What is the path to maturity? How do we grow up?
Little children grow up and mature, if they are fed and cared for by their parents or guardians. The process just seems to occur naturally, as long as the necessary conditions, such as food, rest, and loving care, are provided.
What about maturity in Christ? How does the individual who has trusted in Jesus Christ for his or her salvation grow up?
The Apostle Paul devoted his life to the work of helping Christians grow up to maturity. Here is his summary of that work, in Colossians 1:28:
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (ESV)
Paul says that his goal is to “present everyone mature in Christ.” We know, from what Christ said Himself, that maturity in Christ means becoming like Christ. Jesus says in Luke 6:40 that “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” A maturing Christian will look more and more like Christ, and the consummation of that process is that a fully mature Christian will be like Christ.
That process was the work of Paul, and it is the work now of all the fellow servants of God who desire what Christ and Paul desired to bring about in Christ’s disciples.
But how is it accomplished?
Paul says that first and foremost, maturity happens by the proclamation of Christ. The truth about Christ, the facts about who He is and what He has done, is the food that Christians need to grow from little children into mature disciples. Paul saw that as crucial, not minor. The gospel is the nourishment of the saints. Without it, there will be no growth. Without daily feeding upon it, we will never grow up. We may come to regard it as routine and unexciting, but without that daily bread, our growth will be stunted. When Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” (see John 6:48) He went on to say that feeding upon Him, continually, was necessary for life in Him. (see John 6:56).
Paul goes on to say that maturity comes from driving the truth of Christ deep into the mind. The word translated in the ESV (following the King James Version) as “warning” means literally to “put in mind.” In other words, Paul is reiterating that he sees putting the truth of Christ into the minds of everyone as the means of bringing about maturity. A one-time declaration of Christ is not sufficient for Paul. Rather, his goal is to get the truth of Christ deeply into the hidden recesses of everyone’s consciousness. Every thought must be brought into conformity with who Christ is, what He has done, and what He is doing. Christ must not just be at the surface of our thinking, but He must permeate our thoughts.
Paul then reiterates that maturity comes from teaching. Here, Paul is not simply repeating himself. He is stating that the true task of teaching is not merely laying facts out before a person, but requires that the things being taught are actually learned. Until that has occurred, the job of teaching is not finished. True teaching never assumes that learning has taken place until the learner has made the things being taught truly his own. The things that are taught must be fully understood, and this takes the patience of a tutor who is willing to stay at the task until it is complete. Paul says that he teaches everyone, indicating that everyone always has more to learn about Christ to grow into His likeness.
Paul then says that what He proclaims to others, puts in their minds, and teaches, is “all wisdom.” That is, he intends everyone to completely grasp the whole truth of Christ. A child who is only fed one kind of food will not develop and grow properly. So, too, we children of God will not grow into the fullness of Christ unless we hear, embrace, and fully understand all the fullness of Christ’s work in us and for us.
As we look at Colossians 1:28, we must remember that Paul is not claiming that he, or any other instructor, is working on his own power, or is able to bring Christians to maturity by his own wisdom. In the very next verse, Paul acknowledges that the Holy Spirit is working in and through Paul. However, just as the Holy Spirit brings salvation through the proclamation of the gospel, He also brings maturity, Christ-likeness and holiness into the lives of we who trust in Christ through those who He uses to teach us.
The desire to hear, grasp, and understand the truths of Christ is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Hearing, grasping, and understanding all there is to know of Christ are the means by which God’s Spirit brings us to maturity in Christ, through the efforts of those who love Christ and deliver His word to us.