What does it mean to be spiritually mature? If you took a moment to reflect on the question, what would you come up with in your own words? And how would your words align with God’s Word?
The word maturity suggests growth, development, and even completion. It may remind us of the teenage years and their accompanying transitions, changes, and behavior. For some, teenage behavior continues throughout life and they miss the concept of completion. The Christian’s spiritual maturity is not all that different as it too includes growth, development, and completion (although completion will not occur in our earthly lifetime). Christians can also fall victim to the continuation of spiritual immaturity far beyond our “spiritual teenage years.”
Understanding Spiritual Maturity
Spiritual maturity has to do with growing and developing our faith; therefore, we must examine our development along our journey. As time goes by and our understanding grows of who God is, our relationship with him should deepen. Knowledge is a necessary tool to continue on the path of learning; however, we cannot allow our spiritual lives to be defined by amassing a wealth of knowledge alone. We must learn to apply our faith to our everyday lives. Only when we move from knowledge to application will true—and continual—change occur. What good is it to correctly answer all the questions on a “Christian test” but fail to live out God’s calling for our lives?
Spiritual maturity is a journey, not a destination. We find an example of this in Philippians 3:12-14 as Paul encouraged believers to press on and move forward in their growth. He readily admitted that he had not arrived but was “straining toward what is ahead.” Paul’s words are an excellent reminder that we should never think we have it all figured out; rather, we must face our journey with persistence even when growth includes difficult stretching.
Spiritual Maturity and the Church
As we focus on our personal journey toward maturity, Paul challenges us in Colossians 1:28 to think about it in regard to everyone: “He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
In this sense, our responsibility goes beyond our personal journey to include others along the way. In Ephesians 4, Paul wrote: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (vv. 11-13).
Paul wanted followers of Christ to understand that we are not expected to mature on our own; instead, we are to grow with other believers on our journey toward completion. The idea of an individualistic approach to spiritual maturity is absent from Scripture; rather, we see an emphasis on community, fellowship, and discipleship, all which require other people in our journey.
Presenting Everyone Mature in Christ
Paul’s challenge to us is a tall order and one that should weigh heavy on our hearts and minds. How do we “present everyone fully mature in Christ”? Is it even possible in today’s environment? Absolutely, but as it did 2,000 years ago, it requires intentionality.
In the Great Commission, Jesus called his followers to make disciples of all nations. To teach them to obey all of his commands. This is no simple mission, but one that is very important to our King. We are to look for people to disciple and then teach them obedience to Christ’s commands. Sadly, we often teach the commands (knowledge) while leaving out the obedience (application) component. When we make disciples according to Christ’s command, we help others not only know they are to love their neighbors, we also teach them how to show God’s love to people. Do you see the difference? One approach focuses on getting the answers right; the other focuses on living out our faith in obedience.
Another aspect of discipleship we often overlook is the concept of disciple-making disciples. A natural outcome of discipleship is for a discipled person to disciple others. Jesus modeled discipleship for us. Think about his inner circle (Peter, James, and John), the 12, and the 70 (who were sent out two by two). These were disciples who made disciples. Throughout the New Testament the early church grew rapidly because Spirit-filled believers were obedient to Christ’s commands. We are the continuation of that same church and we must move away from thinking that discipleship is someone else’s responsibility. Yes, discipleship is difficult and time consuming. At times we may feel inadequate, but we must remember Christ’s promise to us: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
Paul and Timothy
Have you heard people speak about having a Paul and Timothy in their life? The premise is simple but effective. A Paul disciples you, and you disciple a Timothy.
Having these two relationships in our lives allow us to grow in different ways. We learn from a Paul’s wisdom, as they have journeyed further ahead and can share lessons learned from their own experiences. This provides us with the advantage of having greater insight into the challenges and complexities of our own faith journey. Much like a parent who walks with their child through the years, helping them navigate life’s challenges, a Paul offers direction in our spiritual formation.
On the other hand, when we have a Timothy in our life, we are given the opportunity to pass on our unique insights. We become a mentor who challenges another to look beyond themselves, to ask thoughtful questions and provide prayerful guidance. Guiding and directing someone on their spiritual journey also takes us deeper into our own walk with Christ. It’s the difference between knowing something about a subject and teaching a class on that subject. When we prepare to teach, we gain a deeper understanding of the topic. The same is true with being a spiritual mentor.
Proper evaluations are important in any type of development. Evaluations help us identify areas we need to sustain and areas where we need to grow. They help us identify gaps in our development and correct our course so we can stay focused on our goals. As we evaluate our spiritual growth, we must be honest with ourselves and ask good questions:
• What do I understand about God today that I didn’t understand three years ago?
• How would I describe my prayer life today?
• How has God moved in my life this past year? How has he stretched me?
• Can I name someone (besides a spouse or child) whom I am discipling?
• Who is my Paul? Who is my Timothy?
• How has my faith impacted my perspectives in life?
Go and Make Disciples
Our faith walk is a lifelong journey full of challenges, rewards, difficulties, and celebrations. We are not meant to be stagnant or static; rather, Scripture is clear that every believer is called to be a disciple-making disciple. No matter where you are in your journey, take hold of Paul’s encouragement and press forward. And remember Christ’s promise that he will be with us to the end of the age.
Brad Himes, the founder of The Groups Conference, continues to work with churches in the areas of discipleship, groups, and leadership development. Currently working at a local hospital in Mattoon, Illinois, he is a Performance Consultant responsible for the design, development, and implementation of leadership development programs.