This post article is an excerpt from Healing: Hope or Hype? Eloquent Books Copyright 2007. Dr. Stephen Crosby. www.stevecrosby.org.
Maturity—is there a more dangerous Christian concept? The preaching of a Christian maturity message is the #1 opening for legalism in the life of a believer. The tendency is particularly strong in what might be called deeper-life, high-calling, high-commitment, pursuit of God, sonship, or discipleship environments. The underlying thinking in these settings is the erroneous concept of “getting more of God.” This is defined as the acquisition of virtues and the elimination of sins resulting from our effort in various spiritual disciplines: out with the bad, in with the good. Allegedly, if we’re sincere, obedient, and embrace the latest “word,” we will experience some sort of spiritual return on investment blessing. If we fail, or do not perform to standard, then spiritual jeopardy supposedly results as the fruit of our disobedience. This performance and reward paradigm is sadly normative of much Western Christianity.
The New Testament exhorts us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.[i] It does not teach us to try harder to adorn ourselves with spiritual virtues through disciplinary efforts. We’ve already freely received all we’re ever going to get from God in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have received[ii] all things that pertain to life and godliness. The unveiling of the indwelling Spirit, and the appropriation and manifestation of what we’ve been given, occur through a death and resurrection process, not an acquisition of virtues process.[iii]
Maturity is defined by the relationships we maintain not by efficient conformity to behavioral rules and the acquisition of moral virtues. The fulfillment of the law and prophets is not improved behavior and personal piety, but loving God and loving others. It’s inherently relational. It follows that these two characteristics are not possible without new life behaviors, but we must not confuse the fruit with the root.
The best weapons in the devil’s arsenal are legitimate kingdom virtues handled without a New Covenant understanding of the Gospel of grace. Faith and prayer can be frequently mishandled within an Old Covenant paradigm. Hard-charging, over-achieving, ethically scrupulous personality types can go into a spiral of self-condemning, introspective, despair laden, self-hate and self-loathing[iv] faster than the government spends money if the responsibilities of faith and prayer are over-emphasized. The devil will try to convince these folks that their feelings are indicative of dying to self or living the crucified life. They’re not. They’re the admission ticket to the insane asylum.
Hating yourself for failure to produce spiritual virtues is not the same thing as dying to your self in Christ. Without diligent care, what begins as an honest exhortation to maturity ends up nose-diving into an anti-Gospel. The soil of good intentions frequently produces slavish religiosity. Remember, the people who sent Christ to the Cross, both Jew and Gentile, were devoted and committed people of prayer, full of sincerity and good intentions.
[i] 2 Peter 3:16-18
[ii] 2 Peter 3:16 – Perfect tense: an event that occurred in the past whose effects continue to the present.
[iii] John 12: 24; 2 Corinthians 4:12; Romans 6:6; Colossians 3:9 and multitudes of others—basically the whole New Testament. On the surface, 2 Peter 1:5 seems to imply the opposite of what I am saying. If you unpack the language you will find that even what we “add” to our faith, has already been provided.
[iv] Or the opposite—a prideful sense of achievement that looks down upon others who don’t quite measure up.