Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It seems to me that churches today are filled with spiritual children. I don’t see many men or women around that I would call spiritual young men and women, or spiritual mothers and fathers. Why is that? It breaks my heart.
Peter Pan, the children’s tale by Sir James M. Barrie is a fictional story of a boy who refused to grow up. Peter Pan the boy makes for a charming story. But Peter Pan, the man or the woman who will not grow up, is a tragedy.
Jessie was full-term when she was born weighing 3 pounds, 10 ounces. She died nine months later weighing 5 pounds, 2 ounces. She had physical problems which precluded her ability to grow up. Julie and I were heartbroken.
I know what it’s like to have a child that can’t grow up. I believe that I have a small sense of what goes on in God’s heart when one of his spiritual children refuses to grow up.
Why Too Many Spiritual Children are Choosing Not to Grow Up
In Hebrews 5:11–14, the author was desperately concerned about young Christians who were lagging behind in their spiritual growth:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
1. “I’m too lazy.”
The Greek word above translated as “slow to learn” is often translated as “lazy”. These Hebrew Christians were lazy. The writer of Hebrews expected them to grow up, learn the foundational truths, and be well on their way to maturity. But by their own choices, they’d quit. They were stymied, moving backwards on their spiritual journeys.
2. “I can’t help it if there are not enough mentors to go around.”
Mature Christians have an awesome responsibility to help the less mature grow up. Peter reminded the church leaders of Ephesus: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (1 Peter 5:1).
3. “What I don’t know is probably not important.”
We might refer to this as pride, arrogance and deception.
4. “Materialism is so attractive.”
Jesus told us that materialism is the rival god. Jesus taught us that the enamoring cares of this world choke out the spiritual life. Frankly, many of us are more concerned with getting what the world has to offer than we are with getting what God has to offer.
5. “The cost is too high.”
In Exodus 20 Moses invited the Israelites to come close to Mount Sinai so they could hear God speak. The people declined the offer because, “We’re afraid that if we hear the voice of God it will cost of our lives.” Truer words were never spoken. When we hear the voice of Jesus it may well cost us our lives. However, one day we will discover that it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
6. “I’d rather keep my pet sins than see God.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. The degree to which we purify our lives is the degree to which we can see and hear God speak.
7. “I’m afraid that I will be persecuted if people find out that I’m a Christian.”
The temptation to compromise our biblical values and ethics in sensitive situations (at work or in school or in day-to-day living) can be incredibly difficult. “If I take a stand for Jesus in front of my peers, they may reject me!”
8. “I’m afraid.”
Have you ever heard a spiritual child say, “I’m afraid that if I tithe I won’t have enough money left to meet my needs”? “If I take a stand for Jesus in front of my peers, they may reject me!” “If I open my mouth and share the gospel I’m afraid that people will think that I’m crazy.” Those are the musings of a spiritual child who is afraid to trust God.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10) must be balanced with the parallel truth in 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
9. “I grew up in a dysfunctional family.”
People who are broken, traumatized, wounded and/or emotionally damaged for one reason or the other will need special compassion and care from those further along the spiritual journey. For example, spiritual children must be led to see the heart of the real God of the Bible before they can ever embrace Him as Father and go on to maturity.
Those who are hurting often have “hang-ups” that need addressing before they can feel free enough to go on to maturity.
Spiritual children who remain children for too long become hardened to spiritual things.
Paul was both brokenhearted and angry at the many Corinthian Christians who had decided to remain spiritual babies:
Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
The first use in this passage is of the word translated as “worldly” (sarkinos in Greek) refers to smooth, tender, fresh, brand-new skin, baby skin. Paul’s point is that all Christians start out as “fresh-skinned” babies. He characterized this group as “mere infants in Christ.” At this point, if babies drink spiritual milk, taking in biblical truth, they will begin to mature.
Tragically, some infants have chosen otherwise. Paul described the second group as “worldly.” But, this time he used a slightly different Greek word— (sarkikos) which has to do with old, weathered, hardened, and sun-damaged flesh or skin. After plenty of time to mature, this group of Christians were still in infancy—only of a twisted sort of hardened infancy.
Have you ever noticed the skin of a man or woman who has spent an inordinate amount of time out in the sun? Before the skin-damaging properties of the ultraviolet rays were widely understood, people actually used to sit out in the sun and “soak up the rays.” Now, thirty, forty, or fifty years later, their “fleshly” sarkinos baby skin has become like leather: hard, dry, and cracking… sarkikos.
Paul declared that these Christians were now “hardened flesh.” Instead of living as spiritual men and women, they were living as spiritually-hardened babies.
The warning is clear. Anyone who remains a “fresh-skinned” baby Christian long enough will eventually become hardened. If we don’t move deliberately forward in our spiritual journeys we are in grave danger of becoming unable to mature into the image of Christ.
How long can we remain as fresh-skinned children before we begin to harden? My guess is three years. Why three years? Jesus’s disciples were trained and ready after three years of discipleship.
Paul spent three years teaching the Ephesian church the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). When he departed, he called all the elders together and declared them ready to carry on the ministry in Ephesus. They were mature after just three years.
How do I grow up?
The answer is simple. There are no secrets here: Go to church, study your Bible, and pray.
We go to church to mature in our relationships with others.
We study our Bibles to get to know the word of God.
We pray to get to know the heart of God.
It’s never too late to begin praying the prayer that God guarantees to answer!
“Dear Lord, would you please make me a spiritual father (or mother) at any price. I don’t care what it costs.”
Along the way we may discover that it costs a lot more than we bargained for; but, spiritual maturity is worth it at any price.
Dear Disappointed, I hope you find this helpful.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese.His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.