When I was baptized at the age of nine, I thought I was a finished piece of work. I had professed my faith in Christ publicly in front of the whole church, and I had been baptized. Now what?
A lifetime later, I can say that I was hardly a rough-hewn stick the day I emerged from the baptistery to see my parents beaming at me. Since then I have learned a lot. For starters, I learned that in our faith, learning something with my mind is not the same thing as learning something with my heart. Jesus once said that the most important law is to “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) Notice that the mind by itself is not enough. When the Barna Group conducted a study of Christians probing their maturity, they found evidence that many Christians did not demonstrate the spiritual depth that is evidence of maturity. It appeared that many succumbed to the idea that they could learn spiritual maturity with their minds. Less than 20% of all self-identified Christians responded to survey questions with answers demonstrating spiritual depth.
Such statistics probably explain why, despite a population in which approximately 80% of the people self-identify as Christina, the culture of the US does not look much like a Christian community. Even worse are studies that show a strong trend away from self-identifying as Christian. If only 20% of al Christians are deeply-committed Christians, and if the total number of Christians is consistently declining, then one conclusion is obvious: the influence of Christians in the culture is much less than a Norman Rockwell view of the country would suggest. Jesus said that his followers were to be the light of the world, but there are proportionally fewer light bearers every year.
How shall Christians respond to such information? There are numerous things we might do as a community, but there is one thing each individual can do that will shine light into his own neighborhood: every Christian can choose to be more attentive the guidance of the Holy Spirit in his life and can be more intentional about engaging in the process of maturing. A tomato on a vine cannot by itself pay more attention to the sun or change its position relative to the sun, but a human being can choose to pay more attention to Christ and to draw nearer to Christ. Humans can choose. Spiritual maturity is not something a human being can produce by more effort, but the human who chooses to draw near to Christ and to be attentive to his leadership will become available to the working of the Holy Spirit that leads to deeper maturity.
When there are a lot of mature Christians sprinkled around in the culture, there are a lot people being salt and light in the mix. The culture begins to look different. We certainly hear the voices of Christians today, but if there were more Christians with spiritual depth, what might be different?
- Christian voices would speak up for the gift of life in the midst of campaigns to make it easier to abort unwanted babies and to parcel out healthcare treatment on the basis of cast savings
- Christian voices would speak up for abstinence, the only 100% guaranteed effective birth control option, in the context of a strong advocacy for marriage and family as God designed them to be.
- Christian lives would testify to gratefulness for God’s provision that mandates generous stewardship of his gifts, such that the poor, the sick and the weak would all know they could run to those who serve Christ when they were in need.
- Christians would be known for their listening, compassionate hearts, as they demonstrated in their lives a generous stewardship of time and focus in a culture that is always multi-tasking.
There is a lot of animosity toward Christians in contemporary culture. If the proportion of Christians who are spiritually mature were actually to increase, the one thing that would be sure to increase in parallel would be the animosity. Think of the rapacious behavior of those who crucified Jesus as they stood on the hillside viewing his brutalized body nailed to a cross. They actually thought he had been brought under control, yet they still stood there screaming invectives and daring him to prove himself to them. If the community of Christians demonstrates real maturity, it is only reasonable to assume that Satan himself will throw as many roadblocks in the path of the kingdom of God as possible. Each Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, which means that every time a Christian draws near to anyone, the kingdom of God draws near. Satan will not quietly tolerate that invasion of what he regards as his space. Achieving deep spiritual maturity is not easy, yet Jesus once said that the gates of hell could not prevail against God’s kingdom in a frontal assault. That thought should encourage and sustain Christians who feel that they are the ones under assault by those who just want Christians to shut up.
What is the first thing you think you would need to do in order to become more deeply mature as a Christian? Is it something you think you can do on your own? If it is, think again. Spiritual maturity is not something you do. It is something you learn under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. It is always difficult, costly, even scary. Maybe this is a good time for prayer. The Psalmist knew what it was like to be taunted for his faith, and he knew how to respond:
As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.