How do you measure spiritual maturity? How do you know if your belief is strong and full? It’s easy to create a measure based on how your religious peer group responds to what you do and say. And this is not without merit if – and this is a big if – the peer group is on a truly solid foundation. The problem is that it’s easy for groups to take the path of least resistance; the path that doesn’t require faith. It’s easy to have a group that thinks success in the group is a good measure of Godward faithfulness.
Another common measure, as silly as this sounds, is how I feel about myself. Am I sincere? Am I better (whatever that means) than most? Do I have most of my glaring weaknesses under control? It’s easy to think that if I can answer yes to these questions my faith must be strong. Actually, the better we feel about ourselves the more likely we’re being dominated by our pride.
These two measures are both self-referencing and lead us down the wrong path because the heart is prone to pride and self-deception. Here, however, is where it gets tricky. While Jesus and the New Testament authors give us helpful instructions on how to think and act as Christians, some of this can be faked. We can talk in a gentle tone and we can execute wonderful prayers and we can be friends with the right people and we can be on the right committees or boards while still being spiritually immature.
So, here are four measures to help us mature:
1. Spiritual maturity means quality time in the Bible
If we really believe that the Bible is God’s word to us, how can we get enough? In
The great cause of neglecting the Scriptures is not want of time, but want of heart, some idol taking the place of Christ. – Robert Chapman
2. Spiritual maturity means regularly confessing and repenting of sin
When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, he included repentance as a key element (Luke 11:4). We are also told to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16). And if we think we have no sin – which we demonstrate in our lack of confession – the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10).
Even though the Christian never outgrows the need to confess and repent, many long-time believers seldom do. Spiritual maturity will know how
Genuine evangelical contrition – as opposed to legalistic, fearful sadness simply owing to threats – is a sorrow for not having holiness. But now you have to be careful here. It is possible to weep over not having holiness not because you love God and want to enjoy all that He is for you in Christ but because you fear the punishment that comes for not having holiness. Many a criminal will weep when his sentence is read, not because he has come to love righteousness, but because his freedom to do more unrighteousness is being taken away. That kind of weeping is not true evangelical repentance. And it does not lead to radical Christian obedience. – John Piper
3. Spiritual maturity means a life of prayer
An intimate life with Jesus will be a life of prayer. If our lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are aligned with God and God’s plan, we will pray. If Jesus is everything for us, we will pray.
- Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. – Rom 12:12
- …praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints – Eph 6:18
- …pray without ceasing – 1 Thes 5:17
To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing. – Martin Luther
Prayer is life passionately wanting, wishing, desiring God’s triumph. Prayer is life striving and toiling everywhere and always for that ultimate victory. – G. Campbell Morgan
4. Spiritual maturity means giving and serving
The more we absorb the gospel rightly, the more we will abandon self and joyfully give/serve. Rightly understood, we exist to joyfully bring glory to God and so we trust Jesus for our needs and live as true disciples who actually follow in his footsteps. In other words, being spiritually mature means that we not only understand the call to serve but also embrace it as our purpose. After all, Jesus came to serve and not to be served (Matt 20:28).
- And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. – Mark 9:35
- If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. – John 12:26
- Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. – 1 Cor 15:58
God can achieve His purpose either through the absence of human power and resources, or abandonment of reliance on them. All through history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on Him made possible the unique display of His power and grace. He chose and used somebodies only when they renounced dependence on their natural abilities and resources. – Oswald Chambers
Instead of being overwhelmed and discouraged that this doesn’t represent your life the way it should, respond in humility and prayer. Admit your difficulty and start by allocating time to focus on Bible study, confession, prayer and giving/service.
In the end, these four measures of spiritual maturity seem to humble me more than anything. They make me know that any good thing comes from God and God’s work in me.