The first date I went on with my wife when we were in college was great. We went to a wonderful restaurant, walked in and out of art galleries in downtown Charleston, and finished it off by watching the sunset on a dock in the harbor.
A few years later I proposed to my wife on Christmas Day and it was a wonderful moment…mostly because she said “yes!” Our time of engagement that followed was less about dating and more about planning the rest of our lives together.
We were married just six months after our engagement (I highly recommend this), and then began a life of ups and downs, filed with the great joy that is found in marrying a wonderful Christ-centered woman (Prov 18:22). This June, we will have been married 13 years, and as I tell everyone, I believe she’s sticking around.
Not every moment of marriage is the same as your first date, not every evening is watching the sunset in the harbor. Some days are harder and can bring you to your knees in prayer. Besides the love you have for one another in your marriage, you will learn marriage is about growing in maturity and intimacy and being in a fully committed relationship together.
Our relationship with the Lord is supposed to be illustrated in the covenant of marriage showing Christ as the Groom and His church as the redeemed Bride (Eph 5:27). Many have written about the example of Hosea and the redeeming of his wife “Gomer the prostitute.” The example of the minor prophet illustrates the fact that Christ will never abandon His covenant promises, and seeing this should cause the believer to have full confidence in their salvation and relationship with God.
Other lessons from the Bible about marriage are in some of the commands that Paul gives to husbands and wives in multiple letters he wrote (Eph 5; Col 3). Paying attention to Scripture and the biblical way to love and be faithful to your spouse is important, and I believe that all who are going to be married will benefit from the apostle’s words.
The idea of marriage as an illustration of Christ’s great love for His church is helpful, but the illustration of the maturation of a marriage is valuable as well.
When someone becomes a Christian and commits their life to the Lord, it is beginning of their journey with God. As the believer begins their relationship with God they learn some amazing things through studying His Word. They learn that God is a Father, that He is a Healer, that He is the Creator and that He is also a Judge. While they are growing in their knowledge of the Person of God, they are hopefully also growing in their faith in Him.
Just like a first date, the beginning of a relationship with Christ is exciting and wonderful; it can be intense, and even terrifying in some ways as the realization of the relationship that you have with the omnipotent God is so personal an intimate.
God moves believers and grows them to become more like Christ (sanctification) and works in them to die to their sinful nature (mortification). As the believer grows in these processes, the relationship changes from that first date to a more mature understanding of Christ and who the believer is in Him.
As the believer continues to spend time in the Word and in prayer, they may begin teaching others about Christ, or serving in the church in some capacity as all believers are gifted to do (1 Peter 4:10). The more and more a believer matures in the Lord, the more their relationship with Christ starts to look like a solid marriage. While the newness may have worn off in some ways, the believer knows the Lord and His Word so well that he or she delights in it in a different way than they did before.
Beforehand they may have been reading Scripture to see what happens and now they may be reading to see how God connects Scripture together in amazing ways. The new believer may have been nervous about praying to the Lord, and now maturing, finds that they pray all of the time throughout their day.
The intimacy and maturity in their relationship with God has grown over time and now is ready to go even deeper into the Lord and what He has for them.
Let me be clear, I am not advocating that there are deeper plains to be ventured into with Christ in some kind of “levels of better Christendom.” What I am saying is that the commitment to Christ at the beginning is the beginning of growth and maturity in the Lord.
Unfortunately, in the church today there are some who are immature in their faith. By that I mean individuals who have been Christians for years, and yet young in their faith. Don’t get me wrong, there are many faithful mature saints in the church who are shining examples of what it means to be a Christ follower. But there are some who have never moved past the dating stage.
Hebrews 6:1a says, “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…” Here we see Scripture pushes the believer forwards into maturity in the Lord. Believers should not be people who are still learning the same lessons they grew up with, but are becoming those who are ready for solid food (Heb 5).
So we need to ask ourselves, are we growing in the Lord? Are we closer to God today than we were this time last year? Last month? Last week? If not, what can we do to grow in the Lord?
Here are 5 practices/disciplines that may help:
(1) Read Scripture – Just like a daily vitamin or medication that you take, believers must be “people of the Word” growing in their knowledge and love of God.
(2) Memorize Scripture – Start simple, a small verse here and there. You can even make it to where you do one verse every month. Some might say to do more, but for those that aren’t doing any, this is a great start.
(3) Go to church and serve – Many people that attend a church do nothing for the church. If you’re a believer then God has gifted you specifically for the edification of the saints and His church. Ask a pastor or someone in church how you can be involved.
(4) Pray – Speak to God and have conversations throughout the day with Him. He’s not someone you address only in the restaurant once the waiter has left the table, but He’s your heavenly Father who loves you and wants to hear from His children.
(5) Imitate Christ – Ephesians 5:1 tells us to “imitate God,” as His children. Believers should look to model grace and the other fruits of the Spirit daily as they live their lives.
There are more methods for growing in maturity with Christ (mission trips, witnessing, etc.) but the practices are not the point, the outcome is. Believers desire to grow in the Lord, and through His Spirit you can.