As a pastor of a small church I had a number of young people who made the chronological transition from being children to becoming adults. I characterize this transition as chronological because that’s the way the greater portion of our culture defines it. People assume that because a young person is no longer a teenager, that he must be an adult. After all, there are a number of rites of passage that conveys the idea that a young person is no longer a child. At fifteen years old you can get your learner’s permit, at sixteen you can get your driver’s license, at eighteen you can serve and even die for your country and vote, and at twenty-one you can consume alcohol. What more beyond these milestones do you have to pass before you’re considered an adult? Well, I used to tell the young people in my church, especially those who were about to head off to college, that a number on a calendar and an age on a driver’s license did not make them adults. There are plenty of “adults” who have never grown up. If we shouldn’t define an adult merely by age, then what qualifies a person to be an adult?
As a minister, I naturally turned to the Scriptures to encourage young people to define their identity in terms of Christ, the true man, rather than according to our cultural mores. Christ, in contrast to Adam, defines the nature of humanity. Christ, the uncreated image of God, became a man and his life was marked by obedience and fidelity. The first Adam, though he was created in the image of God, was disobedient and unfaithful. If Christ, therefore, defines true humanity, then this means he defines what should characterize a mature, grown, adult, whether male or female.
I told the young people in the church that it didn’t matter whether they had money, a driver’s license, independence from their parents, a spouse, children, a house, etc. All of these things do not define what it means to be a man or woman of God, a mature adult who reflects the image of Christ. Rather, an adult should be marked by obedience to God’s revealed law. You should look at God’s law and ask whether you are seeking to be faithful to that which God has revealed. Are you pursuing the means of grace? Are you sitting under the regular preaching of the word? Are you pursuing greater conformity to Christ, repenting of your sin and seeking to manifest Christ’s holiness in word, thought, and deed? Are you pursuing this greater holiness through your union with Christ and the means of grace, or are you trying to do this under your own spiritual steam? Are you obedient?
Are you faithful? Yes, fidelity should mark our general disposition towards God’s law, taking into account, of course, our failings and repentance. In other words, I never told the young people they needed to be sinless. Rather, they needed to seek immediate remedy and take responsibility for their sin when they discovered it. But when I talked to them about fidelity, I had in mind the basic principle of keeping your word. Are you a person who stands by your commitments? Does your “yes” mean yes, and does your “no” mean no? Are you on time to events? Are you trustworthy? Can people count on you to do what you say you will do? Do you keep your commitments even at great personal cost? In other words, is your word binding even if it means that you’ll suffer financial burdens or great loss of time?
The more I have reflected upon what it means to be a mature adult, I have come to the conclusion that two of the chief defining characteristics of biblical adulthood are obedience and fidelity. Everything else, in my opinion, will fall into place if these two core characteristics are present. I know plenty of “adults” who don’t think very much of obedience and are untrustworthy. The irony is, as I would tell these young people, “You can be a much more mature adult than many people much older than you.” Adulthood, being a man or woman of God, is not defined by your age or the types of cultural activities in which you partake. Your adulthood is defined by Christ—never forget it!