It’s not a good idea to feed a baby a porterhouse steak. Or even a sirloin, for that matter. Doesn’t matter if it’s well-done. When it comes to babies, steaks have to wait. The cows don’t mind. But when it comes to milk, babies go ga-ga. That’s what they need and one shriek makes that clear. On the other hand, if you see a fifty-five year old man still sucking on a milk bottle, quietly step out of the room before he sees you. He’s got problems.
Unfortunately, the church at Corinth was full of adults still on the spiritual bottle. Paul puts it bluntly to them in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a:
“1Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. . .”
The writer to the Hebrews makes a similar complaint in chapter 5:11,12: “11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” Solid food means chewable food, including meat, vegetables, and so on.
It’s an odd picture, isn’t it? Someone who’s been a believer for five, ten, even twenty years, who’s spiritually still crawling and burbling “Goo-goo”. It’s unnatural, both in the physical and in the spiritual world. But it happens. In the physical world, it’s obvious.. But in the spiritual world, over-extended infancy is often more veiled. Sometimes those who, on the outside look like spiritual adults are still rather babyish inside. These folks may even be dignified leaders in the church who exercise significant control over what happens there.
A baby Christian, who’s just been saved, is a delight. It’s a joy to teach them to stand on their own two feet; to help them take those first steps – no big deal when they take a tumble. A baby Christian who’s been saved for quite a while, however, is a tragedy, someone who’s wasted productive years of salvation mired in spiritual infancy. And, as in the case of Corinth, they can also cause quite a bit of damage in the local church. This scenario raises a few questions. Here’s the first one:
What does a spiritual baby look like?
I’ll take some observations from the texts mentioned and add suggestions from my own experience.
· Spiritual babies are worldly in their attitudes and actions
Paul says, “I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly, mere infants in Christ.” This was ironic, since the Corinthian Christians took pride in their spirituality. The world “worldly” covers a lot of territory, but the essence is that spiritual babies still frequently follow the world’s sinful ways of thinking and acting. Our world, for all its refinements, is still in deep rebellion toward God. In the case mentioned here, the Corinthians’ worldliness is manifested by “jealousy and quarreling among you”. They were like two babies fighting over a single toy.
Even spiritual adults have to fight against worldly tendencies, but they, unlike long-term spiritual babies, push back against worldliness and are slowly growing past it.
· Spiritual babies are still lacking basic biblical understanding
This is the complaint of the writer of Hebrews: “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” In the case of the Hebrews, they hadn’t grasped that Christ alone was enough to save them; that they didn’t need Jewish law as part of their salvation. It’s surprising how many who call themselves “Christians” still harbor a works-salvation mentality. Or they lack a solid understanding of other basic doctrinal truths – truths about who God is, who we are, how we are saved, how to live holy lives, and so on. Spiritual babies often haven’t grasped these truths, especially at the heart level and life level.
· Spiritual babies lack the motivation to keep growing spiritually
In healthy believers there’s a growth mentality. They want to learn more about God, to love Him better, to serve Him more faithfully. Paul reflects this attitude himself, saying things like “I press on toward the goal to win the prize” (Phil. 3:14). Healthy Christian babies don’t want to stay babies; they want to be big kids and then adults. Unhealthy Christian babies, though, are content to stay mired in their current stage of spiritual development. They lack spiritual hunger to grow. A sort of superficial, outwardly impressive religiosity is enough for them. Or, perhaps, they’d like to grow, but aren’t willing to put out the effort or to pay the price. Spiritual growth can be tough.
· Spiritual babies don’t want anyone telling them what to do
As we read Paul’s two letters to Corinth, we get the clear impression that they resisted his apostolic leadership (2 Cor. 11:6 ff). Just like babies, and especially toddlers, they had a hard time submitting to leadership. While there’s room for discussion and disagreement in a healthy church, this goes beyond that. The bottom line is that spiritual babies want their own way, and are quick to complain, criticize or play power games when they don’t get it. Or they just leave.
· Spiritual babies are overly focused on themselves
One of the characteristics of babies, sweet as they can be, is that they’re still very self-centered. It’s a survival instinct and they can’t help it. Over time, hopefully, their concerns expand to include others. The same is true of young believers. A long-term spiritual baby, however, stays mostly stuck in the “me syndrome”. Unlike Paul, who said, “therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect” (2 Tim. 2:10), this baby believer, to quote Paul again, “looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 2:10). Life is mostly about them and the moment, rather than about God and others. They’re animated, for example, when discussing themselves, but lose interest quickly when others talk about their issues.
· Spiritual babies lack the eternal perspective
Mature believers live with eternity in mind. This allows them to enjoy the present world, but not take it too seriously. Paul, thinking maturely, said things like: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). Baby believers live for today, more consumed with the comforts of the moment, and fitting into society than with eternal accomplishments and God’s final judgment.
Where are you in this scenario? Are you growing into the next stage or have allowed yourself to be stalled in spiritual babyhood, or even spiritual adolescence? Grab God’s hand and grow up in Christ. It’s a great place to be.