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.
I’ve been a nominal Christian for years. Recently I was invited to a Bible study group where they were studying in 1 John about spiritual children. It began to dawn on me that I was one. I think that I’m really a spiritual baby. Can you help me understand this better?
In an effort to evaluate the quality of their church education programs, one Southern Baptist Church made a simple questionnaire see how well they were doing. You had to be a Christian for at least 20 years in order to participate.
Here are some of their answers.
“The Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luther and John.”
“Eve was created from an apple.”
“Sodom and Gomorrah were lovers.”
“Noah carried his ark in the desert for 40 years.” (No. David carried the Ark of the Covenant into the temple).
“Which miracle of Jesus is the only one reported in all four Gospels? Answer: “I have not the slightest idea.” (Feeding the 5,000)
Arrested development is a sad state of affairs. God’s intention is for us to mature spiritually in a smooth-constant progression from spiritual babies to fathers and mothers.
Arrested development can occur at any spiritual level.
From your letter, it seems to me that you’re stuck in spiritual babyhood. Of course, from your letter, it’s obvious you realize that we are not all on the same spiritual level. We know that from four passages in the New Testament.
In John 21, Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep and tend His little lambs.
In 1 John 2, John says that spiritual children know God and that their sins are forgiven. They are just getting started in the Christian life.
In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul describes Christians who fight with each other as spiritual children.
First, spiritual babies are lazy.
Hebrews 5:11: “We have so much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.”
“Slow to learn” is the translation of the Greek word, “lazy.” The Hebrews had become too lazy to make any effort at improvement. They were spiritual goof-offs.
Unfortunately, this is an accurate spiritual description of the many Christians who are spiritually lazy. We are not lazy at work, home, hobbies, games and the on the internet. Unfortunately, we are lazy and inattentive about spiritual things.
The Bible is to be studied and learned. It’s my observation that many Christians spend an hour or two on the internet each day, and perhaps five or 10 minutes searching the Scriptures–if that much.
Our maturity is purchased at the cost of subordinating earthly interests to spiritual ones.
Second, spiritual babies know little about the content of the Bible.
Let me share with you simple Bible content test.
What two Psalms are just alike? (53 and 14)
What is the main theme of the book of Obadiah? (Pride)
What does God say in the Old Testament about divorce? In the New Testament?
The book of Jude is just like what other New Testament book? (2 Peter)
What is the most important Bible verse? (John 3:16)
These questions are not just a game. I hope that they give some indication of just how much – or how little – we expose ourselves to the Word Of God.
Third, spiritual babies handle the Word of God poorly.
This has to do with counseling biblical advice to those who need it. One mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to help others sort out what’s profitable and unprofitable, to distinguish between good and evil, to discern the promptings of the Spirit and the solicitations of Satan, to differentiate between the desires of the new nature and the lustings of the old, what is wholesome and what is hurtful, as well as God’s plan and intention for their lives.
Fourth, spiritual babies who’ve had enough time ought soon to be teachers.
Some Christians of five years don’t know which Psalms were written by Moses.
Some Christians of 10 years are unable to locate the Sermon On The Mount without help.
Some Christians of 15 years have never led a soul to Christ.
Some Christians of 20 years can’t locate all three descriptions of Paul’s conversion experience. Much less, explain the differences between them
Major Ian Thomas: “I have discovered an interesting thing about American Christians. They do not usually come to church to learn anything. Whatever they do not yet know themselves they think is not really necessary.”
Fifth, babies have inadequate knowledge of Christ.
The pinnacle of spiritual maturity, as a spiritual mother or father, is to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of entering into his sufferings. Spiritual babies have a hard time thinking about entering into Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10-12).
Sixth, earthly things still dominate their attention.
A person may be a Christian for 20 or 30 years, but if they’re still engrossed with the things of the world, they are babies.
Seventh, babies often neglect to get baptized by immersion like Jesus commanded.
Baptism is the first test of obedience for a new Christian. Jesus’ departing instructions to his followers were that they make disciples and baptize.
Properly translated, the word, “baptism” means to “dip, dunk or immerse.” It does not mean “sprinkle.”
Baptism is our open declaration of faith in Christ. As we stand in the water we represent Christ on the cross. As we go under the water we represent his burial. As we come up out of the water we represent his resurrection. Paul said that baptism is important because it is a sign of our identification with Jesus.
Eighth, babies are still struggling to decide whether or not they will sell out to Jesus or not at any price.
Luke 6:46: “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
God’s way or my way? That is the issue for babies.
So, a young woman comes to me for counseling. She’s found her true love; but unfortunately, he’s not a Christian and she is.
I use my Bible to explain to her why Christians are not to marry non-Christians. She swore to me that her marriage would be different. This is “baby talk”.
So she did it her way, and shortly after the wedding she suffered the consequences.
Paul says that if we have not grown out of spiritual childhood within three years of receiving Christ, we are falling spiritually behind.
How do I grow spiritually?
There’s no real secret. It’s really quite simple.
First, read your Bible. Paul says that Bible study is essential to growth.
Second, pray. Here we find intimacy with Jesus Christ.
Third, go to the right church. Here we grow spiritually with other Christians.
Thomas, I’ll pray right now for God to get you back on the track to spiritual maturity. May God give you many great days ahead.
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.
Publication date: January 26, 2017