Immature Christians are fickle; unstable in all they do. One of the most obvious evidences of this immaturity is the shortage of discernment today. Too many believers are doctrinally unstable. They flounder, some willingly blown around by every wind of doctrine, resulting in spiritual barrenness. Charles Spurgeon is cited as saying, “Constant change of creed is sure loss. If a tree has to be taken up two or three times a year, you will not need to build a very large loft in which to store the apples. When people are always shifting their doctrinal principles, they are not likely to bring forth much fruit to the glory of God. It is good for young believers to begin with a firm hold upon those great fundamental doctrines which the Lord has taught in His Word.”
Consistent biblical teaching in the context of faithful local churches is the only sure way to build a solid, doctrinal foundation for the faith of young believers, which will eventually lead to spiritual maturity. This was the hallmark of the early church as the believers were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). This was, and still is, God’s plan for church growth. As spiritually gifted men feed God’s people on “the faith” (the doctrine of the apostles), God’s church is built up toward maturity.
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ (Ephesians 4:14-15).
These verses reveal two fruits of spiritual maturity.
Doctrinal stability – The first evidence of spiritual maturity is doctrinal stability. We are “no longer to be children,” or as Curtis Vaughan wrote, “infants at the mercy of error.” The word “children” (nepios) literally refers to that which does not talk; an infant, a little child. It is the opposite of the mature man. Immature believers are “tossed here and there” (kludonizo). Paul used this nautical term meaning to be tossed by the waves. Metaphorically it means, “to be agitated mentally like the waves.” Doctrinally unstable believers resemble the man lacking faith who is “like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Infantile believers are “carried about” (periphero) in circles by “every wind of doctrine.” In other words, the false teachings of men are like winds that blow immature believers around in circles, causing them to always run after the latest religious trend.
These believers are naive and easily fall prey to “the trickery of men.” The word “trickery” (kubia) literally means, wicked dice playing. It refers to intentional fraud. In other words, some false teachers are deceived themselves, but others are intentional frauds who willfully deceive others. One cause of this is the lack of sound doctrinal teaching so prevalent today, which results in believers being tossed about by “craftiness and deceitful scheming.” The word craftiness (panourgia) means, “cleverness, trickery, treacherous deceitfulness.”
“Deceitful scheming” (methodia) refers to lying in wait, the deliberate planning of these charlatans that causes people to roam (planae); to wander from the path of truth. In other words, the methods of their “ministry” (methodia) are clever and deceitful. Peter said, “we did not follow cleverly devised tales” (2 Peter 1:16) and the writer of Hebrews reminds us that “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). Consistent, biblical teaching from pastors and teachers is what the church so desperately needs if it is to grow to the maturity Christ intended.
Faithful Testimony – Spiritual maturity is also evidenced by integrity in proclamation. “But speaking the truth in love…” denotes a major contrast. Unlike the immature who are constantly blowing in the wind, mature believers are committed to truth—speaking it and applying it. “Speaking the truth in love” literally means “truthing in love.” The present tense of the participle indicates a continual action. The Pulpit Commentary says, “Truth is the element in which we are to live, move, and have our being; fidelity to truth is the backbone of the Christian ministry.” As a result, we will “grow up in all aspects.” In other words, God desires all believers to experience a constant increase in true spirituality in respect to all things; i.e. total growth. This will not happen without the constant intake of Truth. Growth is “into Him, who is the head, even Christ.” Unto is a better translation and indicates Christ is our goal. So, the goal of the body is to be like the Head; He is our example; He is the one we must model (Cf: Hebrews 12:2; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). He is the perfect blend of grace and truth (John 1:14).
It is my conviction that the weakness of too many pulpits is the primary cause of the widespread doctrinal immaturity in today’s professing Church. Therefore, the fault must be laid at the door of pastors. Steven Lawson shares my concern over the famine in our land in his outstanding book on expository preaching.
Tragically, most of what passes for biblical preaching today falls woefully short of apostolic standards. Many pastors seem content to dole out pabulum to spiritual babies instead of teaching the full counsel of God. Many evangelical ministers have succumbed to delivering secular-sounding, motivational pep talks aimed at soothing the felt needs of restless church shoppers or, worse, salving the guilty consciences of unregenerate church members. Rather than expounding the depths of God’s Word, many Bible-believing ministers have chosen the path of least resistance, content to scratch the surface of shallow souls and tickle the ears of languid listeners. The result is congregations of starving–even though many of the famished may not be aware of it–settling for sickly sweet, yet totally inadequate, spiritual pabulum.
If, by God’s grace, we are to have the privilege of seeing any measurable growth toward spiritual maturity and doctrinal discernment among believers today, pastor-teachers must plead with God to widen their shoulders to faithfully carry out the responsibility that rests squarely on them. And believers everywhere must stop believing everything they hear and start testing every spirit (1 John 4:1). Then, and only then, will the Church begin to mature.
Let us join our hearts together to pray for the Bible-believing churches in our world.