The New Testament is full of exhortations and commands to grow in our Christian faith, to become all we can be in Christ, and to be mature, wise and complete as Christ followers. Spiritual maturity is the aim of the Christian, not remaining a spiritual baby or toddler.
We are to grow up in Christ, in knowledge, in wisdom, in discernment, in love, and in truth. But regrettably so many Christians have never progressed beyond spiritual infancy. They may have been believers for many years now, but they have never really grown and matured.
In the physical world we would be massively worried about a baby that never grew and developed, but remained the same in size, in need, and in immaturity. We should be equally concerned when this occurs in the spiritual life. The Bible often mentions this. Hebrews 5:11-14 is one such passage:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
So let me look at five signs or indications of spiritual maturity. There would be others that could be added to this list of course, but these will do for a start. This is a spiritual checklist to help us all see just how far along in the Christian life we have progressed.
One. Having the fear of God rather than the fear of man. This is one of the key marks of the mature Christian. He is not really worried about what others think of him, but he is very concerned about what God thinks of him. This may be one of the most important lessons any believer can grasp.
In Proverbs we read an important passage on this: “The fear of man brings a snare” (Prov. 29:25). Yet so many Christians are petrified by what others might say or think about them, but seem so little interested in what God’s assessment is.
They are men pleasers instead of God pleasers. They have things back to front, and that is why they are not growing. They will remain spiritual babes until they get this right. God must come first, and the opinions of men must take second place. (But see below – there is certainly a need to listen to the counsel of others.)
A healthy fear of God is the best place we can be in. A paralysing fear of man is the worst place we can be in. The passages on all this are numerous. Here are just a few of them:
-Deuteronomy 6:24 The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God.
-Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
-Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
-Jeremiah 5:22 “Should you not fear me?” declares the LORD. “Should you not tremble in my presence?”
-Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
-John 12:42-43 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
-Galatians 1:10 Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Two. Having a consistent and regular Bible study, prayer and fellowship life. Those who do not read and study the Word of God on a daily basis, pray on a daily basis, and fellowship with other believers, can hardly expect to become a solid, mature disciple of Christ. They will forever remain spiritual infants in need of being spoon fed and led about by others.
That we need these spiritual disciplines is of course Christianity 101. Yet so many believers who are floundering and getting nowhere just don’t seem to get it. They will tell me they seem to be unable to progress in their Christian walk, and when I ask them about their devotional life (reading the Word, prayer, worship, fellowship), they tell me it barely exists.
Well, no wonder they are just not getting anywhere. And the analogy I used above applies here as well. If we saw a ten-year-old who was the size and weight of a three-year-old, we would all know something was radically wrong. The first thing we would inquire about is whether the child was getting proper nutrition: regular, daily food and drink.
If we discovered that this was not the case we would be shocked, and the negligent parents would likely be locked up. Yet too many believers are guilty of the same thing: they are woefully stunted in their growth, and should be arrested for spiritual self-neglect. We either engage in daily spiritual nourishment, or we will remain a runt.
Simply read Psalm 119 if you want to know how utterly crucial it is to daily immerse yourself in God’s word. Let me mention just one verse, v. 95, “How I have loved your Law, and it is my meditation the whole day!” And look at the life of Christ or any of the great saints of church history to see how imperative a regular prayer life is.
And passages such as Hebrews 10:24-25 inform us about the crucial need to stay in close fellowship with other committed believers, and not stay isolated and alone: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Three. Being able to handle criticism and being willing to admit you are wrong. Regular criticism is sadly part of the job description of the mature Christian – whether or not you are a leader. The truth is, you will constantly be criticised and condemned – and especially by other believers.
Think of your most loved and respected spiritual leaders or teachers. Every one of them will have heresy hunters trying to convince you that they are no good apostates, heretics and false prophets. They readily attack these folks, and they will attack you as well.
Indeed, over the years I have been accused of everything under the sun. I have had the critics inform me of all sorts of things I must repent of: of being a cultist, of not being a real Christian, of not believing Scripture, of being a hater, of not having the Spirit, of being judgmental, of being in deception, of not really knowing Christ, etc.
Being able to withstand all this criticism is a sign of Christian maturity. And as I have so often said, we need to deal with criticism the way we deal with a fish dinner: eat the meat but leave out the bones. When criticism comes, we need to prayerfully and carefully consider if it is of God or not.
If it is – or even parts of it – then we need to learn the lessons, make the course changes, and repent where necessary. But if it is not of God, then we should just let it go and move on. Often criticisms will contain a mix: there are some things we need to heed, and some things we need to ignore. The mature believer carefully listens to instruction from others, and will take on board various criticisms.
Getting angry and lashing out at those who seek to speak truth into your life is a sign of an immature Christian. Refusing to listen to others is a dangerous place to be in. There are numerous passages in the Book of Proverbs on this. Here are just a few:
-Proverbs 10:17 Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life,
but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.
-Proverbs 15:31-32 Whoever heeds life-giving correction
will be at home among the wise.
Those who disregard discipline despise themselves,
but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.
-Proverbs 25:12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold
is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.
Four. Not being blown about by every wind of doctrine. The Bible speaks to this often. The mature believer is solid in biblical truth and doctrine. He knows his Bible well and has a firm grasp of basic Christian truths. He knows the Word and basic Christian theology well enough to easily spot heretical and false teachings and practices.
Just as a bank teller can easily pick out a counterfeit note because he knows the real thing so well, the mature Christian can easily spot false teaching and deceptive doctrines because he knows the Bible very well indeed, and has a good grasp of theology and at least some church history.
This is how we stay on the straight and narrow. It keeps us from getting sucked into deceitful cults and false doctrine. And it also helps us to live the Christian life in a biblically balanced fashion. We will not heed all sorts of dopey and unbiblical claims about how we are to live and act as Christians.
Again, plenty of texts can be appealed to here. These are just some of them:
-Ephesians 4:14-15 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
-1 Timothy 4:11-16 Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
-2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
-Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
-Hebrews 13:9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.
Five. Not being blown about by every emotional up and down. I know of far too many believers who have been Christians for many years now, yet they seem to live their lives on emotional roller coasters. They are up and down and all over the place.
There are simply too many Christian emotional bungee jumpers around: up, down, up, down. One minute they are on fire for God and the next minute they are flat as a tack and ready to give it all up. Sure, all Christians will go through hot and cold patches, up and down times.
But for the mature Christian there will be a slow and steady upward climb. There will be some setbacks and bumps along the way, but a noticeable upward path will be there. The immature believer never really grows or develops. There is no upward progress, just a lot of floundering and inconsistency.
While God made us to be emotional beings, we are not to let our feelings determine how we live our Christian lives. We are to know what is true, we are to choose and act on what is true, and our feelings should follow on from this. Simply emoting our way through life will never result in us becoming mature Christians.
Again, the Bible would have much to say on this, especially in the Wisdom literature, dealing with various emotions and the need to keep them in check, etc. Here are a few of them:
-Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
-Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
-Proverbs 16:32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
-Proverbs 29:11 Fools give full vent to their rage,
but the wise bring calm in the end.
-Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
As mentioned, there would be other indicators of Christian maturity. But these five would offer us key tests on this. So how do we stack up? Taking regular spiritual inventory of our lives as disciples is always vital. Let us all press on to maturity. As Paul put it in Ephesians 4:11-13:
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.