Are You a Mature Christian? (Take the Tests and Find Out!)

 
 
 
 

Are You a Mature Christian?
(Take the Tests and Find Out!)

 
 
Surprised Baby B&WIf you are a professing Christian, let me ask you this: How spiritually mature are you? Many of the people that I run into online and within congregational settings, seem to have a much higher estimation of their own spiritual maturity than what the facts seem to bear. Of course, the Bible tells us why this is the case:

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.

(Proverbs 21:2, NKJV)

All of us are susceptible to assuming we are “right” (or in the case of our topic here, “spiritually mature”) when we might not be so. Consequently, we need a “measuring stick” or “standard” by which we can accurately assess our behavior (i.e., to see if we are really “right” in God’s eyes).

The source of that measure, of course, is the Bible itself. Understandably, the Scriptures also provide us the “measure” of spiritual maturity too. So are you ready to take the test? If so, then be very ready for a possible “reality check” that you may NOT have expected…

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The Biblical Standard

Here is the exact “measure” of spiritual maturity provided within the Scriptures:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

(Hebrews 5:12-6:3, NKJV)

Looking at this passage above, we see TWO “tests” of spiritual maturity: Namely, the test of “Behavior” and “Comprehension.” I will begin by explaining the first initially because it is also a test to see if a person is truly saved at all.

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TEST ONE: Behavior

This first test is identified within the Hebrews passage as whether a person has “their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” i.e., whether they are consistently living a godly life. This single point is explained in the Bible as both a test of salvation itself, but it is also a test of spiritual maturity if the person has truly been born again. Let’s begin with the salvation part of this test, therefore, and then move on to the other afterwards.

Test 1A: The Test of Faith

Although Paul explained to the Ephesians that although “works” can NEVER earn a person salvation or righteousness before God, he also clearly stated that “good works” (a term that is ONLY used in the New Testament to describe the works of Jesus and born again Christians) are expected of a truly saved person:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

(Ephesians 2:8-10, NKJV)

Paul said above that God had “prepared beforehand” (in the KJV, “ordained”) that we should walk in these “good works” that he mentioned. Paul elaborated on this quite a bit more within his letter to Titus, wherein he explained by the Spirit of God that the very SAME grace that “saves” ALSO “teaches” a person to live godly in Christ Jesus…which is a part of the “good works” for which Jesus saved us to perform:

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.

(Titus 2:11-15, NKJV)

If a person is NOT demonstrating that they have the “grace” that teaches us to deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts” and how to “live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,” then that same person may NOT have the same “grace” that SAVES either. Consequently, Paul had earlier told Titus that a person’s behavior can reveal that they are “denying Christ” in their hearts, and thus, are “disqualified” from ever doing the “good works” which God has ordained for genuine Christians to perform:

To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.

(Titus 1:15-16, NKJV)

The “works” of a person (i.e., behavior) can reveal that they are “disqualified for every good work” that God has ordained for believers. Again, the term “good works” (plural) is only used in the New Testament to describe the works of Christ and genuine believers, while the phrase “good work” (singular) is only used in the New Testament regarding specific works that God has done Himself or commended of others. (To verify these facts that I am sharing, please click HERE to see a page listing all the “good works” passages, and click HERE to see a page listing all of the “good work” passages.)

The apostle John then explained these same principles in even greater detail within 1 John chapter three:

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.

(1 John 3:2-10, NKJV)

Thus, we have Test 1A identified: The very first thing a person needs to “test” is their own salvation, if they find that they are having difficulty living a godly life in Christ Jesus and avoiding habitual sin (i.e., “practicing sin” as a habit, versus “practicing righteousness” as a habit).

Of course, the word “practice” implies imperfection. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Practice makes perfect”? Thus, John was not saying above that a truly born again person could not commit a sin categorically because of their new nature in Christ, but that they will not “practice” such behavior habitually because their consciences will not allow them to do so. Similarly, John was not saying that an unsaved false-Christian could not do something righteous from time to time, or that they cannot put on a show of piety when they are around other people. However, an unsaved sinner cannot “practice righteousness” habitually because they have an inner nature that “defaults” toward sin:

How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!

(Job 15:16, NKJV)

As it is written:

“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
“Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”;
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

(Romans 3:10-26, NKJV)

Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God….Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'”

(John 3:3-7 excerpt, NKJV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ…

(2 Corinthians 5:17-18, NKJV)

Apart from Christ, mankind is naturally inclined toward sin. No matter how hard they try, they cannot possibly “practice righteousness” habitually because it is not in their nature. Thus, the unsaved false-Christian might put on a good show when he or she is around Christians (often because they know that is what is expected of them), but both their private life and general habits betray their true nature. If you watch their habits and listen to their conversation over time, they will demonstrate their true character:

For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

(Luke 6:43-45, NKJV)

Therefore, Paul admonished the highly sinful Corinthians to check up on themselves to see if they were really saved, since they seemed either unwilling or unable to live godly lives:

For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults; lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced. This will be the third time I am coming to you. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare—since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.

(2 Corinthians 12:20-13:5, NKJV)

Thus, again, we can see Test 1A made clear to us from God’s Word: If you have not been able to live a godly life in Christ Jesus consistently, despite your best efforts, then the first thing that you need to do is to check up on yourself to see if you are genuinely saved or not. This is particularly true if you have been a professing Christian for a number of years, and yet, are living a hypocritical life of “habitual sinfulness.”

To check up on yourself in this regard, let me direct you to my own article, The Supreme Value of Righteousness, for further information and instructions. That particular article also contains a little of my own testimony, as well as another “test” that will help you to check up on your salvation experience specifically. Please do not delay, however, because Jesus Christ Himself said that “few” people find the “narrow gate” and “difficult way” that leads to life, because “many” have been deceived into following the various “broad way” false-gospels instead. Thus, such people will discover to their HORROR and TOO LATE that they were never saved, despite their professions otherwise during their lifetime:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are MANY who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are FEW who find it.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. MANY will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

(Matthew 7:13-23, NKJV, ALL-CAPS and underlined emphasis mine)

The same “many” who follow the false gospels are the very same “many” who discover that they are damned. That is a terrifying thought!

So for convenience sake, please allow me to also provide for you here three Bible “short lists” of major sins that demonstrate clearly that a person is not really saved at all (again, these lists are certainly not exhaustive):

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NKJV)

But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them.

(Ephesians 5:2-7, NKJV)

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

(Revelation 21:8, NKJV)

Thus, please do not delay to study The Supreme Value of Righteousness right away if you have ANY of the signs of possibly being a false convert, as we have described regarding Test 1A within this section.

Now, let’s move on to the next part of Test One…

Test 1B: The Test of Carnality

While it is true that Paul was becoming quite concerned by the time of his second letter to the Corinthians that some of them might not actually be born again, it is also true that in his first letter he chalked up much of that behavior to something called “carnality.”

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men.

(1 Corinthian 3:1-3, NKJV)

It is interesting to note that Paul said that “carnal” Christians behave somewhat like “mere men.” The Amplified Bible expands this out a bit more for clarification purposes, and here is how it expresses verse three:

For as long as [there are] envying and jealousy and wrangling and factions among you, are you not unspiritual and of the flesh, behaving yourselves after a human standard and like mere (unchanged) men?

(1 Corinthians 3:3, AMP)

In short, sometimes it can be quite hard to tell the difference between an unsaved false-Christian who was never saved, and a “carnal” Christian who needs to grow up and start behaving as they should.

I should point out that “strife” in and of itself is not a sign of “carnality” if it is done according to the Word. After all, we are to “contend for the faith” (see Jude verse 3-4) and the apostles often confronted people in sin and error (note Acts chapter eight, for example, as well as James’ admonition in James 5:19-20). However, frivolous fights that are based in jealousy and envy are certainly baby behaviors wherein no mature Christian would engage (except to perhaps rebuke those who were doing so).

However, what does this word “carnal” mean? Let’s define it.

The original Greek word that was used by Paul when he wrote this letter to the Corinthians is “σαρκικός” (or spelled phonetically using our Latin characters, sarkikos, which is cross referenced in Greek dictionaries and lexicons by Strong’s #4559). This word is derived from another Greek root word “σάρξ” (sarx, Strong’s #4561), which means the flesh or body. Consequently, the Greek word for “carnal” means, “fleshly, carnal,” or we could say, “under the control of the animal appetites…governed by mere human nature” (Thayer’s Lexicon). Our English word “carnal” is actually derived from the Latin term “carnālis” (Dictionary.com), from which the Spanish term for “meat” (carne) is derived. In short, we could say that people who have their “minds on the flesh” are proverbial “meat heads” that need to grow up in Christ!

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

(Romans 8:1, NKJV)

Returning to our Hebrew quote from the top of this article, we find that those who “have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” are the ones who are spiritually mature. In the Romans passage above, we find that this is because the person has their MIND set upon the things of the Spirit and not what the body craves. A few other passages explain to us how this is supposed to look:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

(Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot….Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.

(An excerpt from 1 Peter chapters 1-2, NKJV)

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

(Ephesians 4:11-32, NKJV)

We can see from the above passages that in order to “walk in the spirit” with our minds focused upon the things of God, we need to have our minds renewed by God’s Word. This is done directly from God’s Word as we study it individually (e.g., see 2 Timothy 2:15), but it is also clear from above that Jesus Christ has ordained it that godly ministers teach His people. (Please note my emphasis on the word “godly,” because there are “false” ministers abounding these days, who are quite ungodly; please see Matthew chapter 24 for Jesus’ warning that false ministers would be prolific in these Last Days, and compare that passage also with 2 Timothy chapters 3-4, 2 Peter chapters 2-3, and Jude).

The genuinely born-again Christian who seeks to learn God’s Word in this manner will, over time, “grow up into Him which is the Head, even Christ.” In other words, they will mature. As they mature, they will “put off the old man with his deeds,” referring to the old nature we had before we were born again and to which our flesh was previously trained. As their minds are renewed they will then discipline their bodies and habits in order to conform to the “new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” that we are through being born again. In short, they will behave more and more like Christ Jesus Himself, as they genuinely continue to mature in Christ:

Now by this we know that we know Him [Jesus], if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him [Jesus] ought himself also to walk just as He walked.

(1 John 2:3-6, NKJV, bracketed notes for clarification, mine)

Thus, we have clearly identified Test 1B: The Test of Carnality.

In essence, a genuinely maturing Christian will act less and less like the unsaved world in which they live, and more and more Christ-like in character, behavior, and genuine holiness.

Summarizing Test One

It has been demonstrated from the Bible that this test should be applied in two ways:

In discussing Test 1A, I have shown from the Scriptures that “practicing sin” habitually may be proof that a person was never genuinely born again (saved), despite the fact that they may profess to be a “Christian” (or perhaps identify themselves by a denomination). They are still in their sins, and thus, if they were to die in that state—despite professing to be a Christian—they will be horrified to discover TOO LATE that they were never saved at all!

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it….

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

(An except from Matthew 7:13-23, NKJV)

In discussing Test 1B, I have shown from the Scriptures that a genuinely born-again Christian who still behaves like a lost sinner (to include acting like the unsaved false-Christians described beforehand) is “carnal” or “fleshly-minded,” and they need to grow up. This is achieved over time through prayer, worship, and most importantly, through studying the Scriptures (directly and under the teaching of godly ministers of Christ).

By the way, we ministers are still always growing too, so this applies to all Christians and not just the non-clergy.

Now, it is time to get into Test 2 for spiritual maturity, and this is “where the rubber REALLY meets the road” (to use a common American colloquialism). If you have felt that you were doing pretty good until now, then get ready to have a major “reality check” to see if you are walking in genuine spiritual maturity…

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TEST TWO: Mastery of Fundamental Biblical Knowledge

Let us review once again what Hebrews told us about spiritual maturity:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

(Hebrews 5:12-6:3, NKJV)

Paul listed the foundational doctrines found within the “elementary principles of Christ”:

  1. Repentance from dead works (e.g. compare Hebrews 9:14 with Ephesians 2:8-10 and Titus 2:11-15 )
  2. Faith towards God (e.g., note Paul’s statement in Acts 26:19-20 about what he preached everywhere, plus Romans chapters 4 and 10)
  3. The doctrine of baptisms (note that this is a single doctrine, but that “baptisms” is plural, meaning that there is more than one type; e.g., please compare Acts 1:4-8 with Acts 2:38-39, 10:44-48, and 11:15-18)
  4. Laying on of hands (e.g., compare Acts 6:6, 8:17, 9:12, 13:3, and 28:8)
  5. The resurrection of the dead (e.g., compare 1 Corinthians chapter 15 with 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 2 Thessalonians chapter 2)
  6. Eternal judgment (e.g. compare Jesus words in John 3:16-21 with Matthew 7:13-23 and Revelation chapter 20)

These are the essential “elementary principles of Christ” that ANY and EVERY mature believer has already mastered, and moved beyond. (Note: I provided only a few sample passages for each item above, and not an exhaustive list of references for each doctrine listed.)

We should also add to this list above the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself, since it is ONLY through THAT doctrine that one can be saved and learn these other principles.

Thus, in all, there are seven core doctrines that each Christian—if they are mature—should have already mastered, and know “like the back of their hand.”Along with these, as they are listed in Hebrews, we have associated core doctrines of the Christian faith that are logically contained within these; chief among these would be the doctrines of the Deity of Christ and the Trinity (the denial of either of which makes a person a heretic, and thus, unsaved; but unless you know these doctrines, you cannot even understand why my point is irrefutably biblical and true).

Thus, to be a truly mature believer, you must KNOW what it is that you believe! Or stated better, you must know what God said about these subjects, in His Word, and be familiar with them to the point that you can teach these same things to others on-demand, without having to use notes or other such “aids.”

TEST TWO IDENTIFIED: Can you, without ANY supplemental aid (such as a “statement of faith” or handy outline) open up your Bible, and explain these basic doctrines to another person clearly? (Again, I am talking about the basic doctrines of the faith that are listed above, and not every doctrine of the faith.)

This is where the proverbial “rubber meets the road,” my friend: If you cannot explain very easily, using only your Bible, the core Christian doctrines such as these (and the other related basic doctrines of the faith, such as the Trinity, Deity of Christ, and etc.), then you are NOT a mature Christian.

I do not care what you think about it; you simply cannot be “mature” and be “ignorant” of the elementary principles of the doctrines of Christ at the same time. That would be a self-contradiction, and thus, it cannot possibly be a reality. Either you know your God and His Word, and live a godly life accordingly, or you are a carnal and immature Christian (or unsaved). You must demonstrate both knowledge of Christ and godliness, in order to be spiritually mature in Christ:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

(2 Corinthians 10:4-6, NKJV)

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

(Ephesians 3:14-19, NKJV)

…[until] we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…

(Ephesians 4:13-15, NKJV, clarifying note in brackets mine)

CLARIFICATION: Yes, when teaching others the elementary principles of the doctrine of Christ, even a mature Christian might have to look up a passage or two wherein they may remember the quote itself, but cannot remember exactly where it is located. That is normal, unless a person has a photographic memory and does not need such handy resources from time to time. So I am not saying that you cannot use a concordance or some other handy reference for that purpose.

However, if you are NOT familiar enough with your Bible to teach these core doctrines to others—at the spur of the moment, on-demand—without the use of theological “aids” such as your denomination’s statement of faith, or some check list that someone gave you, then you cannot possibly be a mature Christian. You are still a baby or child spiritually speaking. You need to grow up “into Him which is the Head, Christ,” by learning the fundamental doctrines of the faith that are contained in your Bible, but which are not yet fully in your heart and mind.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

(Romans 12:1-2, NKJV)

To summarize:

  • You can live a reasonably godly life, and still be spiritually immature (i.e., a “baby” or “child”) in Christ simply because you do not KNOW CHRIST and His doctrines, through a reasonable comprehension of His Word.
  • On the other hand, you can be a theological scholar and yet be completely unsaved if you are still “practicing sin” habitually (and seminaries are full of unsaved theological scholars, frankly).
  • You need to pass BOTH parts of the “maturity test” in order to be a genuinely mature Christian, i.e., you must be one who is born again and living a godly life in Christ AND who can articulate to others the essential doctrines of Christ easily, from your own Bible, WITHOUT any help from others, or written aids.

An Illustration

I have often encountered people who are very theologically “sophisticated” on the surface, but who are clearly immature as believers. (I am merely assuming here they were actually saved, although I certainly wondered about some of them.) This has happened with regard to people from all sorts of denominations, such as Baptist, Assemblies of God, & etc, as well as non-denominational groups of every kind. They have their beliefs, of course, but many seem to struggle in their ability to articulate those beliefs from the Scriptures directly (especially within such a way that demonstrates sound reasoning).

However, I most commonly come across this phenomenon whenever discussing the Bible with people who consider themselves “Reformed Theology” adherents (e.g., Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians, etc.). This group tends to sound the most “sophisticated” with regard to their doctrinal beliefs, but upon further examination many are found to be rather shallow in their actual understanding of the Bible itself. When that is the case, such people will use plenty of theological terminology (i.e., the “buzz words” of their particular denomination), but yet rarely quote from the Scriptures themselves in order to support their alleged beliefs.

Generally, whenever I try to explain a point to them using Scripture alone, they seem baffled by that fact. Based upon their reaction, it would almost seem that many of them think that I just stepped off of a spaceship and said, “Greetings, earthling!” They simply have no idea why I would want to quote the Bible—and ONLY the Bible—as being the sole source for my doctrine, and the measure by which I am testing theirs. At that point, they typically  then ask me from where I get my theology.

(Note: Again, my answer is “I get my theology from the Bible,” because no other source matters as much.)

Of course, such people are demonstrating themselves to be “carnal” (immature) already because of their denominational identification. The very fact that they are asking me where I get my theology (especially since I am quoting the Bible, and thus, am already showing where I get my theology) proves that they are sectarian, and thus, carnal:

For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?…

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?

(Excerpts from 1 Corinthians chapters 1 and 3, NKJV)

Nevertheless, it is hard to get them to understand how immature they really are by pointing out their sectarian carnality. People who are that self-labelled consider themselves “superior” to most other groups, and thus, it is hard for them to comprehend that this very sense of sectarian superiority is proof of immaturity.

Thus, I have found that the best way to confront this is to ask them simply, “Are you able to take out your Bible at any moment, and using ONLY your Bible, to explain any of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith to someone using that one source alone? In other words, without resorting to your denominational statement of faith, the Apostle’s Creed, notes, or any other aid, are you familiar enough with these doctrines from the Scriptures themselves that you can explain them to another person WITHOUT any help?”

It is rare that I find one who can (and generally they ask me why I want to know). So I quote the Hebrews passage to them, and then tell them the same thing that I have proven within this article: If you are not grounded enough in the elementary principles of the doctrines of Christ to be able to explain them to another person without some sort of “crutch” to help you, then you are an immature Christian and “you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God”:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

(Hebrews 5:12-6:3, NKJV, underlined emphasis mine)

My friend, even if you are saved: If you are NOT living a godly lifestyle and/or you cannot teach others the essentials of the Christian faith, then you are still a spiritually immature “baby” or “child.” You still need to grow up.

Oh, and don’t think that every “Christian minister” can pass these tests either, my friend.

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A Loving Challenge To Ministers

The late great evangelist, George Whitefield, is quoted as having said:

The Lord enabled me to open my mouth boldly against unconverted ministers; to caution tutors to take care of their pupils; and also to advise ministers particularly to examine the experience of candidates for ordination. For I am verily persuaded the generality of preachers talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ; and the reason why congregations have been so dead is, because they have had dead men preaching to them. O that the Lord may quicken and revive them, for His own name’s sake! For how can dead men beget living children? It is true, indeed, God may convert men by the devil, if He pleases, and so He may by unconverted ministers; but I believe He seldom makes use of either of them for this purpose. No, the Lord will choose vessels made meet by the operation of the blessed Spirit for His sacred use.

(Online Source)

And the great evangelist from the First Great Awakening above was not the first one to observe this phenomenon of unsaved ministers, for Paul (e.g., 2 Corinthians chapter 11), Peter (2 Peter chapters 2-3), and Jude discussed them at length, as well. Thus, we can understand three very clear points with this regard to this phenomenon:

  1. No alleged “minister” is consistently able to help others experience what they themselves have not; so if they are unsaved, likewise most of their followers will be unsaved.
  2. No carnal and spiritually immature “minister” (i.e., one who either lives an ungodly life, and/or who is unable to articulate the basic principles of the Christian faith on-demand) is able to help their followers to grow beyond their own spiritual level of maturity. If they are carnal, so will be most of those who follow their “lead.”
  3. Every Christian needs to be able to know how to “test” the salvation and spiritual maturity of others—including ministers—in order to be sure that they are not being led to a “ditch” by a “blind man” (i.e., either an unsaved false minister or a carnal Christian who has no business leading others).

Moreover, here is one of the several passages in the Bible explains these very same facts above:

And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.

(Luke 6:39-40, NKJV)

Consequently, this article has some very practical uses for all Christians beyond your own immediate need to test your spiritual maturity. You need to know how to check out the “preachers” too!

When I used to pastor within local congregations, I would take some of my Wednesday evening services and open it up to questions from the congregation. I not only found this to be particularly helpful to me at those times when a specific topic did not seem to be clear in my own mind after my time in prayer, but it also proved to be extremely helpful (and appreciated) by the people in attendance too.

“What are you all struggling with? What Bible questions do you have? What problems are you facing?,” I would ask. Once the first person asked their question, I would then take everyone through the Bible in order to answer it for the benefit of those present (or who listened to the cassette tape later… yes, I just dated myself a bit with that comment). Then the next person would ask their question, I would answer, and then the next, and so on.

Of course, I did start off by telling the congregation that I am NOT omniscient. Thus, I told them that if I do not know the answer, I reserved the right to not answer their question right then (or if I felt that the inquiry was about a personal matter that was inappropriate to address publicly, or if the answer required more time than I had, etc.). Nevertheless, I typically answered every question that I was asked—from the Bible, with clear and logical explanations that satisfied the person making inquiry. Moreover, with regard to the “elementary principles of the doctrines of Christ,” I have never been unable to answer the questions asked of me.

Preachers and pastors, can you do that? If you cannot, then you are still spiritual children or babies, and you need to grow up—so that the people you attempt to “teach” can finally begin to grow up too:

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

(James 3:1-2, NKJV)

Frankly, most “ministers” are be terrified by the thought of ever doing such a thing publicly. Most of the preachers that I have met throughout the years are far more comfortable when “preparing a message” than when called upon to provide instruction on the spot in answer to specific questions.

Thankfully, I do know several godly ministers of Christ who are very good at answering questions on the fly, because they are spiritually mature Christians who are also faithful to their calling. However, I have met many others who would be completely unable to do that. I have also seen videos of “famous preachers” being asked impromptu questions and being unable to address them on-demand. In short, either charisma and personality, nor a good marketing department, can ever be substitutes for genuine spiritual maturity.

Another Illustration

Let me give you an example of how common it is for very immature Christians to be in “leadership” positions within churches today. I have a very good and godly minister friend named Raymond Luster. He is an amazing man of God with a solid grasp of the Scriptures, and I am very honored to call him my close friend.

Raymond spends most of his time mentoring other ministers rather than filling pulpits, however, because he is a real “leader of leaders.” (He also does not particularly care to be “seen by men” either, because he is faithful to his own calling before the Lord; please note Matthew 23:5 in comparison with Galatians 1:10.) Consequently, he is often asked by pastors to help them train their leadership too.

As I remember this particular story, he was visiting with a particular pastor one day in that man’s office. They were discussing that man’s desire to have his associate pastoral staff trained in leadership skills. After a while, Raymond said to this pastor, “What you don’t understand is that your ministers first need to go through the catechism.” Neither men are Roman Catholic or Lutheran (two groups which serve as examples of those which use “catechisms” to school people into their religious beliefs). So the pastor just looked at Raymond kind of funny, and did not immediately reply.

Raymond was simply trying to provoke the man to think, and was not suggesting that the guy join a new denomination. So he grinned real big at the pastor’s reaction, and told him to call his associate pastors into the room.

When the four or five associate pastors arrived, Raymond looked at this group and asked them all,”Which of you can open your Bible for me right now, and prove to me from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ is God?” In short, he was asking them to demonstrate that they knew how to teach on the Deity of Christ without any aids or notes, which is a sign of genuine biblical maturity; thus, it is certainly a fundamental ability for any person to master before venturing into the “ministry” (although heretics do it all the time, of course).

When he asked them that question these men looked around at each other baffled. Not even one of them could do it.

Raymond then turned around to the pastor and said, “See! Your people don’t even know the basic doctrines of Christianity. How can I teach them ‘leadership’ when they are not even mature Christians?”

And by the way, this same principle also applies to the many self-appointed “Internet” teachers that I run into online (and especially on Facebook). If you are living an ungodly life, and/or you cannot open up your Bible and address the fundamentals of the faith with someone on the spot, then you need to (1) Make sure that YOU are saved; (2) Realize that even if you are, you are yet “carnal,” and (3) That you need to stop trying to teach others, and instead let someone else teach YOU the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

(Hebrews 5:12-14, NKJV))

Christians: It is certainly time for the Body of Christ to grow up (preachers included).

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A FREE Resource

I realize that this article may have seemed a bit like too much of a “reality check” for some reading it. However, I had to express this truth to you because I would be held accountable otherwise:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

(Acts 20:26-27, NKJV)

According to Ephesians 4:11-16, it is my job as a minister to teach the truth of God’s Word in love for the maturing of the saints (see also James 5:19-20). So I have hopefully given you something major to “chew on,” and that you appreciate the clarity and frankness with which I have written this article. However, I want to give you something else too, which will help you to master some of the core doctrines of the Christian faith. It will teach you the proper methods of Bible study, as well.

I teamed up with some very blessed brothers and sisters from around the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom, to put together a FREE audio teaching series, which you can learn about (and subsequently download) by clicking here, or by clicking on the following banner link:

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Download instructions are on that same page underneath the description. So are the reviews of some of the many people who have listened to that series already. So please take advantage of this free resource, and even share it with others, so that you (and they) can grow in to genuine maturity in Christ Jesus.

Moreover, I would like to recommend also another of my key articles on this very website, Four Characteristics of Sound Doctrine. This teaching will show you some of the biblical principles by which you can ensure that your own understanding of the Bible is sound, and by which you can test the doctrines of others, as well.

Lastly, if this article was a blessing to you, then please “like” it or “tweet” it so that others can know about it too. You can also print this article, or create an email-ready PDF of this page, using the feature for that purpose found at the very top of this article. Feel free to also post a comment below.

Now for a biblical benediction in closing:

Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.

(Ephesians 6:23-24, NKJV)

Always in Jesus,

Rich Vermillion

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