Probably at some time in your life you have known someone who was a living example of Christian maturity. God worked mightily in them and through them. Perhaps you know someone like that right now. What makes them different? What makes them a mature Christian?
In Hebrews 5:14 God reveals to us one of the marks of a mature Christian, which is the ability to discern both good and evil. In Genesis 2:9b, 3:5, and 3:22, the word “knowledge” comes from the same Hebrew root, yada.
“The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Gen. 2:9
“For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Gen. 3:5
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.” Gen. 3:22
In these verses, the word “knowledge” would more accurately be understood as “determine.” Thus, the sin of man, from the time of the garden, and ever since, has been the act of determining for ourselves what is good and evil. Man desires to establish his own laws and not obey the laws of God.
When Adam took of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was, as Calvin wrote, “trusting to his own understanding” and establishing himself as “an arbiter and judge of good and evil.”1
Sutton agreed with Calvin when he wrote,
“[Satan] offered Adam divine authority. He told man that he would become like God, ‘knowing (determining) good and evil’ (Gen. 3:3), if he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . . But the way to manifest God was not by ‘knowing’ (determining) good and evil; rather, it was by ruling as a delegated authority.”2
Adam’s sin was not simply in coming to know the difference between good and evil, but in determining for himself what was good and evil. Adam’s sin, and even Satan’s rebellion, stemmed from a desire to decide for himself what is good and evil.
Christian maturity is just the opposite. Mature Christians are spoken of in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul reveals that Christians can experience different levels of spirituality and carnality. In Hebrews 5:14, the instruction from God is that a mature Christian is one who can discern God’s Law and apply it to everyday situations. The difference is between determining and discerning. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:14).
To “discern” both good and evil is to distinguish between what God considers good and evil. W.E. Vine defines “discern” as, “a distinguishing, a clear discrimination. . . . In Heb. 5:14 . . . of those who are capable of discriminating between good and evil.”3 Robertson adds, “To discern . . . ‘For deciding between’ . . . (between good and evil).”4
So, we must conclude that, if we aspire to maturity, we must study God’s Law and learn to apply it to our lives. For me, this means I must not only know and understand the Ten Commandments, but also the case law of the Old Testament – Exodus 21-23 where the Ten Commandments are applied to specific cases5 – as well as the Sermon on the Mount and the instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Maturity demands diligent study of the Word of God and discerning application of the Law of God.
Think about it!
- Calvin’s Commentaries – Vol. 1, John Calvin, translated by the Rev. John King, M.A., Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1979, p. 118.
2. That You May Prosper, Ray Sutton, Institute for Christian Economics, Tyler, Texas, 1987, p. 44.
3. Vine’s Expository Dictionary, W.E. Vine, ed. by F.F. Bruce, Fleming Revel Co,, Old Tappan, NJ, 1981, p. 315.
4. Word Pictures in the Old Testament – Vol. 5, Archibald Thomas Robertson, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1932, p. 372.
5. Tools of Dominion, Dr. Gary North, Institute for Christian Economics, Tyler, Texas, 1987.