John Stonestreet writes; "Between 1986 and 1991, Adriaan Vlok served as South Africa's Apartheid-era Minister of Law and Order and also sat on South Africa's State Security Council. Vlok was behind many of the regime's most repressive and drastic measures: hit squads, bombings and assassinations of anti-apartheid activists. The regime was desperate to stay in power in the wake of growing unrest at home and near-universal condemnation abroad.
"All of which makes Vlok's post-apartheid story all the more remarkable.
"On Aug. 1, 2006, he entered his old workplace in Pretoria and asked to see Frank Chikane, a minister and former anti-apartheid activist who was now serving in the government. As Eve Fairbanks tells readers in the New Republic, Vlok and Chikane had some history: Vlok tried to assassinate Chikane by lacing his underwear with paraoxon, a potent insecticide. As comical as that sounds, the effects were no joke: Chikane survived only after advanced medical treatment in the United States.
"Why did Vlok want to see Chikane that day? Well, to ask forgiveness. Quaking as he stood before the man he tried to kill, he read from something he'd written on the front of his Bible: 'I have sinned against the Lord and against you! Will you forgive me?'
"He then pulled a bowl out of his briefcase and asked if he could wash Chikane's feet.
"A startled Chikane said yes, and Vlok proceeded to wash his feet. As Fairbanks put it, 'both men dissolved into tears.'
"It shouldn't surprise you to learn that Vlok had had a powerful conversion experience…Reading his story, what comes to mind is that it's the kind of turnaround that only Christianity can produce. It's a story about repentance, forgiveness, humbling oneself and ultimately restoration of what was broken. Yes, forgiveness figures in other religions, too, but Christianity uniquely marries forgiveness to restoration and newness of life…
"Fairbanks writes that Vlok's 'transformation has been so complete, it seems almost too good to be true'... For those who know Jesus, it's not too good to be true. It's what His Gospel is all about."
So, what have we found in our word study in the NT concerning spiritual maturity? Perhaps some things we already knew, and perhaps some things that were new to us. Such is the nature of delving into the Word of God.
Maturity, we learned from Jesus, is a spiritual process that takes time and leads to the bearing of spiritual fruit. If such fruit is never born, maturity is not achieved. Also, spiritual maturity is something the world knows nothing of – they cannot understand it, and in fact they cannot receive it. If our world hails it or exalts it, it most likely is not from God and not in any meaningful way mature. We also learned that in the church, in our assemblies, in our worship, mature minds must prevail. If our behavior leads to strife and division and confusion, we are not in the Biblical sense of the term being mature.
We found that spiritual maturity includes being a part of Christ’s church, being like the Lord, speaking truth and not being swayed by falsehood, loving the brethren, and as a result of it all, growing. One sign of maturity is realizing we are not yet fully mature. If one thinks they are fully mature, they have stalled spiritually, they have nothing more to learn, no more to achieve. In fact, it is impossible to reach full maturity this side of heaven. Only in Christ in the presence of God will we be made perfect for all time.
Spiritual maturity is a goal of all good evangelism. It comes after baptism, not at baptism, as the word of God is taught and applied to individual lives. And it involves warning, not just general teaching. Finally, it happens only if God’s power and energy is applied to the process. The process of spiritual maturity is not man-made, but God-infused.
Another insight we gained is that the path to maturity involves great effort and struggling in prayer. Part of coming to maturity is having those who taught us or are teaching us, praying for us on a regular basis that we will indeed grow in Christ. This is an element that cannot be left out.
Solid spiritual food is for mature spiritual people. A spiritually mature person is able to tell good from bad. They have developed this trait by constant practice. That is, they think it is actually important whether something is good or evil, they believe things actually are either good or evil, and they behave and make choices accordingly. As a result, mature Christians stand out in a world that exalts relativism. They have been taught that there are things that are good, and there are things that are evil. They have been trained to discern between the two, and they practice such discernment all the time. People like this are able to receive the deeper things of the Spirit.
In a similar vein, mature Christians have gone beyond just the basic doctrines of Christ which they dwelt on when they were converted to Christ – not forgetting them of course, not neglecting important first principles – but not spending a spiritual lifetime dwelling on them to the exclusion of more meaty subjects. If all one does is major in the basics, one will struggle in teaching others of Jesus, and mature believers are apt to teach.
Finally, as we stated at first, maturity is not something instantly bestowed upon the believer at their baptism, or even after a few faithful months of service. Maturity comes at a cost. The cost is time and trouble. It requires effort, that is, perseverance. There is no short-cut to maturity. It is something God in his wise providence develops in us over the years, as we remain close to Him, faithful to Him, and open to His work.
May our God lead us to maturity!
We come now to the last NT usage of this important word translated “mature” or “maturity” – James 1:4. It might serve us well to quote the entire opening of the letter of James to consider his use of the word in context:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect [“mature”] and complete, lacking in nothing.
Here the apostle teaches that maturity involves the elements of time and experience – that is, over time as our faith is challenged and tested by the circumstances of life, we learn to persevere (be steadfast), and as we become characterized as people who endure, we at the same time come to a state of maturity.
Maturity is not something instantly bestowed upon the believer at their baptism, or even after a few faithful months of service. Maturity comes at a cost. The cost is time and trouble. It requires effort, that is, perseverance. There is no short-cut to maturity. It is something God in his wise providence develops in us over the years, as we remain close to Him, faithful to Him, and open to His work.
This is why James can say to his readers – “Be joyful when you suffer!” It sounds like a strange instruction, but when one considers the end result – spiritual maturity and completeness – it is certainly a desirable outcome for those who want to be like God.
You might remember a young man who came to Jesus one time (Matthew 19) asking what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus told him to keep the commands. He said he had. He then asked Jesus the all-important question – “What lack I yet?” James tells us when we have come to real spiritual maturity, we will be lacking in nothing.
Continuing in nearly the same context in the book of Hebrews, the writer in 6:1 uses the word “maturity” in the following way:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.
It is always helpful to recall when we read and study the Bible that the chapter and verse divisions are artificial and in no sense original and inspired. Hebrews 6:1 really goes with Hebrews 5:14 (in fact, the true paragraph would be something like 5:11-6:8). Recall that at the end of chapter 5 the writer is concerned that his readers should be digesting more meaty spiritual truths, and not be stuck in the elementary doctrines of Christ. They should have those down by now and actually be mature enough to be teaching them to others.
So the thought continues as chapter 6 opens that these Christians ought to move beyond the basic doctrines and on toward spiritual maturity. He gives some examples of the kinds of things they were still stuck in and should have by now figured out and moved on from: repentance, faith and works, baptisms, resurrection, judgment. Now certainly all these doctrines are important, and in a sense Christians never leave them behind – they are some of the building blocks of our beliefs. However, there are things beyond them that mature Christians must deal with and learn about and grow in. What might these things be? One would have to survey the entire New Testament to discover them! God’s Word is deep and wide – it addresses every area of life, it speaks of all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
The basic point is that mature Christians have gone beyond just the basic doctrines of Christ which they dwelt on when they were converted to Christ – not forgetting them of course, not neglecting important first principles – but not spending a spiritual lifetime dwelling on them to the exclusion of more meaty subjects. If all one does is major in the basics, one will struggle in teaching others of Jesus. Mature believers are apt to teach.
The writer of Hebrews also takes up the issue of spiritual maturity in Hebrews 5:14 – “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” The context here, as always, is key. Our writer seems to be writing in part out of frustration at the lack of spiritual growth some of those in his charge are demonstrating. Consider verses 11-13 –
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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.
The “about this” with which this text begins indicates the previous section where the writer was delving into some of the deeper truths of the Christian faith, things like the sacrifice of Jesus, His high priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, etc. The Hebrew writer wishes he could spend his time delving more into these rich, meaty spiritual truths, but some unfortunately continue to need the ABCs of the faith explained to them. Solid spiritual food is for mature spiritual people. Spiritual milk is for newborn babes in Christ, as well as older Christians who ought to be farther along in faith than they are.
But also notice in verse 14, that the Scripture further describes those who are mature as those whose powers of discernment have been trained by constant practice to be able tell good from evil. It might seem too simple, but it is not. A spiritually mature person is able to tell good from bad. They have developed this trait by constant practice. That is, they think it is actually important whether something is good or evil, they believe things actually are either good or evil, and they behave and make choices accordingly.
Mature Christians stand out in a world that exalts relativism. They have been taught that there are things that are good, and there are things that are evil. They have been trained to discern between the two, and they practice such discernment all the time.
People like this are able to receive the deeper things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10).