I’ve needed to bump up my weights (for exercise) for awhile. Finally did so. Heavier dumbbells. The tortures of a new resistance band. I’m sure it’s good for me, but I can barely feel my arms right now.
So, let’s talk: spiritual maturity. (Prompt submitted by longtime reader and encourager Jodi. Thank you, Jodi).
I’ve sat and pondered this for awhile, for what, exactly, is spiritual maturity? Ultimately, I believe that it is the process of becoming more like Christ, also known as sanctification. In simple terms, this means to be set apart. To be different. To have all the distractions removed and rough edges smoothed so we can be the people that God wants us to be.
We cannot naturally achieve sanctification. While every human has the capacity to do good things, our nature is warped at a fundamental level. When, through the beauty of God’s prevenient grace (the grace that “goes before,” the action of God drawing all people to Himself) we come to the crisis of repentance and cry out to Christ for forgiveness, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. He begins to “unwarp” our nature. In both a moment and across a lifetime, which is a mystery and I am nowhere near smart enough to explain to you, He purifies and completes us. I suppose we could think of it as a prisoner being set free, but taking a really long time to figure out that he has been freed. He needs help in learning to drop old patterns and habits, to learn to live as a new person, in a new way.
John Wesley loved the topic of sanctification. Really loooooooooved it. ‘Twas his jam. In the opening paragraph of the sermon Circumcision of the Heart, he wrote:
…he is only preaching to them “Jesus and the resurrection,” with the necessary consequence of it, — If Christ be risen, ye ought then to die unto the world, and to live wholly unto God.
He went on:
That “circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter;” — that the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision, or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it…
And so one does not have to be in vocational ministry or in possession of a theological degree in order to be spiritually mature. Growth in grace and Christlikeness is a natural consequence of right relationship with God. We don’t always get it right. We stumble. We fall. It can take a long time for us to let go of wrong beliefs and cherished sins. In the end, though, God will have His way in us. Through the gentle yet at the same time head-walloping conviction of the Spirit, He will enable us to pry our white-knuckled hands off of those things He wants us to release (that is, if we aren’t consistently refusing to listen to Him and hardening our hearts, which is always a danger).
When talking to His disciples about false teachers, Jesus said:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
– Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV, emphasis mine)
God, the Master Gardener, is in the business of resurrecting bad trees. He waters, feeds and prunes. If we submit to the process – because we always have choices – we will produce the good fruit of:
…love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
– Galatians 5:22b (NKJV)
These traits are ours in an instant, yet they take a lifetime to develop. The Spirit has to train our minds to think differently and teach our hearts to feel differently. We start off as cranky little babies, focused only on ourselves. In time, with His patience and mercy, we move toward becoming the light-bearing, Gospel-breathing people He wants us to be.
Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. It all boils down to a simple question: Do I want to submit to God in this thing or not? Sometimes it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” dance. I freely confess to you that there are days when my answer is “no.” Then I get to learn things the hard way. I get a rough lesson in the necessity of not responding to people and life like a squawking toddler. Thankfully, there is grace.
In short, spiritual maturity means that we grow up.
And boy, do we ever need to grow up.
For all posts in the Sketches series, go here.