Most biblical indicators of Christian maturity involve a person’s developing character qualities. But I have observed another common quality among Christians who could be described as “mature” — by which I do not mean “older,” but people who have developed well as Christians, whatever their age.

Here is one (less frequently discussed) mark of Christian maturity. Spiritually mature Christians: Acknowledge how important an issue is and respond to the ascribed level of importance appropriately.

This mark of maturity involves two parts: 1) The assessment piece, and 2) the response piece. Let me briefly unpack each and use two examples from the Apostle Paul to illustrate it.


First, the assessment piece. A mature Christian does not assume that every topic, decision or potential action is of equal value or consequence. I know Christians who, from all appearances, are passionate about almost everything they discuss — and are willing to argue for any position they happen to take. Since I spend a lot of time with students who are 18 to 22 years old, I frequently overhear arguments, on almost every possible topic, regardless of the topic’s significance. I have listened in on disputes about theology, ethics, church polity, Greek grammar, politics, baseball, cars and coffee. Distinctions based upon importance, however, are not always at the forefront of such conversations.

But a mature Christian will consciously and repeatedly assess the importance of a topic or action. One approach some mature Christians employ is to mentally assign a topic to pre-established categories: such as absolute essentials, non-essential convictions, wise-versus-foolish actions and do-whatever-you-want preferences. I prefer a simple numbering system. I often employ the numerals 8, 9 and 10 for fundamental beliefs and commitments. Such high numbers represent ideas that are both clearly taught in Scripture and are essential to the Christian faith. At the other end of the scale (1s, 2s and 3s) are preferences. These are either scripturally unaddressed or lightly touched upon in the Bible, and for which the consequences of choosing one position over another are negligible.

In between are matters of some importance, and for which there is often one choice that is superior to another — and about which thoughtful Christians may legitimately disagree. But one must first properly assess a topic’s importance before responding to the assessment.

Response to the Assessment

The second step is to respond appropriately to the assessment. Once an importance-value has been assigned, a commensurate response should follow.

So, for 1-3s on the scale, flexibility is not only suitable; it is required. Is it appropriate for someone to carry coffee into a worship service? You might assess this question one way, and someone else might assess it differently, but the issue probably deserves a low assessment number, and thus invites significant flexibility.

If the assessed response receives a high number, say an 8-10, then the appropriate response should be to firmly contend for what is truly important. Has someone made the charge that God cannot be both holy and just? That question impinges upon core attributes of God, in addition to the nature of the Christian gospel. Did Jesus rise from the dead? Yes, he did indeed, and you had better be ready to defend it, since Christianity rests or falls upon this foundation. Is salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and not personally merited? A hearty yes! You should not flex on any such truths. I am not saying your response should be angry or acrimonious, but (by all means!) don’t back down.

But what about issues that fall somewhere in the middle? Middle-level topics beg for Christians to develop personal convictions, but also invite thoughtful Christians to remember that some wise and biblical Christians might disagree. Should we only baptize people old enough to understand the gospel and respond in faith (à la Baptists)? Or should we baptize infants as a sign that children of believing parents are provisional members of the people of God — while still needing to confirm their faith when they are older (à la Presbyterians)? You will need to come to a conviction about this question, especially if you’re part of a church leadership team, or you and your spouse are trying to decide whether to baptize your baby. But keep in mind that some of your brothers and sisters in the Lord will disagree about whatever decision you make.[1]

One Example from the Apostle Paul

Compare with me two passages where Paul discusses the preaching of the gospel. Here we will observe a wise Christian assessing and responding appropriately to a fundamental issue followed by a medium-level issue. What is the difference between Paul’s assessment and response in each of the following examples?

Example 1, Galatians 1:6-9: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."

Example 2, Philippians 1:12-18: "I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."

Let’s compare these passages by looking at Paul’s assessment and his response in each passage:

Paul’s assessment:

Galatians 1 is fundamental: a false gospel is being preached.

Philippians 1 is about a middle-level issue: even though the true gospel is being preached, some are preaching the true gospel from wrong motives (envy, rivalry, ambition).

Response to the Assessment:

Galatians 1 exhibits Paul’s immovable insistence that the true gospel must be proclaimed, because the issues involved are vital to the Christian faith.

Philippians 1 exhibits Paul calling out the wrong motives of some preachers, but acknowledging the truth of their message, thereby displaying an appropriate response to a middle-level issue.

There are many other examples I could give. But let me encourage you to grow in this area of Christian maturity. Assess the importance or lack of importance of a topic or anticipated activity. Think about using a scale from 1-10 to help you think clearly. (See discussion above.) When you have assigned a low number, be flexible and avoid quarrelling. For a very high number, be steadfast in your conviction. For middle-level assessments, work hard to come to a personal conviction, be willing to dialogue with others on your middle-level topic, but always keep in mind that you are working with an issue that is neither fundamental, on the one hand, nor merely an opinion, on the other.

Proper assessment followed by proper response is one mark of Christian maturity.

[1] I purposely selected the illustration of credo-baptism versus paedo-baptism to make sure people reading this post knew that middle-level topics are consequential; they are not just personal opinions. But I would still put it somewhere in the middle — perhaps a number “6.”