What is the Essence of Spiritual Maturity?

For a Christian, an understanding of spiritual maturity and its development in one’s life is, without a doubt, one of the most important elements of our faith. At the same time, it may be one of the most elusive. I believe that virtually every person who names the name of Christ has a desire to become more spiritually mature. Having said that, I want to make an important distinction. While virtually every Christian wants to become more spiritually mature, very few are able to articulate specifically what that means or how to actually accomplish it. Going one step further, very few consistently, intentionally and aggressively act even on what they do know.

This point was dramatically made by George Barna in a poll he released earlier this year with the title: Many Churchgoers and Faith Leaders Struggle to Define Spiritual Maturity. (See http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/264-many-churchgoers-and-faith-leaders-struggle-to-define-spiritual-maturity). In it he asked Christians do define the concept of spiritual maturity. It seems that it is quite elusive.

There are several very legitimate reasons why it is so hard to define. For one, spiritual maturity is a moving target. No matter how much we grow in our faith, there is more to go. Another reason it is so difficult is that there is more than one way to evaluate it and it is easy to focus on one of those methods and leave out others. But perhaps the biggest reason is that there are numerous facets to our maturity and most Christians have simply not made the time or effort to bring the topic to conscious awareness.

Certainly no written article or spoken advice can give an individual spiritual maturity. It is something that each person has to develop individually by putting out great effort over the entire course of one’s life. But for those who are truly interested in actually becoming more spiritually mature, there is guidance about how to begin and progress on that journey. And every person who is willing to commit to spiritual growth and live in ways which develop these qualities in life will begin to travel a road which leads to increasingly higher levels of spiritual maturity.

Spiritual maturity is not about “what you do,” but about “who you become.” Its essence is found in conforming yourself to the character of God. These truths may be the most important thing you read in this entire article. Everything else is nothing more than guidance concerning how to accomplish this most important thing.

The essence of spiritual maturity does not relate to knowledge you gain or skills you acquire. Our goal, as believers in Christ, is not to learn or to do things. Rather it is to become the kind of person whose character imitates God.

Granted, in order to work on this goal we must gain knowledge and do actions. But those are only steps in the process of achieving the real goal – conforming ourselves to the character of God. Your spiritual maturity will advance only to the degree you understand and work toward this end.

As a Christian leader, I consider my number one priority to be to help believers succeed in their spiritual life. Now lest you misunderstand what I am saying, let me define what I mean by that. The reason spiritual maturity needs to be defined is because many people separate their spiritual and material life in their thinking. As a result, many believe that on the one side they can succeed or fail in their jobs, personal relationships, hobbies, leisure activities, civic life, service to other people and philanthropy. Then, on the other side, they believe that they can separate from that and succeed or fail in their relationship with God.

That is simply not true. As a person created in the image of God, the very essence of our personhood is spiritual. No matter how successful you may think you are in the secular arena, if you are not successful in the spiritual sphere, you are an utter failure.

Now if that is true, it becomes very important to define exactly what spiritual success really looks like. I believe that it is summed up in the concept of spiritual maturity. Interestingly, spiritual maturity is not a destination, it is a journey. This does not mean, though, that it is not an objective reality. It is possible to actually define and measure our spiritual growth. What it does mean is that no matter how far you grow in your relationship with God, there is further you can go.

As you consider your own growth, your ultimate success is entirely up to you. No matter how well your church leaders do their job, they cannot make you grow. You must personally take advantage of the opportunities that are before you.

As we consider the idea of spiritual maturity, we must be very careful that we don’t think of it in wrong terms. Wrong thinking leads to lack of growth because it takes you down a path where growth is not possible. Your spiritual maturity is certainly reflected in what you do. But at its core it is based on who you are. Your actions give evidence of your maturity level, but do not prove you are mature. It is possible to “do the right things” but to do them with a wrong motive or attitude. The ultimate measure of maturity is how we measure up to God’s ideal. It is not measured in your knowledge, but in how your knowledge is expressed through your life.

As Christians, we are committed to a worldview that is based on the teachings of the Bible. This revelation from God lays down the will of God as it relates to how we should live our lives. Our spiritual growth and maturity are determined by how well we line up our lives to his revelation. It is not enough to have knowledge of what is required for spiritual maturity. We must actually implement it in our lives – for the rest of our lives. When we are solidly on that journey, we are in a position to live out our Christian worldview.

© 2009 Freddy Davis