Summary: When it comes to your Christian walk are you babe like or babyish? It's an important question that must be answered.
The Bible is full of figurative language or imagery, used to describe Christians. Christians are compared sheep, soldiers, athletes, brothers and sisters, workers, slaves, children and babes. It’s the last one in our list that I would like to spend some time exploring in this lesson and ask the question, “Are you babe-like or are you babyish?”
It is common to hear new Christians described as babes in Christ. This phrase has been used so often, it basically has been accepted as the bible’s description of a new Christian. However, in the scriptures, a new Christian is never exclusively likened to a babe. It is my guess that this language comes from the fact that Christians are “born again” as believers (cf. John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23). However, as you will see, when babe imagery is employed in the scriptures there is no reference to how long a person had been a Christian. In fact, in the negative usages of babe imagery, the believers under consideration have been Christians for quite some time, they are not new Christians by any stretch of the imagination, they’re long in the tooth so-to-speak. The Biblical language describing a new Christian is rather straightforward calling a new Christian a, “recent convert” (1 Timothy 3:6); or, as in the KJV, “a novice” which actually means newly planted. So if you get right down to it, the scriptures liken new Christians as tender transplants. Where this becomes problematic is when we are seeking to understand what is being taught with the figurative babe language, and its commonly associated counterpart “the milk of the word.” If we import our vocabulary into the biblical text, especially when our vocabulary does not fit the Bible’s word usage, we can totally miss what is being taught. So, as we approach the three passages we will consider, I would encourage you to completely divorce yourself of the idea that the Bible exclusively describes new Christians as babes in Christ, otherwise you are liable to fail to see the points that are being made in the text.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addressed several issues plaguing the church; some reported to him by members, others he addressed at the request of the church. One of the issues that was reported to him was the divisions that beset the church, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you… What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). It appears from Paul’s writing that at least one of the key elements driving this division (or at least the rejection of Paul by say those who identified themselves with Apollos) centered on Paul’s teaching. Some charged his preaching lacked depth, and was devoid of eloquence and philosophical wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16). The apostles dismissed the later complaints by insisting that he wanted their “faith to not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). Additionally, he addressed the first complaint, a lack of depth, saying in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3a:
“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3a)
Paul explained because the Corinthians had been “fleshly,” or “carnal” (KJV) in their thinking (remember where they came from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11) he had to lower the bar on what he taught them. When he was first with them, he focused more on teaching bible basics, which he called “milk,” instead of more advanced doctrines, which he likened to “solid food” or “meat” (KJV). The problem was not with Paul, but with the Corinthians. Paul was only teaching them what they could handle. Sadly, however, by the time 1 Corinthians was written, the believers there had still not grown in their thinking, they were “still of the flesh” evidenced by the divisions among them. They had not matured in the faith, as they should have. Therefore, Paul still had to feed them with Bible basics, or the “milk,” of the word. From this passage, we learn that being a babe in Christ had nothing to do with being a new Christian per se, but everything to do with how one acts and thinks as a Christian (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:20). Based on this negative usage, a person could have been a Christian for years and years, for decades even, but because of their thinking and actions they would be a babe in Christ, solely living off basic Bible doctrines.