When a child is born, they are expected to grow (Ex.2:10; 1Sam. 2:21; 26; 3:19; Luke 1:80; 2:52) and at every point in their biological calender, we expect certain traits of growth in them. When these are not forth coming, we may begin to worry that perhaps something may have gone wrong. At the birth of our youngest son about three years ago, Theodora my wife signed up to a website that gave her weekly updates about what to expect at every stage of our son’s growth. We followed these weekly updates to monitor his growth and the day he took his first step was an exciting moment in our lives.
Now in the same way, growth is also required of believers. When we come to faith in Christ; putting our trust in him for salvation, we are expected to grow. At various places in the Bible, the necessity for Christian growth is commanded and one of the clearest places is Hebrews 5:11-14.
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Here the author rebukes immaturity among his audience. You can immediately sense his fraustration: “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain.” In my mind, I am hearing him saying: “There is much to talk about concerning the topic in view–Christ’s priesthood — but I don’t know how to go further since you lack understanding” He then addressed certain traits which can generally be seen as marks of immaturity. However, I will move from the negative– immaturity–to the positive —maturity— using the author’s rebukes to address Christian maturity. From the rebukes; dull of hearing (v.11), you ought to be teachers (v.12) trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (v.14), there seem to be a beautiful pattern: Understand, teach and live what you understand and teach.
Having said these, let me now attempt to list three points from the text which I have identified as Marks of Christian Maturity.
Understanding Basic Christian Doctrine
The charge is: “…you have become dull of hearing”(v.11). This charge is simply a charge of lack of understanding. The antidote obviously is, you must become sharp in hearing. Clearly then, the charge is a call for understanding.
From the beginning of Chapter 5, the author wrote certain truths and doctrines about the person of Jesus Christ and draws a comparison between the High Priesthood of Christ and Melchidzedek. However, he tells his original readers, there are many things to say about this topic but the people were not ready for since they had not grasped even the basics of the Christian faith (v.12c). Think about this. The immaturity of these people has denied us what more things the author intends to say.
This is a reminder that failure to appropriate the truth of the gospel produces stagnation in spiritual advancement and the inability to understand or assimilate additional teaching (cf. Jn 16: 12 ).¹
A believer must not be dull in hearing, that is, they must grasp things about the Christian faith. If this is not happening, then it means people may not be applying themselves to growth. Every believer must grasp the basic doctrines and teachings of the Christian faith and must indeed desire this to happen. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is instructive here: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him“(Eph 1:16-17). James also said “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”(James 1:5). These texts point to the fact of desire. We must desire growth in our walk and in fact ask for it.
Ability to Teach Others
Every believer has a responsibility of passing on Christian truth to others. One sure sign of Christian maturity is our ability to teach and instruct others in the Christian faith: “by this time you ought to be teachers…” the Hebrews writer told his recipients. We cannot tell how long they have been believers. But we can be sure if this is required of them, then they may have been believers for long. To be able to pass on Christian faith, we must know and understand it.
Unfortunately, there are many believers who have a disdain for Christian doctrine. They are all of experience and lacking in any knowledge of what they believe. R. C. Sproul calls them “sensous Christians”:
Sensuous Christians don’t need to study the Word of God because they already know the will of God by their feelings. They don’t want to know God; they want to experience him. Sensuous Christians equate “childlike faith” with ignorance. They think that when the Bible calls us to childlike faith, it means a faith without content, a faith without understanding. They don’t know that the Bible says, “In evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor 14:20). They don’t realize that Paul tells us again and again, “My beloved brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (see, for example, Rom 11:25).²
Such people, as the ones mentioned above stand the danger of being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). We deny ourselves the joy of the Christian faith if we don’t apply ourselves to learning and maturity. In an age of great deception; believers would have to pursue growth in the Christian walk.
Now it is not all believers who are called to vocational or Christian pulpit ministry, nonetheless, every believer has a responsibility of communicating Christian truth wherever they find themselves. But if we don’t know what we believe, logically, it will follow that we would not be able to pass on what we believe. When Jude wrote to his audience, he called upon them to contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 1:3). But how can one contend or defend the faith if they do not know what they believe? Here Peter’s charge is also relevant: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Pet. 3:15). It is important you and I know what we believe to be able to pass it on and defend it.
Perhaps this will be the most difficult mark of Christian Maturity because it calls us to a practical application of Christian doctrine: discernment to distinguish between good and evil. Here, doctrine and living fuses together. It is not enough to know Christian truth and to be able to pass it on to others by instruction. Rather, our knowledge and ability to teach must reflect in how we live. We must, as the author puts it be able “to distinguish good from evil.” All what he calls for in that text is discernment. Can you identify error when you see one? When you are living in disobedience are you able to tell and repent? We are not tasked to only know and teach the truth. But we are to live the truth. We are to be able to apply the word of God to every area of our lives.
What is required here is a proper application of the word to our lives, exactly what Paul charged Timothy to do “rightly handling the word of truth.” A proper handling of Scripture, its application and obedience in the Christian faith is a sure sign of maturity. We are to be doers of the word and not hearers only. (James 1:22-25). On this point I will end with the words of J.I. Packer:
If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.³
Where do you find yourself in these exhortations? The Bible calls us to maturity and that call we must answer.
1. John MacArthur, The John MacArthur Study Bible ( Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2006), Kindle
2. R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2009), Kindle.
3. J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1990), 15.