Putting Away Childish Things
How do we strive for spiritual adulthood?
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (1 Cor. 13:11).
In almost any culture the world over, the attainment of a certain age immediately confers on individuals the title of “adulthood.” At least, at a certain age, individuals are suddenly granted “adult” privileges, as well as certain implied responsibilities that, at their age, are only reasonable. Those who say that they just don’t “feel” like going to school, keeping a job, or paying their rent are censured because they “are old enough to know better.” But those who duly acknowledge their adulthood take particular, often meticulous, care to fulfill their “adult responsibilities.”
My question is this: Are Adventist youth who call themselves Christians, myself included, placing the same level of priority on our spiritual maturation?
In a church in which an estimated 50 percent of youth are leaving the organization,1 the answer seems to be no. But most of us don’t need statistics to tell us that.
All through my early 20s I struggled to have personal worship each morning, because I knew “I should be doing it.” My problem was, though, that I just didn’t feel like doing it. Not surprisingly, my feelings for God, as well as my desire to attend or serve in church, were lukewarm at best.
But at age 25 I hit a crisis and didn’t know where else to turn. Finally, for the first time in my life, I resolved to have morning devotions every day, no matter what. I concluded I had nothing to lose.
As my crisis persisted, so did my morning devotions. Within a few months what had started as indifferent eyeing of the adult Sabbath school lesson turned into ravenous reading of God’s Word. Relying on God to bring me out of my crisis, I increasingly found Bible promises that spoke to me. With the peace of resting in God’s promises came the desire to serve Him, not only in church, but in every facet of my life.
What I See
I am troubled by a persistent apathy
I see in some young adult Adventists. It is the same apathy I faced not long ago. To clarify, I am troubled that I see so-called Christian young adults placing visible priority on jobs, families, and various hobbies without placing similar or greater priority—if any priority at all—on spiritual things.
What, for instance, would be the result if our adult Christian performance were evaluated the same way as our job, school, or parental performances? Would we be fired, expelled, or found to be “unfit” keepers of the Christian title?
“The choice between life and death is one every individual must make for themselves.”
Reflecting on these questions would have us desperately seeking: What does it mean to become a man or woman in Christ? What does it mean to “put the ways of childhood behind [us]” so we can truly reach spiritual maturity?
What God Requires
In a nutshell, God wants His people—those who profess to love and follow Him—to do what He says. “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15, NLT; cf. verses 21-23).2 But much like modern civil laws, this injunction is not an inconsequential suggestion. Throughout the Bible, God is clear: His people must obey and have eternal life, or disobey and perish (Deut. 30:16-18).
This may seem a little harsh, and even hard to understand, as it was for Thomas when he asked Jesus, “How can we know the way?” (John 14:5). Without realizing it, however, Thomas was really asking, “How can I get to heaven?” or, for the purposes of this discussion, “How can I live out what You’ve already told me to do?”
As Jesus explained, the key to His own success, and the same key that allows the Christian to keep the commandments, is abiding in the Father: “The Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10, NKJV).3 “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NKJV).
On this topic, clearly addressing her readers as mature Christians capable of choosing their own behavior, Ellen White wrote: “As Christ lived the law in humanity, so we may do if we will take hold of the Strong for strength. But we are not to place the responsibility of our duty upon others, and wait for them to tell us what to do. We cannot depend for counsel upon humanity. The Lord will teach us our duty. . . . If we come to Him in faith, He will speak His mysteries to us personally.”4
Although this passage suggests that mature individuals make an initial choice to follow God, the Bible ultimately says that abiding and obedience must come from the Holy Spirit (John 14-17). In 1 John the themes of obedience, abiding, and the Holy Spirit are finally shown to be inseparable: “Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the [Holy] Spirit he gave us lives in us” (1 John 3:24, NLT). All told, it seems the only part that “mature” Christians play in this interchange between obedience and love is some kind of choice. But what does that look like today?
For me, it was making the choice to connect with God daily—no matter what.
Gaining the Victory
Perhaps at present we cannot all enter into worship and obedience with our hearts completely in it. At first I couldn’t. But if we Christians faithfully keep what we know to be right, He will give us not only a genuine “heart” experience on earth, but much more.
As Israel camped on the borders of Canaan, preparing to receive God’s inheritance—much as we who, today, are camped on the borders of spiritual Canaan—Moses addressed the nation as intelligent “adults,” fully capable of making the right choice: “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.
. . . The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it” (Deut. 30:11-14).
The choice given the Israelites that day is the same choice we have today: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses” (verse 19, NLT).
The choice between putting away childish things and becoming Christian “adults,” the choice between life and death, is one every individual must make for themselves.
And just as Moses proclaimed then, God exhorts today: “Oh, that you would choose life. . . . You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. . . . If you love and obey the Lord, you will live long in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (verses 19, 20, NLT).
For me, eternal life is privilege enough.
What is your choice?
- Roger L. Dudley, Why Our Teenagers Leave the Church (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), p. 35.
- Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- Texts credted to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 668. (Italics supplied.)