Despite what Toys “R” Us customers claim, we spend our first 18 years anticipating the day we pack our bags and leave the town of childhood dependence in our rearview mirror. Freedom. Maturity. Adulthood. We believe these will give us value we didn’t have and resilience we couldn’t muster.
As children, our parents gave us what we needed to survive, kept a roof over our heads, and prepared us to become self-sufficient adults. And we waited in angst for our chance to grow up.
This is the cultural norm for the modern family cycle. But within the family of God, the path to maturity looks different. The gravel for the road to independence won’t ever be laid. The child of God understands there will never come a time they graduate and grow beyond needing the provision, love, and support of their heavenly Father.
In the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1–12, Jesus describes several character traits of God’s kingdom citizens. He comes on strong. He says the poor in spirit—not the strong—will inherit the kingdom of God.
Is Jesus saying the materially poor are the only ones getting in? Not at all. Only those aware of their spiritual poverty enjoy citizenship in his royal, eternal dynasty.
These citizens realize they bring nothing and achieve nothing on their own. They are spiritually destitute. There is no maturity level they can muster, no external thing that will confer the status of God’s child. They’ve come to grips with their permanent need for their Father to take care for them, provide for them, and mature them into the image of his Son.
Our culture says freedom and self-sufficiency punch the ticket to strength and status. God says awareness of our spiritual bankruptcy and dependence on him are the keys to eternal citizenship and strength.
Becoming Less Like You
As an infant cries for food from his parents’ hands, so God’s child pines for the holy character he imparts. Jesus says God’s children hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6). We yearn for God to make us more like him and less like us.
We long for righteousness because we know we can’t manufacture it. We can’t create what only God can give. Godliness is not a status to be reached, but a way of life to be received.
As a newborn feasts on the nourishment his parents provide, a Christian feasts on the righteousness God provides. If we can trust our earthly parents to give us what we need, surely God will not leave us wanting. And what he supplies is far more satisfying than food. As John Piper once observed, ingesting God’s Word and spending time with him is more important than breathing. He gives us life. He grants spiritual depth. He does this. We don’t. We can’t.
Within God’s regal family, the journey to maturity isn’t marked by increasing separation from our parent. On the contrary, maturity and growth happen as our grip around our Father tightens. God’s endgame isn’t becoming an empty nester. It’s to gather all his kids to live with him forever. Jesus is building a house with plenty of room (John 14:1–3).
Later in Jesus’s ministry, his disciples ask him to choose the best from among their group (Matt. 18:1–4). Who’s the greatest? Who’s the most improved? Who’s the most mature? In a surprising move, Jesus takes a young child and explains that the greatest and strongest within God’s realm is the one who comes to the Father like a child—needy, destitute, dependent, with nothing to offer.
Perhaps they’d forgotten his previous sermon, much like we do today. We want to showcase our strength, our worth, our accomplishments. Yet our heavenly Father wants us to express our need, our dependence, our trust, our gratitude.