What’s the difference between a “baby Christian” and a “mature Christian”?
Ask anyone, believer or not, and you will likely get an answer along these lines:
A “baby Christian” is – (i) someone who hasn’t been a Christian for very long, (ii) who doesn’t know much about the things of God or the Bible except that his sins have been borne by Jesus at the cross, and (iii) who generally is joyful in his salvation;
A “mature Christian” on the other hand, is – (i) someone who has been a Christian for many years, (ii) is familiar with Christian beliefs and practices, (iii) has a strong faith in God, lives a holy life and serves God faithfully doing good and helping others.
But most of us also probably know of long-time Christians who today, since receiving Jesus years ago, still don’t know much of the Bible, or who are now weary after years of serving and ministry, or who feel disillusioned and no longer attend church. It’s a strange but sad fact.
In last week’s post, we talked about losing the innocence, hope and belief growing from childhood to maturity. Does the same happen when Christians go from being “baby Christians” to “mature Christians”?
We know Jesus said we have to be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). He also said only those who receive the kingdom of God “as a little child” will come to enter it (Luke 18:17).
We also know that Jesus in His earthly ministry kept revealing God as as a good Father to the Jews of that day. Likewise, the apostle Paul repeatedly reminded the church that they had received sonship to God through Jesus, as seeds of Abraham through Christ.
Then the Bible also has a couple of well-known verses on “growing up” beyond being “children”:
“that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15)
“For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:13-14)
These verses are commonly seen as a call to “baby Christians” that following the joy and “honeymoon” of salvation in Christ, it is then time to roll up their sleeves and start doing the “real work” of God, to become a true “mature” disciple in learning and living out the commandments He has given us.
It seems simple and obvious that that’s what it means – after receiving the precious gift of eternal life, it is our duty to love God, love people, and honour Him by obeying Him.
The question is: obeying Him in what?
Keeping the law? The law was already present for 1.5 millenia when Jesus came – no one could keep it. Every one who tried ultimately failed.
That’s why Jesus came to fulfil the law on our behalf to full obedience, that just by receiving Him we receive His full obedience upon us. That’s astounding grace that is so hard for us to naturally accept that we need the Holy Spirit and sermon after sermon to continually open up the truth of His grace to us.
Therefore it stands to reason that today our obedience to God cannot be once again to the law, but to submit to Him in faith to the truth of His gospel – the Good News of His grace.
If we read the above verses again more slowly and take a look at the actual words in Greek (the original language of the New Testament), we begin to see the real meaning beyond the English translations:
The Greek word used for “little children” by Jesus in the Gospels and by the apostles to address the church in the epistles is the word “paidion“, which means a young child, or metaphorically being like children in intellect (see full definition in BlueLetterBible).
A different Greek word appears for “children” in Ephesians 4:14 and “babe” in Hebrews 5:13. The word used is “népios“, which means an infant, or metaphorically being childish, untaught, and unskilled (see full definition in BlueLetterBible).
Children have simple and straightforward worldviews. To a child, good is good and bad is bad; good comes from good, bad comes from bad. As Jesus said, “The thief [the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Children trust and believe simply without trying to overcomplicate or overanalyse. For instance, if their parent tells them that they’re going to get something for free, they’re not going to look around for caveats or extra conditions they need to fulfil.
God wants us to be like children, as His sons and heirs, and He uses such terms to show us how it’s like and how He wants us to relate to Him once we say yes to the gift of His Son Jesus Christ.
He wants us to trust and depend on Him fully as His children – in His wisdom, His promises, His unending supply of grace and love that all comes through the finished work of Jesus.
Because if we see ourselves as His child, we will receive His Good News with joy and without question. And if we see ourselves as a son and an heir, we will naturally want to understand Him and find out what rightfully belongs to us.
What God doesn’t want, is for us to be unskilled and untaught in His promises or in rightly dividing His Word.
We mustn’t mix works and judgement from the Old with the abundance of grace and gift of righteousness that God has already given us through Jesus in the New. Mixing God’s law and grace will simply nullify both to no effect.
Too often we read or interpret what’s in the Bible out of its context, just because we are so prone to understanding and teaching it out of our own man-centred inclination.
But when we read Hebrews 5:13-14 carefully as it is written and we look up the actual Greek words, it is actually saying that those who are “unskilled in the word of righteousness” i.e. those who are ignorant and untaught of the truth of their righteousness in Christ, are those who are immature in Christ. Conversely, those who are “of full age” – in other words, mature Christians – are those who know they have been made complete and perfect in Christ, and who through practice are able to distinguish what’s beautiful and praiseworthy i.e. the perfection of His gospel, and what’s wrong and destructive thinking, which is focusing on our works in Christ and leaving His supply of grace.
God doesn’t want us, after having received the liberating truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ which has delivered us from the law, to be led astray by other teachings that tell us to return to trying to futilely fulfil the law that He has already fulfilled for us.
What God is saying is this – just as we begin our walk with Him in grace, let’s continue in grace. The only way to mature in Christ is to mature in His grace.
Though we may not have it all together, focusing on what Jesus has done for us and in us will produce the kind of faith, service, and good works that will both please and honour God, and yet not cause us to tire out of our own strength.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.