What is spiritual maturity? How can you tell if you, or someone you know, is growing spiritually? What does a “disciple” look like?
I think these are vitally important questions. It is important for every Individual Christian to ask such questions as they investigate their own spiritual well-being and also attempt to disciple others. It is also of tremendous importance for the local church and it’s leadership to have a basic fundamental grasp of what spiritual vitality is and is not!
Spiritual maturity is difficult to measure as it is largely subjective in nature. But there are some general parameters and guidelines we can look that will help shape our thoughts on the matter. These are just a few of my own. I am not stating that these are in anyway exhaustive and maybe some of you can add to the conversation.
I will first start with some of the things that spiritual maturity is NOT…and follow up in my next blog with some things that spiritual maturity IS!
1- Bible knowledge alone does not equal spiritual maturity. For sure, a spiritually mature person will exhibit some biblical acuity, but it is not altogether certain that someone who is well steeped in a knowledge of all things biblical is also a mature believer. The bible itself talks about a “knowledge that puffs up” (1 Cor. 8:1) and most of us can easily come up with examples of people we may know that exhibit a masterful handle on the holy scriptures yet seem to be lacking in much of its practical application. I recently heard someone say our churches need less bible study groups and more bible practice groups. I think therein lies the key…actually putting into practice the things we learn from scripture is far more valuable to our spiritual growth than a simple intake of knowledge. As a preacher who is often called upon to communicate the truths of God’s word to others, I can often fall into the great temptation myself of simply approaching the scriptures as a set of abstract principles that I can glean some insight from to pass along to others instead of allowing what I do learn from it to fundamentally change my heart and stir my passion for Christ and the gospel. Yes! Study God’s word…but allow it to go further than your mind if you truly want to see spiritual growth in your life.
2. Position alone does not equal spiritual maturity. Just because someone has been put into a position of leadership, does not always mean they are spiritually mature. Of course, we wish the opposite was true, but unfortunately many people get into positions of title, influence and leadership by various other methods and means. I have seen it in the local church context more times than I care to count. Some people get a position because of the family they represent, or how much they “give” to the church or sometimes simply because no one else wants to do it. Sometimes, it just gets handed to the person who didn’t show up to the meeting! 🙂 Frankly, the pastorate isn’t immune either. Just because someone has the title of pastor, elder, bishop etc., it doesn’t necessarily mean they must have spiritual maturity. Sometimes, we can be just as spiritually immature as anyone else. Dare I say, maybe even more so, but I digress. I would say more about that…but it is hurting my feelings. 🙂
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; (Matthew 15:8 ESV)
3- Religious activity alone does not equal spiritual maturity. Again, a spiritually mature Christian will be active in various ways when it comes to living out their faith but mere religious fervor and busyness alone is not a solid indicator of someone’s spiritual maturity. Someone may be able to boast they are at church “every time the door’s are open” or have tithed since they were a toddler, served as a deacon, taught Sunday School or gone on one million mission trips to China (One million may be a bit excessive but you get the point) but all of these things do not necessarily mean they HAVE grown or ARE growing spiritually. In truth, religious fervor is one of our all time favorite tricks to deceive ourselves, and others, into thinking we are more spiritually minded than we are. The Pharisees were better than all of us at this type of thing and you see what Jesus thought of them.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22, 23 ESV)
4- Age (or the passing of time) has nothing to do with spiritual maturity. You would think it would and I suppose it should. But it just doesn’t. It is quite possible for someone to have been a Christian for 80 years and not be as spiritually mature as someone who just met Christ a year ago. Spiritual growth is not measured by the mere passing of time but by what happens during that time! There are plenty of “senior saints” still hanging out in the kiddie pool.
5- Spiritual maturity is not a solo project. There are plenty of aspects of our Christian faith that are meant to be pursued privately but proper growth and discipleship always happens in community with others. Someone who never goes to corporate worship with other believers and never engages in relational community with others simply will not experience proper spiritual growth in the long run. They are short changing themselves and others! This is just simply the way God designed it to happen. Could he grow you as a believer while being a hermit in a cave somewhere? Sure, He is God. Did He design us that way? No. The scriptures are replete with examples of God’s own relational nature and how He created us for the same. The amazing part of discipleship is that He chooses to use broken vessels to help other broken vessels. I don’t know why! I expect it has something to do with His glory…but it is what He has chosen.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17 ESV)
So there are a few things that spiritual growth/ discipleship is NOT! I am sure all of you can come up with a few more….let me hear them! Next time…we will spin this thing positively and talk about what real spiritual maturity looks like! Thanks for reading!
Soli Deo Gloria,