Be perfect! A Call to Christian Maturity by Tricia Tillin - Characteristics of the Immature - Babies versus Adults

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"Be Perfect! How to Grow Up" by Tricia Tillin

PART Two-A: How Mature Am I?

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Characteristics of the Immature - Babies versus Adults

The Bible often compares and contrasts children and adults when talking about spiritual maturity. Immature believers are seen as babies and young infants, and believers who have progressed beyond the foundational aspects of their faith are seen as adults.

Therefore, this section takes a look at the behaviour and traits of babies and toddlers and contrast them with the behaviour that the Bible expects of mature Christians. We can find out whether we are acting like spiritual infants, or grow-up mature Christians by considering these characteristics or traits.

Please notice that the traits we discuss as belonging to babies are not "bad" behaviour - just "normal" for babies. However, what is normal for a baby is NOT normal behaviour for an adult! In this section we are not talking about sin, but human nature.

The areas we are going to consider are:

  • FEEDING
  • CLEANLINESS
  • ABILITIES
  • PROTECTION
  • BEHAVIOUR (see next section)
  • RELATIONSHIPS (see next section)

1. FOOD AND FEEDING

a) Spoon-Feeding is for Babies

"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil". (Heb 5:12-14)

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Spoon-fed.
  • Food prepared by OTHERS.
  • Others make food choices for him (e.g. bible studies, tapes, books.)
  • Somebody else does the hard work of food cultivation and preparation.
  • Eats only the MANNA - easily digested but does not keep; is not long-lasting food.
  • Feeds himself (by hard labour).
  • Will dig for himself, follow up references, make notes, educate himself.
  • Takes responsibility for his own health and well-being, and nutrition.
  • CORN OF THE PROMISED LAND - which needs to be planted, sown, reaped, ground, cooked etc - but which has substance and is long-lasting.

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. (2 Tim 2:15-16)

 

We all know that babies cannot feed themselves. They need to be bottle-fed or spoon-fed. Adults have to find, prepare and feed nutrition to a baby.

In the same way, spiritual babies have to have soft food prepared for them by others. They have to be spoon-fed. Other people choose the food of the spiritual babe - there's no real labour involved - babies expect their food  to be served up ready prepared. Somebody else does all the hard work, and they reap the benefits.

While we are young Christians, we depend on commentaries, bible study notes, tapes and videos; as we grow we begin to seek the Holy Spirit's guidance and illumination on what we read and depend less on other people's help. To remain totally dependent on others for our spiritual food is a sign of immaturity.

A spiritual babe will just demand instant answers, and be annoyed when he doesn't get them. Doesn't that remind you of what happens when a baby is hungry and needy? Everybody knows what the sound of a crying baby is like - but the spiritual baby also cries and pouts if his meal is not instantly available. He doesn't like to wait, nor to have to do any work for himself.

One of the biggest problems today is that Christians want to be spoon-fed.  I have had many e-mails that demand instant answers and ready-prepared statements that people can just print off and give to their elders, without their having to think about the issues for themselves. And I try gently to suggest to these people that they would do better to research the subject for themselves, or read the articles on the website, but I know full well before I even open my mouth what their reaction will be - annoyance, irritation anger and even downright abuse!

"How dare you suggest that I do some research work for myself. How unloving of you to say that I should pray and seek God about this! You are a false shepherd, and you shouldn't be a leader, becaue you refuse to tell me what to do ..."

Websites like mine exist to provide the educational tools that Christians need to detect and avoid error for themselves. They are not instant-answer machines. If a child scrapes his knee,  he'll run to Daddy or Mummy saying "make it better!" (and have absolute faith in an adult to perform the required miracle because we all know Mummies and Daddies can do anything.) But an adult faced with the same problem will wash his own wound, seek out the disinfectant and plasters and minister to his own needs. There is not the same level of comfort, but we all have to grow up and act for ourselves eventually.

So it is with dealing with spiritual deception. Many come to the website and immediately decide it all looks like a lot of hard work. The answers are there, but it would mean having to read the articles and understanding the issues for themselves.  They get impatient, annoyed and even offended that they have to do something to dig out the information they need.

People who are facing deception in their churches really need to think it through for themselves, to find the scriptures, to pray about it, to seek the Lord for themselves, to seek his leading and to educate themselves by reading all they can about the various topics. Why? For the simple reason that we are ALL vulnerable to deception of some kind and relying on other people's discernment or experiences is not going to save us from falling into deception! It's only our OWN knowledge, faith and experience that counts.

If you want to know about a minister or ministry - do the homework! YOU go buy the magazine, read it, and think about it. What do YOU think! YOU go down the library, or the bookshop. YOU read the scriptures, and find out for yourself!!

b) No Strong Meat

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Has to have soft, bland food
  • Cannot stomach strong meat
  • I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. (1 Cor 3:2)
  • Can chew, eats tough foods
  • Goes beyond the basics of belief

Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? (John 6:63)

As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Pet 3:16)

It is a sure sign of immaturity when a Christian cannot take on board anything challenging or new in theology - he can stomach no strong meat. A spiritual babe wants bland food, easily digestible -nothing strong or tough

The Christian who hasn't grown in his faith keeps reading the same old favourites over and over, the same nice scriptures, the same books and tapes from his favourite preacher. He will generally have one or two men that he admires and listens only to them, feeling unsure and uncomfortable outside that zone. He follows his favourite leader on all points, to the point of hero-worship. Furthermore, he accepts everything his favourite leaders says, and never think to challenge him - he won't hear of anybody else challenging him either!

The immature believers needs the comfort of black-and-white beliefs, with no areas of uncertainty. He cannot cope with grey areas but has to see everything in terms of right/wrong, good/bad and sound/heretical. (This is why religious bigots are usually insecure personalities.)

One bible study I attended focussed on one minister's teaching tapes to the exclusion of everything else. (Let's call him Johnny Preacher) The leaders of the bible group had several hundred of these tapes and every week we had to listen to what the Great Man had to say.

Now, the teaching was interesting and sound, but it certainly wasn't infallible, and on many occasions I felt like raising objections to Johnny Preacher's handling of the scriptures but this was not permitted. And, whenever a spiritual question was asked in the group, the stock answer was "What does Johnny Preacher say" - NO! What does the Word of God say?

Babies have to eat bland, soft food. They have no teeth and cannot chew. Adults, on the other hand, can chew; they can eat tough foods, foods with shells or bones, or hot foods like curry. Mature believers can rise to the challenge of something difficult, something they haven't encountered before, something strong.

They are not afraid to tackle new thoughts, or to have their precious beliefs shaken, if necessary. They will think and pray it through, search out the truth without being defensive. They are not afraid of being wrong, or having to modify their stance on something. They will accept that there are some things they do not know! Immature believers will never do this - they get angry and defensive if you challenge their beliefs.

c) Sugar-Coated Teaching

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Will not accept something that is sour or bitter, or evil tasting, even if it's good for them.
  • Medicine has to be made palatable
  • Everything sugar-coated - made attractive, exciting.
  • Cannot accept rebuke or discipline.
  • Can choose something unpleasant if necessary.
  • Will take bitter medicine
  • Can face correction, rebuke or discipline.
  • Can swallow hard things in the Word, without choking.

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but . you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions..(2 Tim 4:3-5)

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. (Heb 12:7-8)

Immature people have to stay with the tried and tested, the familiar "foods" that they like and can swallow easily. They focus on their favourite nice scriptures, and skip over or ignore the unpleasant or difficult ones.

And they won't take on anything unpalatable to their souls - anything difficult, or costly, or calling for self-abasement.

If there's something unpleasant to face up to, or some sin the Bible convicts them of; what do spiritual babies do? They avoid the truth; they stick their heads in the sand, or run away instead of facing it like an adult. They'll even get angry, sulk, blame others, complain of feeling rejected or unloved, all because they cannot deal with hard truths.

Mature believers, however, can face up to the truth without flinching. They can be corrected. Mature believers can swallow something hard in the Word, without choking.  They can choose to accept something unpleasant if necessary. They will take bitter medicine if it's necessary for their good. If they come across something problematic, they don't run away, they deal with it head on.

d) Harmful Substances - Keep Them Away From Children!

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Will put unsuitable things into his mouth or swallow harmful things, if they are attractive and enjoyable.
  • Is not trained in discernment; cannot distinguish good and bad, right and wrong.
  • Gullible, swallows whatever he's told, does not discriminate.
  • Will test and try things beforehand; not fooled by the outward appearance.
  • Has developed discrimination; is wary of things that may harm him.
  • Exercises discernment; does not trust people over-much.

But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.  (Heb 5:14)

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)

A child can swallow harmful things by accident if he thinks they are good - pills, bleach in a lemonade bottle, small toys and so on. That is because a baby is driven by a desire for quick and easy gratification of his senses. And he doesn't know how to distinguish between good and bad. Because he's always been fed by others, and never chosen his own food, he hasn't learned to discriminate between good and bad.  If it looks bright and edible - in it goes. If it feels good in the mouth - he'll swallow.

Immature believers are also a push-over for exciting new revelations, ear-tickling things, gossip, the latest controversy, scandal - anything lovely and tasty. And they don't discriminate, it all goes down the same way - if it's dressed up to look interesting and palatable, the immature believer will swallow it.

False teachers depend on this level of immaturity because without it they would never be able to lead so many Christians astray. These deceivers say, "here - take this dose of Toronto, it's fine. It's in the Bible, believe me". And spiritual babies swallow what they are given with hardly a thought.

They have allowed themselves to stay at the spoon-fed stage of development so whatever an "adult" feeds them must be good. They don't stop to examine what they are taking in. This may be fatal to their spiritual development!

False teachers and cultists have learned that some people don't examine what they are told. They prey on the immature, because immature believers are so GULLIBLE.

Adults discriminate carefully, finding out if something is good or bad for them. They use refined senses - smell, taste, touch etc to avoid danger. A mature believer has developed discernment - he's trained his senses to distinguish what is good and bad. He no longer trusts to the outward appearance, but will question whether a thing is truly good.

Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?
The speech pleased the LORD, that Solomon had asked this thing. Then God said to him: "Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. (IKing 3:7-12)

e) Beware, POISON!

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Cannot survive poisonous food.
  • No defences against disease or food poisoning - vulnerable to false teaching.
  • Weak constitution.
  • Has not grown in strength - the word of God produces strength to resist evil.
  • Has developed a strong stomach, which will survive indigestion or even bad food.
  • Can survive false teaching without being totally overthrown.
  • Has developed resistance to evil.

 

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down. (Ps 37:23-24)

Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me.. (Micah 7:8-9)

 

Too much, or the wrong sort of food will easily upset or kill a child. But a grown man can survive indigestion, or even a bad attack of salmonella poisoning that would kill a child.

What can we learn from this? Immature believers have the worst combination of attributes. They are gullible, therefore can easily be coaxed to eat something poisonous - and at the same time, they are spiritually weak, as weak as a baby, so their faith can easily be overturned and shipwrecked. What a dangerous position to be in. How much we need to develop maturity these days!

Spiritual babies have few defences, because they don't know the Word sufficiently to perceive the dangers. The word of God transforms our natural minds; this is the equivalent of developing immunity from diseases. As we encounter and throw off more and more diseases in the world, exercising biblical knowledge, we develop antibodies against further attacks. But a baby lacks these defences and has to be protected from harm all the while. Everything has to be sterilised for a baby.

Without somebody to protect them, immature believers can easily be poisoned by false teaching or pick up spiritual diseases. Because they are afraid and unwilling to progress spiritually, they protect themselves from hard things and difficult theories. So whenever they come into contact with diseased teaching they fall immediately. They have never come across them before, so they possess no immunity against them.

A mature believer, however,  can survive the storm. He might fall temporarily, but he will recover, and go on. He won't be totally shipwrecked by false teaching, or the downfall of his favourite teacher. When we grow up spiritually, we can stomach a certain amount of wrong teaching, we can learn to pick the meat off the bones and even glean something from false teachers. But no baby Christian could survive this! A mature believer can survive in a church that's in error, whereas you can't let a babe in Christ go anywhere near false teaching.

We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.( 2 Cor 4:8-11)

2. KEEPING CLEAN

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Has no control over bodily functions.
  • Has no awareness of being unclean.
  • No desire for cleanliness.
  • Needs to be kept clean by others.
  • Has developed control, and keeps self clean.
  • Does not need to be reminded to take action when dirty.
  • Actively seeks to be clean.
  • Disciplines himself

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:22-24)

But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection. (1 Cor 9:24-27)

Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor 7:1)

Immaturity means you lack control over your self-life. You are at the mercy of your needs, your flesh. When you sin, you are barely aware of it - somebody else has to tell you. And somebody else has to come along and deal with you, rebuke you, apply the discipline. Somebody has to clean you up, and clean up after you. You won't discipline yourself.

Mature believers on the other hand have grown in the Lord to the point that they genuinely desire to manifest the holiness of God. They have an awareness of sin in their lives. They have tender consciences. They actively avoid sin, and don't need to be constantly warned by others. They apply the warnings to themselves, instead of waiting for others to do it. They discipline themselves.

A telltale sign of Christians living in immaturity is that they will look for ways of doing as much as they can to please themselves without actually crossing the border into sin.

They will keep their lives on the borderline, just this side of sin. They will constantly be asking themselves, "how far can I go before I get punished?" There is only a desire to do the bare minimum to keep out of trouble - no genuine heartfelt desire to be holy, just a desire, imposed by others, to keep to the rules - like a child.

It is man's natural inclination to be rebellious. But only the immature believer lives in the realm of natural desires and inclinations. Spiritual believers see the need to die to self, and they allow the nature of the Lord to take over. They actively SEEK holiness. They do not have to be constantly pulled into line. This is because they are no longer in rebellion against the commands of God.

3. ABILITIES

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Totally dependent.
  • Looks for somebody to help him in everything.
  • Has to be dressed, carried - cannot walk unaided.

 

  • Self-motivated.
  • Self-reliant.

 

But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load. (Gal 6:4-50)

But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:25-26)

Immature Christians look for other people to do everything for them. They constantly need help, or look for help. They do not, or will not, believe that they can do anything without help - therefore they never bother to try.

Clothing - in the bible means righteousness, and baby Christians have to be clothed by others; other people have to help keep them on the straight and narrow. This is fine for young believers but as we grow we should be capable of living in righteousness by ourselves.

Walking - this is the Christian walk. Maturity means you are self-motivated and undertake things by yourself.  Babies won't attempt the Christian walk if there's nobody there to carry them. They rely on pastors, elders, friends, tapes, videos, meetings. Without that, they just fall down. Spiritual babies are like cars without petrol - you have to push, push, push to get them anywhere. And when you stop pushing they just come to a standstill. Mature believers have fuel for their journey and they progress by themselves.

However, while it's good to be self-reliant, we also need to be open to advice and guidance from others? The mature walk is neither TOO dependent nor TOO self-reliant. A mature believer can know his own mind, but also appreciate help and input from others.

4. DEFENSE & PROTECTION

a) Babies Need Protection

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Cannot be left alone.
  • Cannot protect himself.
  • Doesn't perceive danger.
  • Vulnerable to abuse.

 

  • Doesn't need others to watch over him continually.
  • Avoids danger and harm by himself.
  • Detects and resists evil.

 

Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. (Matt 16:2-3)

At my first defence no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. (2 Tim 4:16-18)

There are laws that prevent adults leaving babies and infants on their own. Why? Because babies are vulnerable to all kinds of dangers; they are dependent on others to protect them from harm. A baby needs others to protect him because he cannot resist evil unaided. Indeed, he has little awareness of danger.

I once watched a public information advert in which a baby was shown playing with a sharp kitchen knife. I can tell you, my heart was in my mouth and I was twitching in my seat, dying to rush over and snatch that knife away to save the baby from harm. (It was a fake knife, but it looked real enough.) The truth is, a baby probably WOULD play with a knife if you gave him one. Babies have little understanding of what might harm them and that's why they need others around to protect them.

Adults know for themselves what is harmful, and if they come across something dangerous, they take precautions to avoid it. They also proactively rescue others from danger.

Spiritual immaturity means you don't perceive danger, or if you do, you look to others to protect you from harm. You haven't developed the personal awareness of dangers, nor the resources that would cause you to  know evil, to resist evil, and to stay away from evil. You also endanger others without a thought, because you don't perceive the harm in what you do.

I think every minister will agree that more of their ministry problems arise through the thoughtless actions of immature believers than from the secular world. Immature believers are naïve; unaware of the presence of evil, heedless of its powers, thoughtless about endangering others because they have no sense of danger for themselves.

But mature believers, even if completely on their own, still have the inward strength to withstand evil and error. They don't need to be TOLD. They know by discernment what is good for them, and what is harmful. They know when to speak and when to keep silent; they know how to protect themselves and their fellow-believers; they are able to sense danger.

b) Children are too easily abused.

CHILD
(Natural & Spiritual)

ADULT
(Natural & Spiritual)

SCRIPTURES

  • Helpless; vulnerable.
  • Gullible, easily duped.
  • Trusting; too eager to allow others to lead them.

 

  • Has strengths and resources that protect him.
  • Wary. Watches for danger.
  • Is not too trustful of others, not easily led.

 

A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished. (Prov 27:12)

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor 10:12)

Immature believers are sitting ducks! They almost advertise themselves with a placard saying "come and deceive me!" They are GULLIBLE. It's so easy to con them, to persuade them to accept false doctrine - they just don't seem to know any better. They are so eager to have somebody lead them, so eager for attention, that they fall for any line.

These are the ones who lurch from one false doctrine to another - anything ear-tickling, anything new and exciting - the more obscure the better! "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim 3:7)

This isn't true (or should not be true) of adults. As we grow, we become more wary of people's intentions. An adult has learned that there are dangers in the world, and he's on the lookout for them. He doesn't trust everyone regardless. He's learned to be a bit cynical, not over-trusting.

A mature believer has the right attitude to other people and the world. He recognises there is evil and false doctrine and dangers to his soul. He's not in a constant state of paranoia, but at the same time, he's wary. He keeps a proper balance between being open to people, and being guarded. He doesn't fall for any old story or testimony - but checks out what he's told.

  CONTINUE TO PART TWOb: How Mature Am I (2)?


© 2013 Tricia Tillin-Booth. All rights reserved. Birthpangs Website: http://www.birthpangs.org/  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information.   One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.