You don’t just grow up—at least not in the way most of us need to grow up. Given enough days, all of us will grow up physically. We will lose a step or two or twenty on the basketball court, wonder what happened to our once youthful looks, and find it harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. This process is natural and, though the timing will vary, will happen to everyone.
But our character doesn’t work that way.
Imagine (and this won’t take much work) a 60-year old deacon gets into a bit of a kerfuffle with an elderly gentleman in the church. The origin of the spat is a bit unclear, but suffice it to say that it is quickly apparent these two men are ticked and each other and think the other man is to blame. Rather than privately, gently, and maturely working out their issues, owl-like stares ensue and heated words are exchanged. One man publicly vents his disdain and the other simply takes his ball and goes home—telling others that God is leading his family to a new church.
It’s the middle school cafeteria all over again.
Or, take me, for example. I’ve noticed that the glaring sin proclivities in my life are often traceable to patterns of behavior that started long ago. Because I did not put sin to death and train my heart to pursue righteousness in certain areas, I find that the “sin that so easily entangles” is quite familiar indeed.
I tend to assume that maturation of my character works like the aging of my body. Sadly, our chronological age does not necessarily equate to our spiritual maturity.
In fact, the opposite is often the case. Given enough time, sin gets entrenched, we grow calloused, and change becomes all the more difficult. Sure, we may hide behind a façade of maturity for a season—while we raise our children and pursue our careers, but its readily apparent to anyone who knows us well that our hearts and minds haven’t aged well.
It’s a travesty to watch an elderly Christian gripped with the same fear and worry that plagues the hearts of a young mom. It’s troubling to watch men who’ve walked with Jesus for 20 years flex their pride in their position or possessions the way teenagers flex their muscles. It’s painful to watch the same bitterness, infighting, hateful speech, and conflict plague the adult Sunday school class in the same way these sins infest the church’s youth group.
The gospel assures me that my final hope and eternal salvation are not predicated on my ability to transform my heart or live the life God desires. Yet, the fruit of the transformation wrought by God should have progressive implications for our maturity. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul reminds God’s people that both individually and corporately they are to “grow up in every way into his who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15). You don’t passively grow up like you grow older. Mature men and women are forged through daily, active choices to pursue righteousness and shun sin by the power of God’s Spirit.
Such growth should be the mark of those of us who have known God for some time. This change will not be perfect—we will still fail. This change will not be consistent—there will be moments of rapid change and seasons where it seems that nothing is happening. We will often wonder why it seems, at least to us, that change is so slow and so painful. I will often cop out behind a series of veiled excuses: “Well, I’m just human” or “Nobody’s perfect.”
These statements, while well meaning, actually undermine the magnitude of the gospel message. If anyone can change, it is the Christian! Apart from Christ, I’m hopeless and helpless—trapped to time and again repeat the same petty, immature patterns that plagued by adolescent years. But, in Christ, I’m given a righteousness I do not deserve. I’m indwelt by the Spirit of God. I have the word of God. I have the mind of Christ. I can change.
My immaturity will not just vanish one day, and neither will yours. Spiritual change is not an automatic process—It will take hard work. But, this hard work is worth it, if we truly want to grow up as God intends.