Dr. Ramesh Richard
I heard a new word yesterday: adulting. Does it sound right to you? A bit risqué? Disaster checks the quality of our adulting—a maturing process of turning us into spiritual adults when we would rather remain as spiritual infants. Crises accelerate the spiritual maturing process. I know no other way to become mature or verify maturity than through trials.
We don’t go looking for trouble, like Eastern gurus who exalt the cathartic benefits of suffering. They strip naked in the cold, or walk on beds of coals, or pull temple carts with hooks embedded in their bodies. Christianity does not prescribe spiritual cleansing by a merit-based, deliberate pursuit of distress. We receive judicial cleansing when we accept the gift of salvation, a cleansing not obtained by good works, but by the Lord Jesus through his Cross-payment on our behalf. So we shall not run toward trouble to force maturity.
But we do not run away from trouble either. Avoiding the swing of the pendulum calls for a realistic view of troubles, neither seeking nor avoiding them, but being open to them as inevitable features of a fallen race and a broken world. And beyond merely embracing a view of reality, we examine our attitudes toward them, our reactions to them, and our actions in them.
A complex molecule, invisible except under the microscope, looks as though it wears a crown and has brought the world to its knees. It also tests the quality of a believer’s maturity. Are we dull of hearing, as the Hebrews were, still returning to elementary principles of legalistic suffering to obtain grace and questioning the Father’s disciplinary proof of our sonship (Heb. 6; 12)?
Exhortations to press on to maturity by faith amid suffering weave through the prototypical themes of the book of Hebrews (e.g., Heb. 11). Believers should not keep—to coin a parallel term—infanting: preferring and drinking spiritual milk. They are called to adulting, that is, desiring and downing solid food. Maturing Christians exhibit adult attitudes and practice the activities of spiritual grown-ups.
Pressing on to maturity is also a standard theme in the New Testament. The apostle Paul consistently wrote about pressing on, reaching forward and striving toward what is yet to be, based on what is already true (Phil. 3:12–14). Maturity can be cultivated and improved by a Trinitarian Christianity through all kinds of troublesome circumstances. A Trinity-based spirituality orients life to the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit.
We mature to the glory of the Father as the reason and effect of our existence. We mature toward the Father when all dimensions of our lives purpose toward glorifying God, when our virtues and values, our beliefs and behavior are concerned about making God look great to all sensate creation and result in their admiration for his genius. Spiritual adults have learned to increasingly deflect honor to the Father. They acknowledge the triumvirate of God’s providence—total goodness, global power and personal wisdom—as they cry to him in the middle of trials. Maturing godliness is simply living to the fame of God the Father in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, whether self-made, human-made, Satan-made, all of which are either God-made or God-allowed.
We mature in the name of the Son as life-giving and exemplary while enduring distress. The great passages of the final discourses of Christ in John, especially John 15, quite plainly declare that without him we can do nothing—no fruit nor lasting fruit—unless we abide in him. Christians also undergo circumstances as Jesus did—in humility looking out for another’s interest and for opportunities of service and sacrifice. We are named after the greatest person in all history, the One and Only Son of God. When in trouble we call to the Father, who will otherwise not hear us, in his name. We await the day when his name will be recognized above every other name—above the names of the rich, powerful and famous; above the names of principalities, powers and persecutors; even above the names of viral diseases like SARS, Ebola and COVID-19. The more we identify with the Name of Jesus, the more Christianly we are. Anything done in the name of Christ, out of a growing connection with him and “walking as he walked,” is a maturing Christianity.
We mature by the power of the Spirit as the one who empowers godliness and Christlikeness in attitude and activity regardless of circumstances. We declare that we are insufficient for meeting disaster. Unless the Spirit enables and equips us, spiritual vitality is impossible. Life in God’s Spirit happens by keeping lockstep with the Spirit, and thereby not using difficult conditions as excuses to return to patterns of fulfilling the lusts of the flesh. Synergy with the Holy Spirit provides the energy of the Holy Spirit toward spiritual maturity.
One of the best ways to evaluate maturity is to look for evidence. But where and how? We certainly can’t measure salvation by our perfections or their lack. If practical perfection were the mark of spiritual maturity, we would permanently lack assurance. It is best to find salvation assurance in what God has to say about our eternal life in his Word—an absolute prerequisite for confidence in crisis. But we can measure our progress to maturity by nurturing a vibrant relationship with God. Growth to spiritual maturity depends on the Spirit’s increasing control and production of his fruit in our lives. We merely provide the willingness and he mightily provides the power for spiritual progress.
Will you study the nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22? A dictionary is good enough to convict us of our failures. Then survey biblical cross-references to the verse and its parts. You will come up with more personal applications than any Bible commentary will as you become familiar with the Bible and are already immersed in your unique circumstance. Ask yourself, “As a result of my long, drawn-out crises, am I exhibiting more and better:
Love—rather than pride, selfishness, hatred
Joy—rather than discontent, grumbling, ingratitude
Peace—rather than anxiety, worry, panic
Patience—rather than impatience, irritability, exasperation
Kindness—rather than meanness, harshness, unforgiveness
Goodness—rather than wickedness, evil, immorality
Faithfulness—rather than unreliability, infidelity, posturing
Gentleness—rather than rudeness, divisiveness, bitterness
Self-control—rather than greed, hedonism, narcissism?”
Circle any words that are right about you and invite God’s Holy Spirit to empower you with the will and the wisdom to overcome the temptation to yield to sin. He will “adult” you.
Trinitarian Christianity passes the tests of trials to develop a meaningful life devoted to the glory of God the Father, in the name of the Son, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, for the good of the Christ-lover-believer-follower.
We can measure our progress to maturity by nurturing a vibrant relationship with God. Growth to spiritual maturity depends on the Spirit’s increasing control and production of his fruit in our lives. We merely provide the willingness and he mightily provides the power for spiritual progress.
About the Author: Dr. Ramesh Richard serves as the founder and president of RREACH; general convener of the Global Proclamation Congress for Pastoral Trainers 2016; Professor of Global Theological Engagement and Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary; and founder and chairman of Trainers of Pastors International Coalition. He holds a Th.D. in Systematic Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Delhi. To learn more about the ministry of RREACH, click here. For other articles from Dr. Ramesh Richard, click here.