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.