How To Grow Up (And Toughen Up) Spiritually
The goal of the Christian life is spiritual maturity. Just like the object of human birth is full growth to adulthood, the object of spiritual birth is spiritual growth and eventually spiritual maturity. Only when a believer is mature can the Holy Spirit attain His purposes in and through them.
Since we are exhorted in God's Word to "press on to maturity" (Hebrews 6:1), it's important to be able to identify what a mature Christian looks like. If our understanding of maturity is vague, then our response to God's call for maturity will also be vague. Thankfully, the Bible has no shortage of examples! The original apostles and early church leaders kept the goal of personal spiritual maturity at the center of their attention. They consistently taught it as well as modeled it. This teaching can be found in 1 Peter 3, Romans 12, Ephesians 4-6, Galatians 5 and many, many others. The Word of God is clear - mature believers act differently than spiritual children.
The purpose of writing this is to point out some of the more prominent characteristics of Christian maturity to help us evaluate our progression. While you're reading this, keep in mind that maturity is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives, not the product of our own efforts apart from God.
So how do we define maturity? A mature Christian is one who has developed habits of righteousness in relationship to God, to self, and to other people. I'm using the word "habits" because maturity is when doing what's right has become second nature to you - you simply act on your righteousness without even thinking! Simply put, spiritual maturity is the process where we increasingly tend to relate rightly to God, to ourselves, and to other people.
While maturity may be a believer's goal, it's important to realize that it's a process that will never be complete in this life! Even though we're called to push toward spiritual growth, we will only be completely mature when we're standing before the throne of God!
But what are some of the characteristics of more mature believers? How do I know if I'm maturing in Christ or simply getting older?
#2 - Seasoned By Time
It's great when a new believer is burning with passion! It is an amazing thing to see someone so grateful that they're saved that they tell everyone about what Jesus did for them! But...too often we emphasize zeal over knowledge.
In Romans 10:2, the apostle Paul warned us of a "zeal without knowledge." It's good to be zealous for the things of God - but it also takes time and discipline to get to know these things. This is why Jesus never told us to go into the world and save souls. Making someone a believer is not the goal of the great commission! Jesus' goal for His church was to "go into all the world and make disciples!" This is very different than winning someone for Jesus.
Making someone a disciple of Jesus takes time. In order for someone to become a disciple, they have to learn how to crucify their old nature. If they're going to become a disciple, they have to learn how to listen to Jesus (and those He placed in the church), how to study the Word of God, and how to keep their lives in scriptural order. These things take time.
If you want to take your first steps toward Christian maturity, you need to recognize that you aren't going to grow up overnight. Commit yourself to the long haul. Steady yourself against the temptation to give up and do things your own way.
Make a choice today that you'll stay in the discipline of God's Word as time goes by!
#1 - Marked By A Clear Conscience
Acts 24:16 "So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man."
Your conscience isn't the standard you live your life by - it only bears witness to the standard. In other words, whatever you've been taught about right and wrong is what your conscience will convict you of. Just because your conscience tells you it's right doesn't always mean it is! Someone who was raised in Nazi Germany had a conscience that told them it was ok to kill Jews. Did that make it right? Of course not! Why? Because it broke the laws from God's Word!
If we're going to grow up Spiritually, we need to have a conscience that has been renewed by God's Word. You see, the Bible (when it is read, preached, and meditated) will teach our conscience the real meaning of right and wrong!
Once we re-train our conscience with God's Word - maturity demands that we keep it clear of offense! We keep our conscience clear whenever we make the free choice not to sin. This is called obedience. While no human can ever be fully obedient, mature Christians must at least have a heart that says, "I want to obey God and I intend to be obedient to what His Word says."
It's immature Christians that make excuses for their disobedience. Immature believers either a) never retrained their conscience to know right and wrong or b) ignore their conscience when it's telling them to obey God's Word.
But what if we do sin and soil our conscience? What do we do then? If this happens, we need to keep our conscience clear by bringing our sin to God in repentance and receive His forgiveness. This is where some Christians fall short of maturity - they keep their conscience guilty through incomplete repentance.
Incomplete repentance is when we recognize our sin and ask God for forgiveness without ever turning our back to it. In the back of our minds we know that we're going to do this same sin again - and this keeps our conscience dirty. If you want a clean conscience (and your spiritual maturity demands this) then you must repent of your sin! Only then will you be able to receive God's forgiveness and grace.
Part of being a mature Christian is developing the pattern of true repentance from sin and then truly receiving God's forgiveness.
The Skinny On The Bible
The Skinny On Prayer
The Skinny On Fasting
#3 - Development Of The Inward Disciplines
What are these inward disciplines? They are five habits that all mature believers must have. These things should be so instinctive and habitual that they show up in your life without thinking. The five habits are these:
All Christians are called to have an open, daily relationship with God in prayer. This is how we come to know the Fathers love. This is how we experience our intimacy with God. And this is also how we submit every area of our life to Him.
Matthew 6:6 "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place;and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."
The Study Of Scripture
Every mature Christen will listen to God's Word and learn how to apply it to their life. In fact, His Word is all-sufficient to equip a person to do God's will.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
Listening To God
Mature Christians learn how to hear the voice of God.
John 10:27 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me."
More than simply reading, mature believers have learned how to meditate on the scriptures. Meditation is a pleasant murmuring of Scripture to yourself
Psalm 1:2 "But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night."
Meditation is a quiet reflection on the Words of Scripture
Psalm 119:99 "I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation."
It is a prayerful review of what God has already said to you.
1 Timothy 4:15 "Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all."
You see, meditation makes the Bible spiritual revelation - and it's this revelation of the scriptures that produces spiritual maturity.
Fasting is a time of placing the desires of the flesh under the desires of the spirit. It could also be called a time of "disciplining the soul."
Matthew 6:16-18 "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place;and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."
Notice that Jesus says "when you fast" not "if you fast". Fasting isn't optional. In fact, this one act of denying your natural desires in order to pursue spiritual things is probably one of the most essential parts of spiritual maturity. Fasting brings your natural self under submission and results in greater spiritual discipline.
#4 - Perseverance
A spiritually mature person doesn't run away when they get into a painful situation. When they face personal defeat or weakness, they stand firm in the power of God. If you want to grow up spiritually, perseverance is something you must develop.
Perseverance is faith in the Grace of God. It is the spirit (the mental attitude) that overcomes the world. It doesn't passively endure or put up with the problems of life - perseverance actively overcomes the world! Another word to describe it would be "fortitude" - an internal strength that rises above external pressure.
Romans 5:3-4 And not onlythat,but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
2 Timothy 1:12 For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnaresus,and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us
James 1:2-3 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
Perseverance is a must for mature believers. The Christian life isn't easy. No one said we were recruited for peace - we're in the middle of the greatest war the universe has ever known! If you're going to turn tail and run when times are rough, there's not much use for you in the kingdom of God. It's time to grow up and toughen up, Christian!
Amazon Results For Growing Up Spiritually...
Q: What is a mature Christian?
A: Someone who has developed habits of righteousness in relation to God, to self, and to other people.
Stop today, and evaluate your spiritual life:
Do you take time each day just to be with God?
Do you have a clear conscience (one that lines up with God's Word)?
Are you developing the inner disciplines of prayer, studying scripture, listening to God, meditating on what He's said to you, and fasting?
Are you persevering in spite of the difficulties?
God wants us to push on toward maturity - let's not lag behind in spiritual childhood!