I’ve written a lot this year about spiritual growth and maturity in Christ. The Bible makes it clear that we can grow in our faith and in holiness. It is not a linear path, where we are continually helpless and have no part to play. God tells us we can make steps forward toward him, and is always calling us closer, deeper into His ways.
IN FACT, GROWING CLOSER TO THE LORD IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN YOUR LIFE.
More important than reaching your dreams or even fulfilling your calling. Everything you do in life flows from everything you are in Christ.
The Bible clearly distinguishes between those who are spiritually mature and immature. The Bible is full of examples of the immaturity of believers that came to Christ throughout the known world. Paul and the other Apostles wrote to them in letters that make up our New Testament, and address some major failures, flaws and struggles. Reading about some of these actually give us hope for our own lives today!
1. MATURE CHRISTIANS RECEIVE THE TRUTHS OF THE GOSPEL AS IT WAS PASSED DOWN TO THEM
A faithful follower of Christ doesn’t add to or take away from the Word of God. You are not the Message, and you play no part in the Message. You are simply the messenger. In the words of Greg Laurie, “you are simply God’s paperboy,” delivering the newspaper the declares the Message about Christ and His ways.
Paul is literally saying that even if he himself strays from the pure message about Christ and His teaching, stop listening to Him! Clearly, he desired to pass on the Message of Christ in all its purity, because that is where the power is.
We see this with denominations that are moving away from core aspects of the gospel—for instance, those who say it’s OK to live in sin and not repent. Their adherents implode within just a few years, because when you take away the core of the Message, you take away the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives, and there is nothing left to stick around for.
THERE IS HOLY SPIRIT POWER WHEN WE PREACH THE GOSPEL AS IT WAS PASSED DOWN TO US THROUGH THE SCRIPTURES.
Paul tells us to establish those foundational teachings about Christ, and continue from there to grow to maturity: “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so” (Hebrews 6:3).
2. MATURE CHRISTIANS STOP POINTING OUT EVERYONE ELSE’S SINS, AND START CONFESSING THEIR OWN
A former professor used to say, “I know I am experiencing a fresh touch of God when I stop confessing everyone else’s sins and start confessing my own sins.”
D.L. Moody said, “I’ve had more trouble with myself than any other man I’ve ever met.”
Jesus spoke like this. He taught us: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. You will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).
A mature Christian comes to this place where they finally see their own glaring sins and continually focus on repenting in their own lives, and stop trying to be the watchdogs of the world. They understand the weakness of their own flesh.
There are moments to speak truth to others, and to the world, but those should be much fewer and far between as we focus on our own hearts foremost.
Mature Christians are much more gracious judges of others because those words of Jesus have struck their heart, and they will never be the same.
3. MATURE CHRISTIANS WATCH THEIR WORDS, AND KNOW WHEN NOT TO SPEAK
Immature Christians can’t help but speak their opinions on everything and everyone around them who goes the wrong way. They think they are the world’s spiritual police.
James, known as being one of the deeply mature, early Christians says: “Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way” (James 3:2).
This passage is extremely sobering—first, because James calls it as it is—we all make way more mistakes than we care to admit.
Secondly, spiritual maturity comes through being more careful about the words we say.
Ephesians 4:29 4:2-3 take us further: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” and, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
If you long to mature in your faith in Christ, live in these verses. Pass everything else that you do in your Christian life through them. Walking in humility, gentleness, patience for others. Keep a careful guard over your mouth and your online posts.
4. MATURE CHRISTIANS ARE LESS DEPENDENT ON THEMSELVES, AND INCREASINGLY DEPENDENT ON CHRIST
Mature Christians do not make much of themselves and their good works and progress. They make much of Jesus.
They believe Jesus when he said:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:1-15, Read the full chapter)
Even while mature Christians are growing in faith and holiness, they do not grow more dependent on themselves, because they know their growth comes through abiding in Christ—dependency on Christ alone—and obedience to His command to love God and love others. Mature Christians don’t take credit for themselves, they humbly follow Jesus.
5. MATURE CHRISTIANS MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO BUILD ON THEIR FAITH
As I said at the beginning of this article, we need to guard ourselves against a fatalistic attitude in our faith. The Bible says we can grow and take steps closer to Christ.
The good news is “Come close to God, and God will come close to you” (James 4:8). As we take steps closer to God, we experience His goodness, grace and glory in our lives in new ways.
The Apostle Peter tells us:
“Make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-11).
THESE ARE QUALITIES THAT A MATURE CHRISTIAN STRIVES FOR:
Faith, goodness, knowledge of God from His Word, self-control, perseverance through hardships, godliness (imitating Christ), mutual affection for other believers and for the Church, doing our best to love other people (both Christians and non-Christians) well according to 1 Corinthians 13.
Mature Christians don’t sit idle in their faith, and assume God will do all the work inside them, when God has clearly called them to “make every effort” to draw near to Him.