Those of us who grew up in the “Toys R Us” generation know that we never really wanted to grow up. We surely wanted to be a kid forever, if that were possible. While this makes for great sentimental memories of days gone by, it wreaks havoc when our churches are filled with “baby Christians” who just don’t want to grow up. However, in Ephesians 4:1-16, disciples are implored to “grow up” in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” We need to stop and ask ourselves: “What would a ‘mature’ Christian look like?” I believe this passage suggests 7 marks of a mature Christian faith:
- A mature Christian is Christ-centered. (Eph. 4:15)
Jesus is the full revelation of God. He is “the Word made flesh.” Jesus must be the centerpiece of everything we are about if we are going to truly call ourselves “Christian.” Jesus is the centerpiece of our hermeneutics, our ethics, and our theology. (That’s just a fancy way of saying that Jesus is the lens through which we read the Bible, live our lives, and define what we believe about God.)
As the late Dallas Willard put it, “As Jesus’ disciple, I am his apprentice in kingdom living. I am learning from him how to lead my life in the Kingdom of the Heavens as he would lead my life if he were I.”
- A mature Christian is humble. (Eph. 4:2)
Why is humility so important? See #1 above. We must never forget our place. In Rick Warren’s 2002 best seller, The Purpose Driven Life, he opens with this famous line: “It’s not about you.” We know that, for babies, the world is all about them. They don’t care if you are in the middle of something. If they need food, a new diaper, or something else, they want it right then and expect you to drop everything to get it for them.
We, on the other hand, are not called to do that. The Christian life is not about me . . . my wants . . . my desires . . . my whims. It’s ALL about Christ.
- A mature Christian is focused. (Eph. 4:1)
One of my favorite Christian writers is Eugene Peterson. He wrote a book on discipleship entitled: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. He says that discipleship cannot be rushed. It is rarely quick and efficient. Discipleship cannot be acquired all at once. We live in a fast food, mass produced, instantaneous world where we carry around encyclopedias in our pockets. We can get just about product delivered in a matter of a day or so. We can order food to be ready and paid for by the time we arrive at the restaurant.
The spiritual life isn’t like that, though. Discipleship is not a sprint, but a marathon. Day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade. As disciples, we are baby stepping our way to the kingdom . . . but we ARE moving . . . bit by bit. We are apprenticed to the master and learning life from him – slowly but surely.
- A mature Christian is unified. (Eph. 4:3-7)
A close reading will reveal that there are no less than seven “ones” in this passage: one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Make no mistake, Satan comes to divide. Think back to the book of Genesis. The result of Satan’s temptation and the Fall was a series of divisions in humanity – divisions in their relationships to themselves, God, one another, and all creation.
Mature Christians are those that work for unity. They are those more concerned about preserving the humanity of the other than in winning an argument. They are those who refuse to vilify, to name call, or sink to the level of caricature that we see in much of public discourse today.
Mature Christians are those who rejects tribalism. They refuse to see the world as a division of “US” vs. “THEM.” They are those who know that there is only “US.” Mature Christians know that, as humans, we are in this together. The great poet, John Donne, put it this way: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
- A mature Christian speaks the truth in love. (Eph. 4:15)
This one is tricky. Once again, it goes back to #1 above. We must have a robust understanding of Jesus and his identity. In John 14:6, Jesus says of himself, “I am . . . the Truth.” It doesn’t say that Jesus speaks truth. He IS truth. In other words, truth is personal and relational, not merely propositional. Likewise, in the First Epistle of John, we find that “God is love.” It doesn’t say that Jesus loves. Jesus IS love.
The immature Christian has a tendency to drift to one of two extremes. On the one hand, it is easy to speak “truth” while caring nothing about the affect your proclamation has on others. They speak harshly and in a way that condemns and wounds. Therefore, you can be “right” in your declaration and still betray the truth of Christ because of the manner in which it was shared.
Similarly, one might err on the side of a “pseudo-love” by failing to speak truth. I would argue that this is the least loving thing I can do. For example, if I see my brother committing an act that harmful to himself, his family, and those around him, the least “loving” thing I could do is to ignore it, even if it offends him in the short run. The mature Christian embodies both – truth and love.
- A mature Christian is charismatic. (Eph. 4:7-12)
The Greek word here is charis. This should not be confused with ability, talent, or skill. A charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit, uniquely given to each believer for the building up of the Church of Jesus Christ. We aren’t in competition with one another here.
When we are unified, we aren’t looking around at another’s gift and saying, “Well, because I can’t sing like that person…because I can’t teach like that person…because I’m not a good speaker like…because I’m not creative like…I can’t be used by God.” EVERY believer has been gifted by God. If someone doesn’t exercise their gift, the whole body of Christ suffers because it doesn’t function the way God intended.
I am not the body of Christ. You, individually, are not the body of Christ. WE are the body of Christ together.
- A mature Christian is missional. (Eph. 4:1, 12)
We are not called to come to church. We church are called to be there church. The New Testament use of ekklesia (the word we translate as “church”) is never used in reference to a building. It refers an assembly of people. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ in the world as representatives of a new kingdom – the Kingdom of God.
Consequently, the role of church leaders is not to do the ministry for the church, but the equip the church for ministry. Every disciple is called to be the presence of Christ – in your home, with your family, in your workplace, in your classroom, in your neighborhood, at the gym, in the grocery store, on the ball field, in rush hour traffic, and even in the drop off or pickup line at school.
The Church might best be described as “Disciples making disciples.” You don’t wait on the “professionals” to do that. Mature, equipped, and missional Christians take seriously the call to get busy making disciples everywhere they go.
While not a comprehensive list, this is a pretty good start from the book of Ephesians describing the defining marks a mature discipleship. As the letter says, “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” It’s time to put childish ways behind us. It’s time to assume the responsibility of spiritual adulthood. It’s time to leave Toys R Us behind and grow up in Christ.