Diapers. Bottles. Strollers. Stuffed animals. Cribs. We know what’s involved in the life of and nurture of a new baby. But what does a spiritual baby look like?
As Paul exhorts the Ephesians toward spiritual maturity in Ephesians 4 (and explains how God gifts and uses his church to spur believers on toward maturity), he offers us three snapshots of spiritual infancy.
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
1. Like babies, spiritual infants are selfish. While I like to think that each of my four children is examplary (because they are!), I have to acknowledge that none of them came into our lives knowing how to share. None of them came into our lives and thought, “You know what, I shouldn’t wake mom at 3:00 AM to eat because she’s probably tired.” None of them, by default, cared about the needs of others more than they cared about their own needs. That’s because we are all, by nature, curved in on ourselves. We are all wired toward self-centeredness. But over time, by grace, we can mature out of this self-centeredness. Though far from perfect at it, my kids do know how to share today. They do – sometimes – care about others’ needs more than their own. They are maturing out of their self-centeredness.
Like babies, spiritual infants are self-centered. Until we mature, we care more about ourselves – our needs, our desires, our preferences – than we do about the needs, desires, and preferences of others. But as we mature, we grow in our desire to see others served first. That is why Paul lists unity as a goal of spiritual maturity (see verse 13). Becoming mature means growing in unity. Growing in unity means prefering the concerns of others in the Body over one’s own concerns. Babies don’t do that, but grown-ups do.
2. Like babies, spiritual infants lack discernment. With each of our children, we looked forward to the next “baby milestone” – the first time he rolled over, the first time she sat up, etc. I’m not sure why we ever looked forward to the “mobility milestones” though – like walking and crawling. Those are game-changers. The care a child requires once he or she becomes mobile increases exponentially. One of our children in particular presented a problem because he would put absolutely anything in his mouth. He would crawl into some obscure corner of our house, find something that was previously invisible to us, and try to eat it. We really had to “up” our cleaning game.
Like babies, spiritual infants will eat anything. They don’t know the difference between food and poison. They don’t know the difference between what will nourish and what will kill. So, when they find something that looks appealing, they eat it. That is why Paul says they are affected by every wind of teaching (verse 14). Because they are infants, they don’t know heresy from sound doctrine. Because they are immature, they don’t know Joel Osteen from John Piper. Bad theology has a more profound affect on immature believers; they don’t yet know how to avoid it…they keeping putting it in their mouths. Grown-ups, however, know to avoid the poison and to protect their hearts from that which can kill.
3. Like babies, spiritual infants are unstable. For a long time, when he was a baby, our youngest was in the 15th percentile for body mass but in the 95th percentile for head size. It seemed like he was a living bobblehead doll. His head was huge. (Now, thankfully, the rest of his body has caught up with his head!) Because it was huge, he really struggled – more than most babies – to hold his head up. He was unstable. All babies have periods of instability. Think about those wobbly first steps, or the period before babies have the neck and back strength required to sit upright.
Spiritual infants are also unstable. Paul says they are tossed back and forth by the waves. They aren’t grounded. They aren’t secure. They have no anchor. Spiritual grown-ups, however, are grounded in sound doctrine. They are anchored by loving and gifted church leaders who care for them and invest in them (see verses 11-12). They are secure in Christ – and they are more stable because of that security.
As believers and as a Body, let us press on toward maturity. Let us grow in selflessness, in discernment, and in stability, by the grace of God as we fix our eyes on Christ Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.