that is “above reproach.” (1 Tim. 3:2) The Bible is clear on the qualifications of an elder or pastor. Passages like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 revolve around an individual’s character. However, none of the lists include the adjective “perfect.” On the contrary, to look at the biblical “heroes” of the faith is to witness many a sinner.

  • Moses murdered a man in anger and directly disobeyed God to the point he was refused entrance into the Promised Land
  • David, whom the Bible declares was a man “after God’s own heart,” was an adulterer who plotted the murder of his lover’s husband
  • Paul rebuked Peter for acting in a prejudiced, if not racist, manner against Gentile Christians

And yet…

  • God chose Moses to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt, represent him to the people, and be the giver of the Law
  • God made David the type that would be fulfilled in Christ as the True King whose Kingdom would last forever, Jesus is referred to as the Son of David
  • God used Peter, along with Paul and others, to establish the New Testament church; and include some of his writings in Holy Scripture

Once again, repeating for emphasis, this doesn’t mean church leaders shouldn’t be held accountable. Most of the biblical individuals were chastened, disciplined, and rebuked for their sin. Sometimes it may even demand you forfeit your leadership. Still, the examples remind us that those who lead God’s people happen to be sinners too.

  • Augustine approved coercing heretics to the faith, even by violent means.
  • Luther gravitated toward anti-Semitic views.
  • John Wesley neglected his marriage at the expense of his ministry. His wife left him repeatedly, then finally.
  • Jonathan Edwards was a slave owner.

And yet…

  • God used Augustine as one of the greatest Early Church Fathers who turned the spotlight on God’s sovereignty
  • God used Luther to rescue the Church from herself and bring her back to the gospel via the Protestant Reformation
  • God used Wesley to heighten the need for evangelism and left a legacy of the Methodist church
  • God used Edwards to bring revival to America and become one of the greatest theologians of all time

Want to look up to a leader who isn’t broken and failed in some way? You can’t. All leaders struggle against sin in one way or another. Including your favorite leader. But don’t be too dismayed. History is replete with God using crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Does this call us to be lax in our personal holiness or obedience to Jesus? Absolutely not! It should however,

  • temper our sense of justice when we hear of leaders who have failed in one way or another.
  • stir in us a desire for the restoration of those who have succumbed to their struggles.
  • encourage us to guard our own heart against sins which easily entangle us.
  • make us soberly grateful that God relates to us not through our sin but the finished, perfect work of Christ for our sin.

The Church of Jesus Christ has progressed, is progressing, and will progress through history using lives of broken people. People like you and me. People who may do great things for God but will always need great grace from God. So, when your pastor alights upon the pulpit to preach the Word of God, know he does so as a sinner. Just like you. It’s not a newsflash but a reality, one that should leave us in constant amazement at the goodness of a gospel that both redeems us to be loved by God and used by him as well.

Including your pastor.

That’s right. Indoctrinate your kids. Especially as it concerns the faith. While the word indoctrination has negative connotations today, one definition is as follows:

1. to instruct in a doctrine, principle, ideology, etc., esp. to imbue with a specific partisan or biased belief or point of view.
2. to teach or inculcate.
3. to imbue with learning.

Does this not describe to a great degree the parent’s role in the discipleship process of their children, especially when the kids are young? Surely we want to “instruct [our sons and daughters] in [Christian] doctrine, principle, and ideology.” Is it partisan or biased? Absolutely! The knowledge we want inculcated into our kids is the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings which flow from it. In short, we want our children to deeply know what God has revealed – to flee from that which he deems sin, and run toward that which he loves. One of the ways that best happens is via indoctrination. While it’s popular to criticize people of faith for indoctrinating their kids, the truth is, every child is in the process of being indoctrinated. At every turn in a young person’s life, someone or something is trying to place their beliefs into that child. Schools, churches, and governments do it. Parents, teachers, and coaches do it. You can be sure songs, movies, and television do it as well.

Even parents holding a negative view of indoctrination indoctrinate. Suppose a father and mother who pride themselves as intellectual progressives that disdain indoctrination in any form confidently proclaim they’ve withheld themselves from pushing their personal belief systems upon their kids. They chose to instruct their children to discover what’s true for themselves. However, they fail to see this also is indoctrination. They are attempting to deposit into their children the “ideology” or “principle” that truth is relative. Additionally, these parents may also lead their kids to conclude that what dad and mom believe isn’t so important that it’s worth passing down. Regardless how those parents view their actions, it is indoctrination nonetheless.

Therefore, the real question is not who is being indoctrinated but who is doing the indoctrination?

I witnessed indoctrination in action when my wife and I were invited to a friend’s baby shower. I walked into the room where guests brought their baby gifts only to see it full of Texas A&M stuff. It was like College Station has exploded all over the place. I noticed an Aggie doll wearing shirt which said, “Welcome to the world Lil’ Aggie.” I saw Aggie baby booties, Aggie hats, a CD with Aggie lullabies (for real y’all), and even a DVD entitled Baby Aggie. The cover had a baby clad in Aggie fare mouthing the words, “Gig’ em!” What struck me was the DVD’s subtitle: Raising Tomorrow’s Texas A&M Fan Today.

After my wife resuscitated me (I’m a Baylor Bear, she’s a Texas Longhorn), I could only come to one conclusion: this is indoctrination. Make no mistake, those friends and family wanted to place their beliefs about their college in that child. I would assume most Aggies who read this would say, “But of course!” (with a tear in their eye and the Aggie War Hymn in their heart) Why? Because they believe a love for Texas A&M should be “imbued” or “inculcated” into their children. Thus, it only makes common sense to strategically place the “truths of A&M” into kids when they’re young. Welcome to indoctrination.

As I said, the question isn’t who is being indoctrinated, but who is doing the indoctrination?

It’s a big reason why the Bible highlights the father and mother as the chief agents in the discipleship process of their children.  And why I call on parents who are followers of Jesus to use their home as place where they “indoctrinate” their sons and daughters in the truths of the gospel. Don’t just indoctrinate them in your favorite school, sport, or show. Pour the truths of the gospel into them! Read the Bible with them. Tell them about Jesus. Pray with them.

Why? Because you want to raise tomorrow’s passionate follower of Jesus today!