Joe had become a believer in Jesus not that long ago. As he stood talking in the parking lot with a group of men after church, his face lit up as he began to tell a funny story. When he hit the punch line, he paused, waiting for the usual reaction. All he got were a few tense chuckles. The reason? The story was the kind that would be considered, off-color or dirty in Christian circles. No one wanted to hurt Joe’s feelings, but the other believers also felt awkward laughing at his story (though, to be honest, it was funny).
Then there was Frank who, though a long-time Christian, would cuss his wife out thoroughly when he thought she deserved it. He did this without apology, fairly often, even though he’d been challenged about it and knew he was wrong. He didn’t care. She had it coming.
These two men illustrate a sometimes confusing, but crucial difference between where Christians are at spiritually. In the case of the first man, Joe, his mistake was more one of immaturity. He was a young believer who had a lot to learn about living a holy life for Christ. Frank, on the other hand, knew better and didn’t care. He was spiritually hardened in this area and just accepted his sin. Another word for this is being “carnal”.
What are some signs that immaturity may be the main problem?
1. Immaturity may be the main problem if you’re young in the Lord
Babies should be kept away from unguarded bottles of Draino. They haven’t the mental capacity or experience not to drink it. Young believers can easily imbibe the wrong spiritual concoctions just because they don’t know any better.
2. Immaturity may be the main problem if you haven’t yet developed sufficient spiritual strength to resist certain temptations
Paul urges us to “be strong in the Lord”. This takes time. An immature believer has under-developed spiritual muscles which must be built up over time. They’re not used to resisting sin or to pushing themselves to do what is right, when it’s uncomfortable.
3. Immaturity may be the main problem if you lack proper training and modelling
Children learn maturity the modelling and guidance of mature parents. Sometimes an immature Christian doesn’t have godly spiritual mentors, and, in fact, may be surrounded by poor spiritual models – even, unfortunately, in the church. So they lack the needed support and examples.
4. Immaturity may be the main problem if you’re dealing with a new issue
Even seasoned believers have some area of immaturity. These aren’t necessarily deliberate. It’s just that God doesn’t try to grow us up in every area at once. He deals with certain areas first and then others later.
What are some signs that carnality may be the main problem?
1. Carnality may be the main problem if we’re not maturing in certain areas of sinfulness
It’s one thing to have a bad temper as a young believer, it’s quite another to stay that way. Carnal Christians remain stuck in sin.
2. Carnality may be the main problem if we resist attempts at correction
If someone challenges us in a biblically sound way, and we resist their challenge, or admit it’s true but refuse to obey, carnality is probably behind our actions. An unteachable spirit is a sign of carnality.
3. Carnality may be the main problem if we rationalize our sin
Carnal people are born spinners. They’re quick to come up with reasons why what they’re doing or not doing is just fine even if the Bible says differently.
4. Carnality may be the main problem if our overall spiritual life is lackluster
We’re all a mixture of good and bad in this life; people in process, but a carnal Christian has forsaken their “first love”. Their hunger for God and their eagerness to become like Christ are diminished or gone. They’re going through the motions.
Both the immature and the carnal believer need spiritual support, but not always the same kind. Let’s start with the immature believer.
How can I help an immature believer grow?
1. I can help an immature believer grow by getting them in the Word.
The Bible is “living and active” and gives not only critical spiritual guidance, but does so accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s power. Teach them how to properly interpret and apply God’s Word in practical ways.
2. I can help an immature believer grow by modelling godliness
As they say, “most truth is caught, not taught”. By observing our deep love for the Lord and seeing how it works out in real life they’re much more likely to learn and catch on for themselves. Our love for God inspires theirs.
3. I can help an immature believer by being as patient and as positive as possible
Again, spiritual growth can be hard, and so, while they do need to put forth some effort, be as gentle and patient as you can. This helps them to relax and not get too discouraged when they fall short – which leads to the next suggestion:
4. I can help an immature believer by teaching them learn to recover from spiritual failures
In judo, one of the first moves that is taught is how to fall without getting injured. The same is true in the Christian life. Mistakes and sins are part of the learning curve. Teach them, when they’ve fallen, to repent, get up quickly, and move on. Ongoing guilt and remorse aren’t helpful once a sin has been dealt with.
5. I can help an immature believer by encouraging them to depend primarily on God for their growth
This is critical. Although our free wills play a part in spiritual growth and it takes some effort on our part, ultimately, we can only become like Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit. Encourage them to lean heavily on Him.
How can I help a carnal believer grow?
1. I help a carnal Christian grow by approaching them with humility
We’re all still imperfect, and they’re more likely to listen to you if you make it clear that you’re a struggling saint as well. And begin by asking questions rather than assuming you’ve got them figured out.
2. I help a carnal Christian grow by first trying to establish common biblical ground
Find Scripture that deals with the area they’re carnal in, read it with them, and see if they’ll admit to agreeing with it. If they refuse to acknowledge biblical teaching on the subject as true or dodge it, that lets you know that you probably won’t get very far with them.
3. I help a carnal Christian grow by challenging them positively
At some point, if we love them, we may have to push them, even if they don’t appreciate it at the moment. Focus on the positive goal – let’s get rid of this sin so that we can grow in Christ.
4. I help a carnal Christian by praying for them
I should’ve included this for both categories. Prayer is our strongest tool for helping one another grow.
Are we aware of how you Christian brothers and sisters are doing spiritually? Do we care? Are we willing to prayerfully support their spiritual progress and even take a few risks out of love?