Today is my birthday. And on my birthday as a somewhat introspective extrovert, I’ve been thinking about “growing up” and what it all means. I would certainly still put myself in the “young adult” category, as would most people judging by my age and life situation. I think there is “natural” maturity that comes with time and age – milestones like graduating high school, graduating college, getting married, buying a house. And then there is the Christian dynamic of “growing spiritually.” As I get older, I’m beginning to understand some things and realizing that I understand less than I thought I understood when I was an even younger adult.
If you are in Christ, scripture calls you to a life of childlike faith. We are encouraged by Jesus to pray to our “Heavenly Father.” Jesus very adamantly and quite controversially told his apostles, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). I’ve known these scriptures and concepts since Sunday School, so you would think I would plant my feet and declare with Peter Pan: “I never want to grow up! I want always to be a little girl and to have fun!” But alas, I’ve wanted the opposite in fact. I always wondered what it would be like to see over countertops, to be the teacher or the mom, to be grown up. And spiritually too, I have striven to grow up in Christ – striven to “see over the next spiritual countertop” if you will.
In a certain sense we are encouraged by scripture to mature both naturally and spiritually. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are there to assist young and old alike to grow in wisdom. Paul says that when he was a child he thought like a child and reasoned like a child, but when he grew to be a man he put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11). And the author of Hebrews scolds:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Ought we to strive to “go deeper” into the things of God? Ought we to move on from elementary things like Jesus dying on the cross? Isn’t scripture saying that this is part of growing up?
I think not. What I’ve learned thus far is that while natural maturity is about moving forward, spiritual maturity is more like moving backward, or rather starting over and then being constantly reminded of it. We have been born again into a new kingdom and are called to remain in childlike faith and dependence on the Father. Without this kind of faith it is impossible to please God. We will never move on from the Gospel. Paul says, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The Gospel is of first importance because it’s everything – it’s my justification, the power for my sanctification, the promise of my glorification, the reason I can forgive, the reason I’m part of the church, the reason I sing. It is my joy!
So as I advance in years, may I continue to “move backward” spiritually. As I take on new responsibilities such as parenthood, may my heart be continually retreating into more and more childlike dependence on Christ. Though it feels like it runs cross-grain with natural maturity where I learn to be more and more independent, each step has also brought with it new trials. And knowing that trials produce endurance, which produces character, which produces hope shows me that it’s all working together for good. At the end of my life, I hope I will declare with Paul that I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. That humility is true maturity.