“My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Gal. 4:19, ESV).
It should have been reassuring! That there are “ages to come” where God will continue to demonstrate His grace and kindness to all (Eph. 2:7) – particularly to those who didn’t fully grasp it in this age – is very, very good news!
That means people are a work in progress. What then is God’s goal for this age? If not spiritual perfection, then perhaps it is something more attainable: spiritual discovery and maturity, the act of taking a few first steps out of the Darkness and into the Light. Could it be that learning to walk with God is enough for now? Abiding in the Vine and learning how to trust in His Life; learning to “put on” Christ and “put off” the old man; isn’t that enough for one age? That is a very high calling: to walk with God. And it is fundamental to every kind of “work” we may feel called to. The doing must follow the being, and never the other way around.
There is a difference between spiritual perfection and spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity naturally follows an initial season of spiritual immaturity. It means we once were children, but now we are “no longer children” (Eph. 4:14). It means we are no longer “children in understanding” but we are “adults in understanding” (I Cor. 14:20).
Adults! Not merely in spiritual matters, but in our thinking. Immaturity and childishness in our thinking will hinder spiritual maturity. Based on my experience with thousands of people I would say it is the number one hindering factor! It is not the devil! It is our own limited mindset, our own small thoughts, our own irrational and childish fears, doubts, prejudices, and assumptions. The Mind of Christ is as important for earthly life as the Life of Christ is important for our spiritual life.
GOD’S GOAL IS ACHIEVABLE
Spiritual growth and development out of babyhood and into adulthood is not only possible in this life but is expected after a reasonable period of time. And not after fifty or sixty years! “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…” (Heb. 5:12).
What, then, is spiritual perfection? It is the final, completed state of the spiritually mature. Certainly that is more than putting away sin and cleaning up your behavior. “That I may know Him” (Php. 3:10) says Paul at the end of his earthly life. Spiritual perfection is knowing Christ without restriction or limitation, seeing and knowing Him “face to face” instead of “in part”(I Cor. 13:12). No matter what we see of Him from this earthly abode there will always be limitation. We know in part. But when that which is perfect has come then we will know completely.
Meanwhile, our heart’s desire for ourselves and for others is that Christ would be formed in us. Knowing Him is spiritual maturity; seeing and knowing Him completely is spiritual perfection. The interesting thing is that all this fullness and perfection is summed up in Christ already. All the heights and depths, all the unsearchable riches are found in Him (Eph. 3:8).
The answer to overcoming and obtaining the victory, reaching spiritual maturity in this age and spiritual perfection in the ages to come, is entirely dependent upon our relationship with this Person. Will we, do we, abide in Him? Is He our dwelling place? Once we have entered the Gate, will we continue to walk the Path? Will we allow Christ to be formed in us?
For Paul it was the heart of his ministry – anguishing and laboring like a mother giving birth. For what? Not for the children to be formed, but for Christ to be formed! There is your spiritual maturity! As brother T. Austin-Sparks has so aptly stated, spiritual growth is not that we become so much greater, but that we become so much less! It is Christ increasing, Christ being formed in a person. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). That is God’s goal for this age. I pray it is our goal as well.