What defines a mature Christian? Is it their ability to avoid sin? Have they learned, through trial and error, that the most effective way is to “say no”? Do they possess knowledge, wisdom, or a deep compassion for others? Is it possible to be a mature Christian yet be young in age?
Paul gives us some insight to these questions in Colossians chapter 3. In these concise 24 verses he provides what I feel are three very basic characteristics that are a mark of a mature Christian.
Put on the New Self
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Looking back on my own walk with the Lord, I find that the stretches of extreme immaturity were the times my head spent more time looking at the ground and less time looking towards the heavens. My mind was not set on the things above, figuratively or literally. Consumed by the pressures of being young, married, and without any direction (professionally), I spent the first 10 years of my faith frustrated and feeling alone. I made a million mistakes in the process. I felt lost; tossed in every direction by the slightest gust of wind, like a kite with no string. And eventually I fell to the ground.
If your head is down it is impossible to look up. Therefore, spiritually speaking, it is also impossible to have your eyes both on this world and on the things above.
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Today’s society is more interested in talking about acceptance than having a discussion about life change. We want all the love but none of the responsibility that comes with love. The problem is that true love takes sacrifice, and giving up things we hold dear for the sake of others. That sacrifice is called repentance. True repentance is the act of turning away from the old self and towards a life in Christ. There are no double lives in Christianity. We are either walking out repentance in our new bodies with Christ, or we are living in our old self. (Of course this doesn’t mean we will no longer sin but that’s probably a good topic for another blog post)
Paul says in verse 5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you”. The mature christian is the one who is constantly putting to death the things of this world and walking out a life that is fully in Christ. This is not a one time occurrence but a life devoted to turning from sin and towards a loving savior.
Work for the Lord
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
There is one thing I hope to instill in my children; work as for the Lord. In their school work or even how they behave in school, work as for the Lord. In how they treat siblings or friends, work as for the Lord. In how they dress or act in public, work as for the Lord.
Imagine if adults took on the same approach to their workplace or while standing in line at Starbucks? Or while sitting in rush hour traffic or at play dates with unbelievers. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord. This is the radical approach that can change a community, one office, one neighborhood, one church at a time.
The mark of a mature christian isn’t found in what they do but in how they go about doing it. We work differently. Our conversations are seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6) and we live a life worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27). We treat others better than ourselves (Luke 6:31) and actually love our enemies. (Matthew 5:44).
When we live life like we are serving Christ we cast off our old lives, our selfishness, malice, and anger and put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. But most of all, above all things, we put on love, “which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” vs 14
So Paul’s message is simple, the mark of a mature believer is love.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
- Lyell Walker