People can be long-time Christians and remain immature in the faith. As we come to the knowledge of Christ and grow in the understanding of God and his Word, we mature; it is truly a lifelong process. All followers of Christ are in need of further maturing because no one has arrived yet (Philippians 3:12-14), and growth can be a slow process as God is revealed to us and through us (2 Corinthians 3:18).
The problems arise when growth should already be a visible reality given the amount of time a person has known Christ. Lacking deep maturity and true spiritual wisdom, these “spiritual babies” tend to live selfishly, act fussy, cry loudly, throw tantrums, respond emotionally, ignore reason and make messes. If you have attended church for very long, you have likely been a witness to the confusing fury of complaints, demands and displeasure arising from this type of person. Few things are sadder than a person who is growing older in years but is arrested in spiritual development and gives evidence of their stunted condition at every turn. The disruptions caused by immature believers are often followed by a twisted sense of satisfaction that they could provoke such a response or a general cluelessness that they did anything wrong. Only one thing is desired: “I must have my way, at any cost. Because it is all about me.”
This is the situation Paul faced with the church at Corinth: But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Paul faced opposition to the teachings of God, not because of a particular fault or a deficiency of his ability or calling, nor was there a lack of opportunity to hear and receive God’s truth among the church members in Corinth. The issue at hand was the spiritual immaturity of the hearers, and the immaturity led to them behaving “only in a human way” and not by spiritual reality.
Though we are nearly 2,000 years removed from the penning of Paul’s letter, we encounter the same persistant problem today.
Over the years of ministry, I have never seen ongoing conflict between two (or more) mature followers of Christ who are actively seeking God, surrendering to his will and being led by his Spirit. But I have faced (and played referee to) verbal attacks, open disrespect and carnal motives from immature and ill-tempered “spiritual babies” who dispense their own twisted version of “wisdom.”
Not only is this wisdom immature, according to James, it is much more sinister than we might first imagine. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:15-18).
When people behave “only in a human way” due to immaturity, the divisive and selfish motives displayed are actually demonic. This wisdom does not “come down from above.” This is a type of “wisdom” finding root in carnality and evil itself. This is not heavenly wisdom; this is “pit wisdom.”
If you are dealing with these types of divisive people, stay focused on God, fill your mind and heart with truth by abiding in scripture and do not allow a loudmouth from Satan drown out the voice of God.
(And yes, another possibility/likelihood is that some of those who create such division are not really followers of Christ at all (Matthew 13:24-30). But then, that is another post for another day…)
There certainly are places where aberrant theology is embraced, and worldly principles are thinly veiled in religious-sounding words and Bible verses ripped from their contexts. When that is the case, there is a valid claim for a lack of spiritual food at a table that promises otherwise. The invitation is for a feast; the reality is a famine.
But if you are a long-time, professing follower of Christ, but claim that you are not being “fed” in a church environment where the Bible is taught and interpreted accurately, truth is rightly handled and presented clearly, biblical wisdom is depended upon for all matters of faith and practice, while opportunities for deepening your faith through discipleship abound, then you need to take responsibility for your own lack of maturity and strive to grow up into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).
God did not give you a new birth and expect you to stay in the spiritual playpen.
Move from the baby bottle to the steak knife.
Hebrews 5: 12-14 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.