Jenn didn’t have much trouble making friends. She did, however, have trouble keeping them. She noticed a pattern of making acquaintances, getting closer to people by hanging out, then realizing that her new friends eventually started making excuses, having other commitments, and avoiding time together. At first she would find some fault or flaw in other people that allowed her to place the blame on them. Eventually, she came to the alarming realization that the only common denominator in all these relationships was her.
Finally, Jenn asked one of her estranged friends why they no longer spent any time together. The answer was sobering.
“You kind of use people,” her friend told her. “I always felt like I was there to meet your needs, but you were never there for mine. We always talked about you, even when there were important issues going on in my life.”
As Jenn thought about it, she realized that as much as this answer bothered her, it was true. She knew she had those tendencies. Her self-centeredness had deep roots, and becoming a Christian as a young adult hadn’t uprooted it. No dramatic encounter with God, no miraculous transformation, no wave of a magic wand had made her into a suddenly selfless person. She had gotten a little better with it—at times—but usually she kept defaulting back to her old life, even in new friendships.
If you walk into a room where several toddlers are playing, you probably won’t find them supporting each other. You won’t overhear them asking if everybody has enough juice, if anyone needs a diaper change, or if all the others have plenty of toys to play with. They will more likely be focused on their own agenda, competing for the toys they want, and being pretty vocal about whatever they think they need. Their own little worlds are centered on themselves.
You could, however, do or say certain things that would get their attention, like promising a drink or a snack, threatening a punishment, or captivating them with a video or a story. Children redirect their attention often and will believe most of what they’re told. They trust their parents to tell them the truth, but they also trust what most other adults tell them. They aren’t very discerning, and someone very ignorant or malicious could easily manipulate them or plant deceptive thoughts in their heads. Kids come into this world focused on their immediate needs and having to trust the people around them to care for them and teach them well.
Over time, a lot of things change. Our growing-up years are a process of learning what’s true and what isn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong, and what selflessness and relationships are supposed to look like. It’s also a time when we shift from mimicking the behaviors that have been modeled for us and embrace the reason for them in our hearts. We learn how to work hard, how to love well, how to cooperate with others, how to be discerning, and how to respond maturely to the people and situations around us. Granted, many people still struggle with maturity in these areas as adults, but that’s often due to a problem in the maturing process of earlier years. Ideally, we become truth-centered, others-centered, and full of integrity as we grow.
You’ve probably discovered that this is just as true of your life as a believer in Jesus. You probably didn’t know much when you were born into His kingdom. It’s like entering into a new culture, and it takes time to understand its values, expectations, and ways. Every human being comes from a spiritually fallen and broken background; Paul called it being dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1). Life as a new creation is, obviously enough, a new experience. Over time, you have to go through a process of learning what’s true, what’s right, and what others-centered relationships look like.
That’s where the text in Ephesians 4 takes us next. Paul has written about every believer being equipped for ministry so that the whole body of Christ can be built up into unity in the faith, a personal knowledge of Jesus, and the fullness of maturity in Him. But what does that look like? What are the signs of your growth? How can you know if you’re really being transformed? In three short verses, we’ll see God’s litmus test—four characteristics of spiritual maturity.
Ingram, Chip. 2021. Yes! You Really Can Change: What to Do When You’re Spiritually Stuck. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
We have just released a new Bible Study based on Chip Ingram’s amazing book, You Really Can Change. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.