What is spiritual maturity?
We can define the goal in several ways. I’ve hinted at a few already. Here, I simply offer three characteristics of personal spiritual maturity. Dallas Willard describes a spiritually mature person this way: “the apprentice is able to do, and routinely does, what he or she knows to be right before God because all aspects of his or her person have been substantially transformed.”
Here are practical and observable benchmarks that indicate a person is growing into Christlikeness.
1. Mature Christians don’t defend themselves when found to be wrong.
In fact, they are thankful to be found out and will fulfill the Proverb, “Correct the wise, and they will love you” (Prov. 9:8 NLT). This response stands out in our world because we all want to defend ourselves, explain our motives, and rationalize our behavior.
In addition, Christlike people do not defend themselves against false accusations. They say what is needed to establish the facts so that justice can be done, but they are not obsessed with defending their reputation. If wronged, they accept it and entrust final justice to God. In this they follow the model of Jesus who made himself of no reputation. Our reputation is something we give up when we decide to follow Jesus.
2. Mature Christians don’t feel they are missing something by not sinning.
“It is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and rich” (Ps. 37:16). Mature people do not love sin. This does not mean they are no longer subject to temptation or that they are perfect. It means they aren’t attracted to the temporary and soul-destroying pleasures of sin. They do not feel deprived, as if God is withholding something good from them. It does not pain them that evildoers—or even the distracted semi-Christian population—live in riches and enjoy much recreation.
The mature man does not think he is missing out by not lusting or engaging in pornography. The affections of the mature have changed, and their heart is attuned to a better sort of joy. They have developed a taste for other pleasures and find happiness in holiness. This shift is key to leaving behind sinful behaviors.
3. Mature Christians find it easier and more natural to do God’s will than
to not do it.
They take seriously what Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light” (Matt. 11:29–30 NLT). Being formed to the full measure of the stature of Christ means that we want to do his will because our will is being shaped into his will. Increasingly, we do not find it as difficult to obey. In some areas, obeying is easier and more joyous than doing anything else.
I realize that some do not believe this attitude is possible, and I admit that I was once among them. I am not denying the ongoing struggle of the Christian life. We are still engaged in war and must fight intense spiritual battles. But ultimately, obedience is what we want in our hearts. We must do a lot of dying on the journey. Jesus tells us to lay down the burden of religious performance, take up his yoke, and walk with him. He also promises us that his yoke will be light weight and easy to bear. Living in the grace of God and doing his will is not onerous.
Conversion and Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without the Other
By Bill Hull (Zondervan, 2016)
Taken from Conversion and Discipleship by Bill Hull. Copyright © 2016 by Bill Hull. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com
Bill Hull is a discipleship evangelist and the author of the best-selling discipleship classics, The Disciple-Making Pastor and Jesus Christ, Disciplemake. He served as a pastor for 20 years and now leads the Bonhoeffer Project.