Not everyone who grows old actually grows up. It’s ideal that maturity and wisdom would accompany adulthood but that’s not always the case. There are plenty of childish and foolish adults. And there are lots believers who have been Christians for many years yet are still spiritual infants, needing to relearn the basics of the Christian faith (Hebrews 5:11-6:1). From the bible’s perspective it’s not acceptable. This problem of spiritual immaturity isn’t a new thing or merely an American Christianity thing. It’s was a problem in the early church as well (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).
Would you consider yourself to be spiritually mature and actively growing on your journey with Christ?
There was a LifeWay research study on discipleship that revealed 55 percent of those who took the survey perceived they had grown spiritually. Yet only 3.5 percent of the people surveyed over the course of a year had any measurable growth. So only 3.5 percent of people reported that there was something different in the way they engaged the Word of God, shared Christ, or served others. Many Christian’s think that they are growing further along than they really are.
So what does it look like to be spiritually mature?
1. The Spiritually Mature Have An Accurate & Sober View of Themselves
There are many marks of spiritual maturity that we can find in the New Testament. The first one that I would highlight is that the spiritually mature have an accurate evaluation of themselves. The Apostle Paul exhorted Christians in Romans 12:3 “…not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” The spiritually immature, like little children, do not evaluate themselves soberly and accurately. How many times have you heard a child boast about how fast, strong or smart they are, thinking they can victoriously beat adults at various challenges. The mature adults, the mothers and fathers, might let these little ones win a game a time or two to build their confidence. But as a father of four children myself, I don’t want my children to think more highly of themselves than they ought to, so dad has to get his win too at basketball, checkers, soccer, baseball, Farkel, Jenga or whatever game we are playing :).
2. The Spiritually Mature Are Doctrinally Stable
The second mark of the spiritually mature is that they are doctrinally stable. They have developed biblical conviction concerning the basic truths of the gospel. In Ephesians chapter four the Apostle Paul wrote:
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV
Paul and other new testament writers struggled for the doctrinal stability of the early church in the face of many heresies, philosophies and traditions. One of many exhortations towards this doctrinal stability is this one:
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in himand established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7 ESV
Like a tree that is rooted and grounded able to withstand winds and storms, so Christians must be rooted and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Becoming rooted and grounded and doctrinally stable is what spiritual growth and maturity look like.
As a new believer in Christ I was watching TV one day, which I don’t recommend for spiritual growth, and a commercial came on with a pitch something like this: ‘If you want a better revelation of Jesus Christ then call this number and we will come to your home and give you a free book and talk you about Jesus.” This was very appealing to me because I was really hungry to grow in my relationship with Jesus and wanted to better understand the bible. So I called the number and asked them to come to my house. Well, the guys who showed up at my door were Mormons and their free book was the book of Mormon. I was not rooted and grounded enough to protect myself from their false gospel. Thankfully my step father who was more mature in the Christian faith showed up and defended me like a shepherd would if a wolf crept in among the flock of sheep. The spiritually immature are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Like little children they are vulnerable to being persuaded by the person with a reasonable and convincing opinion or teaching. This is one reason why new Christians must actively seek to grow up spiritually.
3. The Spiritually Mature Speak the Truth in Love
The third mark of the spiritually mature is that they communicate the truth in love. The previous mark was a doctrinal one and this is a relational characteristic. In Ephesians 4:15 following the verse we just looked at Paul contrasts the instability of the immature Christians with:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV
It’s the spiritually immature who avoid speaking the truth when it’s difficult or they may speak the truth harshly, insensitively lacking grace and love. They may also avoid others when there is a conflict giving an offender the silent treatment. In contrast the spiritually mature have learned to work through conflict by lovingly communicating the truth. Christians need truth and love to flourish in their spiritual journey with Christ and Christian communities should be saturated with those two elements. The spiritually mature help cultivate those elements of truth and love in a church. Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14,18) and those who are growing spiritually are moving more towards being full of grace and truth. They are moving more towards communicating the truth in love. This is a mark of spiritual maturity and also the means by which growth occurs in the Body of Christ.
4. The Spiritually Mature Are Others-Oriented
The fourth mark of the spiritually mature is that they are others-oriented. They have learned to be more like Jesus which is synonymous with spiritual maturity. Every Christian is predestined to be conformed into His image (Romans 8:29). The spiritually mature do what Paul exhorted the Philippian church to do:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… Philippians 2:3-5 ESV
The spiritually mature have grown up and are actively growing into Christ-likeness. Jesus wasn’t selfishly seeking others to serve him. He humbly, lovingly and sacrificially served others.The spiritually mature move from selfishness to love and from self pity to rejoicing in the victories of others. They have learned to live, speak and think more like Jesus.
Paul rebuked the spiritually immature Corinthians, who were very gifted with spiritual gifts but lacked the fruit of the Spirit. They were acting like childish toddlers and he wrote to them saying:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 ESV
I have 4 young children and I know the displeasure of having strife, jealously and conflict in the home over the smallest things. Sometimes it’s so ridiculous that my wife and I just laugh at the immaturity of our children. It may be funny now but when our children are 20 or 30 years old it won’t be funny if they are still throwing temper tantrums and whining about the little things that steal their joy now.
Paul likened his ministry to the Thessalonians to that of parental care of a father and mother (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8,11-12). The spiritually mature take on the mindset of a parent who focuses on helping their children reach their full potential and become productive citizens in society. To become those who don’t just consume but contribute to the good of their family, church, community, city and world.
5. The Spiritually Mature Are Skilled With God’s Word
The fifth mark of the spiritually mature is that they are skilled in God’s Word. The author of the book Hebrews in chapter 5 wrote these strong words to Christians that should have been much further along on their journey with Christ:
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV
The spiritually mature have exercised discernment with and practiced obedience to the word of God. They filter thoughts, ideas, decisions and actions through the grid of Scripture. They allow the Scripture to influence what they consider good or evil developing biblical convictions based on Scripture. They have become acquainted with the basics of the Christian faith and teach them to others. They’ve adapted the mindset of a parent who seeks to help their children grow by faithfully teaching them.
With our 4 children my wife and I have different expectations for each child being at their different stages of development. With our newborn, Justus, we only expect him to eat, sleep and poop. And look really cute. When he needs our help to eat, sleep or poop or change a poppy diaper then we expect him to let us know by crying about it because he doesn’t speak actual words yet. Now for our 7 year old, we don’t expect him to cry when he’s hungry, sleepy or needs to use the restroom. We expect him to use his English words to communicate to us that he has a need or we expect that he will take care of it himself since he is able to do so. He can get snacks from the kitchen on his own. He can make cereal or a sandwich for himself and he doesn’t need us to feed him any longer. He can even help his sisters and baby brother since he has become a more skilled and responsible human.
If your a new Christian and still feeding on milk that’s great. God delights in you and your growth every step of the way. My wife and I delight to see the development of our children. For those of you who have been Christians for years if your not serving and discipling someone else helping them grow in their faith it may be time for you to transition form being self-oreinted to others-oriented. It’s time to grow up into a spiritual mother or father who is responsible and sacrificial for others. You might start by praying for others who are struggling. Remember that Christ-likeness is the goal in spiritual maturity. We want to think, speak and live more like Jesus. That brings much glory to God and does much good to those around you.
What are the next steps that God has for you on your journey with Jesus? No matter how far along you are on your journey there will be next steps for you. What are they? You may want to ask God what His most pressing issue with you is right now.
Since we just looked at marks of the spiritually mature I think it would be fitting for me to write about some key ways that you can grow into a spiritually mature Christian in my next blog post.