Some folks think maturity is a simple function of age: the older you are, the more mature you are. A quick read of any newspaper would disabuse us of that notion. We find countless accounts of people of all ages acting in a manner easily characterizable as immature.
When it comes to spiritual maturity, it’s easy to proceed in the same (mistaken) way we do in other areas. Has a person been a church member for a good while? Has he or she held offices or positions of influence in the church? Is he or she a pastor or teacher? If the answer to these questions is Yes, then we assume he or she must be spiritually mature. But if the bible is our guide, we’ll have to set aside this way of thinking.
If tenure and office aren’t the best clues, what might we look for? While it might not be best to go around judging the spiritual maturity of others (though this is useful when we figure out who we can learn the most from), such criteria will have their greatest usefulness in our own quest for spiritual maturity.
To the end that we might grow in our spiritual maturity, here are some things to look for in yourselves or in others:
Do I pursue growth in my relationship with God in an active way or merely in a passive way? If all I do is sit in church on Sunday morning, I’m being pretty passive. The crowd is big enough (more than 15-20 is a crowd!) that I can be functionally anonymous. I don’t need to be challenged by anything I see or hear. I don’t even have to pay attention â€“ just appear to be paying attention. I speak as one with experience. I’ve tuned out many times and resorted to counting light bulbs or looking for patterns in ceiling tiles. If I were truly hungry for spiritual maturity, I would get into a smaller group â€“ where hiding is more difficult â€“ and allow myself to be subjected to challenges from the people around me. If I depend on myself for the evaluation of my spiritual condition I am likely to get it wrong â€“ to be deceived. I need the insights and provocation of the people around me to waken me from my lethargy and sin. I would also engage with the bible and Christian literature on my own throughout the week as I hungered to know more of God.
Do I live as a practical atheist or do I look for opportunities to trust God? When we talk about atheism we usually have theoretical atheism in mind: the belief that there is no god. Practical atheism is the stance we take when we live as if there is no God. I might believe in God all day long, but if I structure my life in such a way that I never actually trust him, or continually engineer my life so I don’t need him, I’m living like a practical atheist. When I pursue spiritual maturity I allow myself to get into situations where I have to trust God â€“ or I will fail. Quite frequently these occasions come when God calls us to obey in some way that differs from our natural propensities, or when he takes us out of our comfort zones. You don’t have to read much bible to know that God does that habitually.
Do I seek to be a blessing to the people around me, to be and agent of God’s kingdom in their lives? You’ve probably heard me quote Jean Paul Sartre to the effect that â€œHell is other people.â€ Ignorant of Jesus, and without God in your life, you might easily come to such a conclusion. But that’s not God’s plan. God puts us together with people for our mutual benefit. Whether our spouses, children, parents, friends, fellow church members, or total strangers are in view, God gifts us with each other for our mutual good. When I pursue spiritual maturity, I come to the place where I not only take responsibility for myself, but also for the people around me. Cain’s answer, â€œAm I my brother’s keeper?â€ will no longer occur to us as a possible response. The questions boils down to, â€œDo I love people?â€ Not, â€œDo I love the people who love me?â€ or ‘Do I love the undemanding people?â€ but simply, â€œDo I love people?â€
A final (for the sake of brevity) thought: How do I handle things? Are things my reason for existing? Do I hang on to stuff with a death grip? Or am I generous â€“ with my things and my resources? As I pursue spiritual maturity, I will increasingly entrust myself to God rely on his provision. I will share with people in need. I will invest my time, money and skills in advancing God’s kingdom.
Do you want to be spiritually mature? Do you recognize that there’s a gap between where you are and where God wants yo to be? Do you want to do something about that gap? If so, do you have an idea what your next step might be? If not, let’s talk about it.