Spiritual maturity is a vital element of the Christian journey in becoming a humble disciple whose actions are motivated by love.
At Real Life Ministries where I pastor, we recognize the importance of defining spiritual maturity for Christians. Otherwise, discipleship will be stagnant, and the kingdom will not grow. So what is spiritual maturity?
We must first recognize that spiritual maturity is not a finished product. It’s not a Christian who has nothing else to learn. Even Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on” (Philippians 3:12). Thus, Paul recognized spiritual maturity is not something that will be complete in this life.
Read Jim Putman’s book The Revolutionary Disciple to learn how pride destroys discipleship.
What Spiritual Maturity Is—And Is Not
If even Paul recognized he was not a completed product, then none of us can call ourselves a completed product either. Being spiritually mature doesn’t mean we’re done working; rather, it means we’ve grown as a Christian to a point where we’ve become intentional.
We have skills, but we now intentionally use those skills for good in the lives of others.
So how does one who is spiritually mature live? Here are some guidelines for living as a spiritually mature Christian:
- Walking with Jesus.
- Abiding in Christ.
- Growing in your understanding of the Word.
- Surrendering to God daily.
- Becoming more like Christ continually.
- Remaining committed to the mission of Christ.
- Devoting yourself to the mission God has given you.
Spiritual maturity is an ongoing, daily relationship with the Lord.
It means being a part of a greater spiritual family. In other words, not being proud of your own work but wanting to minister to people and be honest about your own failings so you can build genuine relationships.
Spiritual maturity is not perfect maturity; rather, it’s an honest and humble striving to grow in one’s faith in God. When others interact with you, they sense a humble spirit that is motivated by love.
Ultimately, when you are spiritually mature, you strive to shape your time, energy, and efforts around the mission that God has given you, even as you come to know and love God more. You take that love and share it with others to accomplish his mission of creating more disciples.
Determining Potential Spiritual Leaders
A church will elevate members to different roles based on their spiritual maturity. Here are some questions to keep in mind when considering a Christian for a position of church leadership:
- Tell me about your relationships.
- Tell me about your walk with Jesus.
- What are you reading in the Scriptures?
- Tell me about your relationship with your family.
Often, a person equipped with the spiritual maturity to lead will already be leading through quiet and humble servanthood within the church body. They don’t need people to ask them to help out because they already possess a genuine drive to serve and to do good amongst the body.
This is the kind of person needed for leadership. Remember, the Bible says that knowledge puffs up while love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).
I always want to see knowledge displayed in one’s actions that is motivated by a heart of love. When I see that, someone’s spiritual maturity stands out.
The Five Stages of Spiritual Growth
Here is another practical way to judge spiritual maturity in an individual. Just as there are different stages of a person’s life, different stages also illustrate spiritual growth in a Christian:
- Born Again
- Young Adult
As this list shows, spiritual maturity develops and increases along the way. A Christian’s spiritual growth doesn’t remain stagnant.
1. Born Again Stage
When someone first commits to Christ, they are born again and enter the Christian world just as a newborn enters the world. An exciting new life of endless possibilities await this newly born again individual.
2. Infant Stage
During the infant stage, young Christians are totally dependent on mature Christians and the Word for guidance just as infants depend on their parents. The apostle Peter captured this sentiment: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).
3. Child Stage
After a while, these infants grow into the child stage. Just as a young child will start to recognize the difference between right and wrong, so will a Christian with a childlike faith begin recognizing better decisions to make. But they will still be susceptible to bad influences and will need a spiritual parent to guide them.
4. Young Adult Stage
Next comes the young adult stage. Think of the young adult who begins driving and choosing which college to attend. Their parent trusts them to make bigger decisions and show wisdom. Similarly, the young adult Christian will make wiser decisions and remain plugged into a Christian community and begin taking on more responsibilities.
5. Parent Stage
Finally, the parent stage represents the Christian who parents other believers who are less spiritually mature. They are the ones who offer guidance and wisdom as they disciple newer members of the faith.
All Christians will find themselves somewhere on this scale, which illustrates the importance of discipleship as Christians rely on other Christians to mature in their faith.
Sometimes Christians might stumble and fall into spiritual immaturity at different stages on their spiritual journey. As a heavenly Father who loves his children, God must discipline Christians to teach them the right path forward. He does this because he wants all his children to reach spiritual maturity.
Spiritual Maturity Requires Humility
Christians who are intentional in loving God and others, have spiritual children, and who humbly take part in the body of Christ are spiritually mature.
Further, these characteristics aren’t merely for while we’re at church. They are to be lived out at work and wherever we may be.
A person who reaches spiritual maturity will desire for others to be in church and walking with Jesus. They will organically be in prayer and communion with God, and anyone who knows them will see these things lived out with consistency.
Spiritual maturity is not being a perfect Christian.
When I look for a spiritually mature person, I don’t look for a perfect person who always has the right answers and always does the right thing.
I look to see a heart changed within them. When there’s a mistake, they possess a humility about sin and a broken-heartedness over it.
Humility is a vital part of spiritual maturity. I coauthored a book, The Revolutionary Disciple, that explores the need for humility in discipleship. If a Christian is going to be spiritually mature, they must be humble.
Humble disciples are whom we want to lead us in our spiritual journeys, not those who think they’ve already got everything figured out. Because like the Pharisees, even haughty Christians can be blind guides.
If we don’t understand who we are and what we’re about, then the disciples we make will be far off from the kind of disciples we want.
In your journey of discipleship, be a humble disciple who makes humble disciples.
Remember, everything doesn’t revolve around knowledge, which puffs up. Rather, discipleship revolves around love, which builds up.
We Can’t Earn Spiritual Maturity
Often when we grow in the faith, we believe we’ve earned blessings because of what we’ve done to earn them—that is, jumping through spiritual hoops, so to speak. But we cannot define spiritual maturity in that way.
Children attend vacation Bible school and get stickers for attendance or bringing a friend or a Bible. These are good things, but they create the mindset within children that they earn something because they do good things.
As adults, we often carry this mindset with us and take pride in ourselves for doing good deeds.
But when we serve Christ to earn a reward rather than in the context of a desire for deeper relationship and communion with Christ, we miss the point.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I once knew a man who called himself a Bible teacher. He had a history of jumping from church to church because of disagreements.
He had a following who wanted to hear him teach, and these people followed him to whichever church he went to next.
This man arrived at our church and said he wanted to meet with me. We met, and he quickly let me know he was a Bible teacher and that he wanted to start leading a study at our church.
He informed me of his large following, who would tithe at our church and add to our numbers greatly, given that he was able to teach and be a leader. I was already aware of his pattern though.
So I told the man that spiritual maturity is not just what knowledge a person has about the Bible but about relationships. Even with his education and experience, he wasn’t a good teacher or a healthy leader.
Because as the Bible teaches:
By our love, all will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.
I said to him, “Why would I elevate you into a position to teach when you are not known for your character, humility, maturity, and love?”
Of course, he left.
The man may have had degrees and may have been able to grow church numbers, but those attributes do not equal Christlikeness. Grace, mercy, the fruit of the Spirit, and relational fruit are what make us like Christ.
Spiritual Maturity Is Possible
This brings us back to the question: What does it mean to be spiritually mature? As we’ve seen, spiritual maturity comes from growing in one’s faith. It demonstrates itself in daily living that models itself after Christ’s example.
We will never reach perfect spiritual maturity in this life. Rather, we will all find ourselves at some point in the five stages of spiritual maturity.
We all start out as newborn infants and mature in our faith. And sometimes, we might even find ourselves going backward on the chart and growing spiritually immature, which will require God’s correction.
The end goal, though, should be to reach a stage where we can spiritually parent other believers and teach them to be humble disciples who will create more humble disciples.
Remember, being spiritually mature it is not merely possessing head knowledge but demonstrating that knowledge through actions that are motivated by love.
Jim Putman is the senior pastor of Real Life Ministries church in Post Falls, Idaho. Check out The Revolutionary Disciple to learn more about the need for humility in discipleship.
This post was adapted from the Real Life Ministries podcast episode here. Used with permission.