Spiritual maturity. What is it? How do we recognize it? Christians are living in pursuit of it, but is it easily discernible? Some of us at varying times even think we posses "it". Needless to say it is of utmost importance that believers fully understand what Christian maturity looks like. Some may feel that it is knowing the right doctrine or the timeline of the "end times"; Being pre-millennial or Amillennial. Some would say that having the right standards and incorporating modesty into their lifestyle is one of the keys to maturity. Spiritual gifts are posessed by all true disciples of Jesue but do not necessarily indicate a certain level of maturity. Is maturity a product of being in church every time the doors are open? Surely if someone is an elder, pastor or deacon in a local church they must be mature, right? Does the amount of Scripture one has committed to memory beget spiritual maturity? Obviously, some of these things can be helpful to a believer as they seek maturity but in and of themselves they certainly miss the mark.
Spiritual Maturity can be defined first of all as a process. A process which is never completed and is always tested. During this process, a believer is becoming something, or rather someone. His understanding of Scripture shapes his responses to life. As he gains wisdom and understanding from Scripture he is able to recognize his sin, humble himself when he fails, forgive when wronged and move on toward Christ-likeness. During this process he is shaping and making disciples of those around him, not necessarily by his words but by his manner of living (Philippians 1:27). His words and actions are merely a reverberation of who he is becoming. Maturity is the intersection of two things: who a believer is becoming and who he already is in Christ (Romans 3:24; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17, 21; Ephesians 1:3; 2:6,10; Colossians 2:10; Philemon 1:6). In Christ a believer is complete. In practice he is not. He is far from it.
Maturity is the intersection of two things: what a believer is becoming and who he already is in Christ
Maturity does not mean a believer will always respond the right way or always say and do the right things. Growing in Christ is a process through which a Christian progresses where his character is slowly transformed from the inside-out as he becomes more and more like Jesus Christ. This growth is slow, painful, and self effacing. Put another way, maturity is a process by which Christ becomes the absolute center of a believer's life (2 Peter 1:5-9). His every decision, motivation, likes, dislikes, thoughts and actions increasingly conform to those of Christ's. In theological terms this is called sanctification.
The avenue through which maturity is attained is not an easy one. Spiritual growth is usually increased in the midst of discomfort, pressures, hardship and trials where we become more and more dependent upon God's Grace (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is here where we glory in our infirmities and shortcomings so that the power of Christ might be made known. We give up protecting ourselves and manipulating our situation to ensure that we come out on top. We allow ourselves to be wronged and pray for our attackers while at the same time understanding that God is in control. We mourn over our own sin first before looking at others. We hunger and thirst for righteousness because we just can't seem to get enough.
Mature believers see reconciliation as the first and only option, not the last resort. 2 Corinthians 5:18
Why is spiritual growth so difficult? It is slow, painful and against our self centered nature. We look in the mirror and don't like what we see (James 1:23). We are continually tempted to put ourselves first. We know what others should do but resist taking the same advice. On the road to spiritual maturity we are forced to deal with our past, our present and to consider our future. We have to deal with the painfulness of the sins of others and how they have hurt us. We all have different places from which we are coming but the goal is the same. God in his sovereignty has allowed our past and is giving us grace in the present to forgive and bear fruit.
One thing that makes this growth process difficult is the fact that spiritual maturity is not a primary goal of American Christianity today. The goal today is more people and more power. If we have more people we get more money to fund more building and more programs and we feel like we are doing more for God. With more people comes more power and influence. But, God needs neither our money nor our influence. He is pursing us to make us like Christ--lowly, meek and of no reputation. We are not building the Church, He is.
We are not building the Church, God is.
If we could only embrace this teaching we would no longer see church splits, church committee fights, and power struggles. There would be no jokes about deacon's meetings ending in fist fights and we would no longer resemble the world in the way we resolve conflicts. The world's philosophy (take care of yourself) would no longer be the underlying presupposition of today's church. Scripture properly understood and applied to the heart is our answer.
Maturity is patient, kind to those who are not kind, does not envy the successes of others, it is is not boastful. Maturity does not behave in a way that would result in unbelievers questioning God's power to change a life. Maturity is not provoked to accuse others. It does not think evil of other believers because a mature believer knows he may not have the full story. He believes the best, hopes for the best outcomes for others and prays for those who wrong him (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Normally we view trials as inturruptions in God's will for our lives. When, in actuality they are messengers from God to grow and mature us.
The sign of spiritual maturity is fruit, the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 gives us a very interesting perspective on the connection between suffering and maturity. Let's put a face on this fruit and examine what it really looks like. Love for the unlovely. Love for those who hurt me and don't love me the way I would like them to love me. Joy in the midst of circumstances that are hard, grieving and draining. Joy because of the gratefulness I have toward God for his manifold blessings. Peace in the middle of the trials of my faith showing that my trust really is in God alone and not my own abilities. Long suffering or patience with those people and events that interrupt my schedule and cause my life to take a turn that I did not anticipate. Gentleness with those who attack my motives or just plain irritate me. Goodness describes God alone (Matthew 19:17) but He allows me to partake of this part of his character as I look to bless those around me. Faith to see what God sees in the trials of life (Romans 8:28). Meekness is who I am as I grow in Christ-likeness and refrain from having to have the last word and always answer my accusers. Temperance or self control becomes my guiding principle as I live a life consecrated to God but free of offense in the way I present myself. I speak the truth but, in love and allow God's truth to be the offense (1 Corinthians 1:18), not my methods or style.