Spiritual conversion involves saying “Yes” to Jesus as the Holy Spirit works the miracle of the new birth, (John 1:13; 3:5-6), while spiritual maturity involves consistently “saying ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:12). Christians are “saved by grace through faith,” (Ephesians 2:8) and Christians grow as “God works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
The Israelites often committed the ugly sin of grumbling. “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: ‘How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites’” (Numbers 14:26-29).
Grumbling is a wicked way to deal with our frustrations. Rather than helping our situation, it only worsens our attitude and decreases our trust in God. Therefore, Scripture instructs us: “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
In the Old Testament, the Lord dealt as severely with the sin of grumbling as He did with the sin of sexual immorality. “We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did - and were killed by the destroying angel” (1 Corinthians 10:8-10).
C.S. Lewis said, “Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others.”
It is impossible for a Christian to please the Lord or grow into spiritual maturity if grumbling is a regular habit. Instead, believers are called to give thanks continually (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Grumbling is the exact opposite of how the Lord wants us to live. Billy Graham put it this way: “Grumbling and gratitude are, for the child of God, in conflict. Be grateful and you won’t grumble. Grumble and you won’t be grateful.”
In addition to grumbling, two other signs of spiritual immaturity are quarreling and jealousy. The Apostle Paul addressed these specific sins in one of his letters to the church in Corinth: “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).
It was jealousy that led Joseph’s brothers to plot against him, throw him into an empty well, and then sell him into slavery (Genesis 37:1-36). Jealousy is a terrible vice that produces resentment, distrust, paranoia, and can even lead to violence. The Bible describes how Rachel became jealous of Leah (Genesis 29 & 30), and how King Saul became jealous of David (1 Samuel 18). Jealousy causes havoc within your soul.
The ultimate example of jealousy is when Lucifer became jealous of God receiving all the praise, honor, and glory (Ezekiel 28:11-19). Lucifer wanted the angels to worship him instead of the Lord, and his pride and jealousy got him kicked out of Heaven. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven” (Luke 10:18). Lucifer chose to stop finding contentment in doing the will of his Creator. And a similar thing happens today to those who become disillusioned with serving God.
It is natural to desire something that someone else has been given. But such longings, if unchecked, can leave a person with the miserable mindset of jealousy. Much can be learned from the Apostle Paul on this matter, who wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances.” And Jerry Bridges wisely said, “The cure for the sin of envy and jealousy is to find our contentment in God.”
Quarreling, like jealousy, is a corrupt offense that stems from our sinful nature. James wrote, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:1-3).
Paul wrote, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21). That is to say, those who live for sin rather than for Christ are not saved, justified, redeemed, born again, or forgiven.
Spiritual conversion happens first and is instantaneous. Spiritual maturity develops second and is a lifelong process. Justification takes place on the front end of your relationship with God. Sanctification, on the other hand, develops in the lives of those who have already been saved, redeemed, born again, justified, and forgiven. Just as a child must be born before he or she can mature, a person must be born again (John 3:7) through faith in Christ before he or she can start maturing in their relationship with God.
The author of Hebrews addressed the issue of spiritual infancy: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s Word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
While grumbling, quarreling, and jealousy reveal spiritual immaturity, Christians are free to say “No” to these temptations. And when we fall short of the mark, we can go to our Savior and say, “Lord Jesus, wash me in your precious blood. And help me resist temptation the next time it comes knocking at my door."
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.