November 7, 2011

5 Signs of Spiritual Maturity

by Clint Archer

Let me start by saying that it’s not wrong for a new believer to be immature any more than it’s wrong for a child to be childish.

Puerility is only annoying in an adult. When a four year old dons a cape and wears his underwear over his pants, claiming x-ray vision, it’s cute. When his dad does that, it’s concerning (or certifiable).

When you’ve been a believer for many years though, lack of these indicators should be concerning.

Mature believers possess these 5 indicators…

1. An Appetite for Meat

It’s good to enjoy the milk of the gospel with every meal. But some Christians pride themselves on focusing only on the gospel, snubbing the offer of deeper doctrines. The love of doctrine may need to be acquired over time, but it will always be there in a mature believer.

The writer to the Hebrews chides his readers for their reluctance to chew.

Heb 5: 11 [W]e have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

An infant’s meal needs to go through a blender for the first few months of his or her life. When a normal 21 year old still asks mommy to spoon feed him mashed potatoes, it’s creepy and dysfunctional.

 

2. An Imperviousness to Personal Offence   

It is seldom that a mature believer feels offended. Offence is appropriate at any attack on God’s glory, as when the zeal of God’s house consumed Jesus and he aimed an Indiana Jones whip at the overpriced animals in the Temple’s corrupt commercial zone.

But a mature believer doesn’t take personal offense easily. They understand that when someone sins against them, there are bigger issues at stake than their personal rights; e.g. God’s glory, the attacker’s relationship with God, etc.

Take Paul. When he could no longer draw a crowd (being in jail for the gospel and all) rival preachers were pouring salt on his shackle-blisters by preaching the gospel in competition with him. He didn’t get uppity. Instead he seemed buoyed by the news that the gospel was still getting airtime. That’s maturity!

Phil 1: 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then?[So what?] Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.

3. A Conscience Informed by Scripture, not Opinions

When you are first saved, it is natural to have a pendulum swing aversion to anything associated with your former way of life. That can be healthy. But as you mature, you will settle into a more balanced view of liberty. If Jesus says something is ok, then you won’t get upset when some Christians take him up on enjoying that freedom.

Rom 14: 1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.

I love vegetarians—more meat for me. But when a believer abstains from lawful liberty thinking that it makes them more acceptable to God it’s a sign of immaturity. The more you grow in your understanding of grace, the less it grates you that people ignore man-made religious norms. You may still choose to abstain, but your conscience is not plagued by the knowledge that others partake in what you avoid.

4. A Sense of Humble Surprise when used by God in Ministry

God uses sinners to do his work for a good reason: there is no one else from which to choose. Some sinners are used mightily. A mature believer will always feel humbled by his effectiveness in God’s ministry. Often, though, the same privilege will inflate an immature believer’s ego.

1 Tim 3: 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.

Paul’s assumption is that a new convert—who is more likely to be immature—when used by God in ministry, will not possess the sense of surprise and humility that is a sign of maturity.

Compare this to Paul’s own attitude that he is the chief of sinners, used only as means to show the extent of God’s mercy (1 Tim 1:15). He considered himself the unlikely, unsuitable privy pot that was blessed to temporarily house the priceless treasure of God’s gifts (2 Cor 4:7).

5. Tendency to give Credit for Spiritual Growth to God, not People

Our world is an arena for idolatry. American Idol is the most aptly named and unblushingly honest tribute to our celebrity culture. Our hearts are geared to adulate and adore. An immature believer struggles to break the habit of idolizing people. He merely transfers his adulation of worldly celebrities onto spiritual celebrities.

Whether it’s a pedestal for his pastor, or an inordinate reverence for John Calvin, or whatever the symptom, immaturity fails to give adequate credence to God’s power at work.

1 Cor 3: 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Experienced race horse owners have respect for a good jockey, trainer, and veterinarian; but everyone understands the main factor in a win is the horse. We respect good preachers, writers, commentators, and spiritual mentors; but hopefully we recognize the real muscle behind any winning ministry they do.

Leave with this thought: In my life whenever residual immaturity in any of these areas pops up in my spiritual inbox, I am comforted in knowing that I am a work in progress, and I cling to Phil 1: 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Nils Halland

    Thanks Clint,

    Real eye-opener in self assement, gonna steal some aspects for next weeks sunday school lesson on Sanctification if ya don’t mind 🙂

    • Hey Nils, it’s all yours. Teachers are a fraternal of thieves. Soli Deo Gloria.

    • Hey Nils, it’s all yours. Teachers are a fraternal of thieves. Soli Deo Gloria.

  • Whitnie Parish

    excellent! thanks for writing this. i’ll probably print this and reread it often!

    • Whitnie, I’m encouraged that you were encouraged. Thanks for reading.

    • Whitnie, I’m encouraged that you were encouraged. Thanks for reading.

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  • Clint,
    This is an exceptional post. It is interesting how basic spirituality has practical effects, and those effects become a mark of maturity. It is also fascinating how easy the fake thing is to recognize. Thanks for this.

    • Thanks brother. And thanks for being a model of someone who is impervious to personal offence.

    • Thanks brother. And thanks for being a model of someone who is impervious to personal offence.

  • Thanks for sharing. Good word for all of us to hear and apply.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, and especially that you have a desire to apply what you read– another sign of maturity.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, and especially that you have a desire to apply what you read– another sign of maturity.

  • I trust you would be humbly surprised if you knew the powerful impact this piece had on my heart and mind. God bless you bother.

    • That’s kind of you to say. God be praised!

    • That’s kind of you to say. God be praised!

  • Right on point!! 🙂

  • Paul Stewart

    Very insightful Clint. Could you please give me some insight on how you move your congregation to the right on the spiritual maturity continuum. What do you do with the man who is wearing his underwear over his pants, not grounded in the word, and thinks he is God’s gift to the church?

    • Hey Paul, good question. Honestly, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer. It would depend on the person, the relationship you have with him, etc. In general, a consistent expository ministry will either drive immature people away (if they can’t come to terms with the preaching of repentance), or it will slowly mature people. It’s God’s Spirit, through his Word, who does the sanctification. My job is to be faithful to the text, and preach it engagingly and applicably. Then I step back and watch God use it, along with trials, counselling, and other tools to mature people. Col 1:28 Him we proclaim, warning every man, teaching man, to present every man mature in Christ. Hope this helps. Clint.

    • Hey Paul, good question. Honestly, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer. It would depend on the person, the relationship you have with him, etc. In general, a consistent expository ministry will either drive immature people away (if they can’t come to terms with the preaching of repentance), or it will slowly mature people. It’s God’s Spirit, through his Word, who does the sanctification. My job is to be faithful to the text, and preach it engagingly and applicably. Then I step back and watch God use it, along with trials, counselling, and other tools to mature people. Col 1:28 Him we proclaim, warning every man, teaching man, to present every man mature in Christ. Hope this helps.

  • Very convicting. It’s funny (not really) how many men, in the name of “maturity and love and gentleness” use Phil. 1:18 as a precursor to ignore what we like to call the “secondary” doctrines of faith and practice (i.e., tongues, election, ect.). They somehow make it out to imply that “secondary” doctrines should NEVER matter or be debated or thought out and applied. “Who cares if one doesn’t know that they hold to a false view of soteriology!?! They’re preaching the Gospel right?!?” Is this a sign of lack of maturity because more that most of the time, it seems like an excuse to be lazy by not having to go into deeper study or find good preaching?

    • Well said, Karl. I think the deeper we study the word, the safer we are from being led astray by false teachers, as in Eph 4: 14 “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

  • Michael Coughlin

    nice work.

    • nice comment. Thanks 🙂

  • Detex

    Excellent example of the gift of teaching. We need to send this young man a copy of the KJV biible so he can get the full effect of what the Holy Spirit is telling us.

    • Thanks for your encouragement Detex. I find that in South Africa, where I pastor a church, and where we have 11 official languages (not kidding!!) our pews are populated with versions in many different languages. I use the ESV to preach from (though I prepare from the Greek), as it’s a great, literal translation that even people whose 2nd language is English can understand. I think the KJV would frighten some of our Zulu believers who are just learning English! Thanks for the thought though.

  • Matthew

    Thanks for this post. It’s really good & something we can apply to our lives!

    A lack of defensiveness, argumentativeness and boasting is a clear indicator of maturity in the believers life.

    I wonder how many of us think we are mature, when in fact we are immature?
    Like a blind spot or a “comparing ourselves by ourselves” kind of thing.

    In what other ways does this flesh out? Are mature believers good with other people?
    I’d say that a hallmark characteristic of being mature in Christ would be that you love and serve other people with the right motives — you are attentive to their needs and act upon helping them.

    In other words you are a “lover of His people”.

    The most godly, mature men I know are all been people who honestly take time to invest in other peoples lives.

    Love the blog!

    • Good points there Matthew. In fact if you write a blog post on immaturity, most immature people would agree with it– thinking it’s written about someone else!

  • R. Martin Snyder

    Great post. I would just add one thing that one would give due honor to his teachers and that a very submissive spirit be rendered to those with whom God has placed over us. It is lesson that has greatly benefited me in my walk with God. It is a major sign of maturity.

    (1Ti 5:17) Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.
    (1Ti 5:18) For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.
    (1Ti 5:19) Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

    (Heb 13:7) Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation…(Heb 13:17) Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

    • Thanks Martin, you are absolutely right. I’m sure there are many other signs of maturity I left out for the sake of brevity. But this one is a very valuable one to consider.

  • R. Martin Snyder

    P.S. I also heard that God wants FAT people. Flexible, Available, and Teachable. LOL.

  • Chris Hutto

    I must disagree with your assessment that the gospel is milk. The gospel is the heart of the Christian faith. The gospel should inform everything that we do. We should preach the gospel to ourselves everyday. Our lives should be saturated by the gospel. I challenge you to name one doctrine that is deeper than the doctrines addressed by the gospel. At the end of Hebrews 5 and the beginning of Hebrews 6, the writer of Hebrews is not saying that Christians should leave the elementary teachings of the gospel; he is addressing Jewish church attenders who have heard the gospel, but have not been transformed by it. These Jewish church attenders were stuck in the elementary teachings of the Old Testament ceremonial laws; they had not moved on to the MEAT of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are not saved. THE GOSPEL IS NOT MILK! The gospel was CENTRAL in Paul’s teaching. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” He also said in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” Paul also said in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The gospel was CENTRAL to Jesus’ teaching. Matthew 4:23: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” See also Matthew 9:35. Matthew 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Mark 1:14-15: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 13:10: “And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” Mark 16:15-16: “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Luke 20:1a: “One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel…” Luke 24:45-48: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” I could go on and on. We will NEVER adequately plumb the DEPTHS OF THE GOSPEL.  There are no deeper or richer truths than the truths contained in the gospel!

    • Dave Roeder

      I don’t think Pastor Clint is devaluing the gospel, Chris H, he’s just trying to get beyond it to the meat, the giving of the gospel, not the constant “feed me” mentality we often find in the pews. When the disciples came back with food and found Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus said He had already eaten, because His meat was to give the gospel. Maturity is giving the gospel, not always receiving. Great post.

      • Thanks Dave. And I did try to make that clear in the replies above.

    • Dave Roeder

      I don’t think Pastor Clint is devaluing the gospel, Chris H, he’s just trying to get beyond it to the meat, the giving of the gospel, not the constant “feed me” mentality we often find in the pews. When the disciples came back with food and found Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus said He had already eaten, because His meat was to give the gospel. Maturity is giving the gospel, not always receiving. Great post.

    • Phil

      Chris, I understand your concern, really. Archer’s phrasing (“…only on the gospel, snubbing the offer of deeper doctrines…”) is troubling for sure. Maybe what he’s talking about is people who make the *main* thing (the Gospel) the *only* thing. Problem is, I’ve never seen someone who loves the Gospel so much also be someone who takes little interest in doctrine. Instead, most who are shallow on doctrine likewise possess a shallow understanding of the Gospel, too.

      Also, Archer’s article seems to imply that the gospel is a separate, baby food sort of intro to the other “deeper doctrine.” This fails to take into account that other doctrines — expiation, propitiation, sanctification, justification, etc. — find their center and circumference in (not apart from) the Gospel; that is, the person and work of Christ. I’ve tried several times to re-read his point, and is still leaves me with an uncomfortable impression. I hope he either correct the article or issues and explanation.

      • Hi Phil, I trust that my clarification in the comment line above (to Chris Hutto) helps. I am addressing the natural, understandable tendency in new believers to not see the need for (or don’t have a taste for) any doctrine other than the Gospel. That is certainly acceptable, even commendable, in a new believer. But as a person matures in their walk, there will be a natural desire to know even more about God and salvation and how it all fits together. When someone tells me “I ignore all discussion about eschatology or impeccability or imputation of passive obedience or dispensationalism etc. b/c all that counts is that I am saved,” then I assume they are a new believer who is still processing the wonder of the Gospel. Later they will want to keep that wonder, and add to it the wonder of God’s wisdom in other doctrines too. Hope this helps.

    • Hi Chris, I approve of your zeal for the Gospel. Your heart beats with mine on that. We can never move away from the Cross, or we miss the point of all other doctrines. And I assume you must be new to theCripplegate. We all love the Gospel and do what we do because we love it. I was merely invoking the imagery and terminology of the writer of Hebrews (5:12-13 “milk…solid food is for the mature”, and 6:1 “elementary doctrines of Christ”), which I don’t believe denigrates the importance of the Gospel in the least.

      Telling a lazy 16 year old that he should no longer be in elementary school, but should have graduated by now, does not insult the elementary school. And graduation to high school does not mean you move away from all the reading and writing skills you learned in elementary school. In fact any understanding in high school comes from that primary, foundational, elementary knowledge.

      One of the wonderful aspects of the Gospel is that it can be understood by a little child. In this sense it is elementary, foundational, simple. The same cannot be said of the Dispensationalism/Covenantalism debates. One is milk, one is meat. Infants whole diet is milk, and that’s good. But just b/c we have meat now too, doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy milk ever day. It’s just that we now have appetite for both, not just (as in exclusively) milk.

      I am merely saying that some Christians say “I don’t need to know about Eschatology because I know the gospel and that’s all that counts.” But a sign of maturity (according to eh writers of Hebrews) is an appetite for other doctrines as well as the Gospel, doctrines that are more difficult to understand or process than the smooth simplicity of the Gospel milk.

      I hope this clarifies it all. It is nice to see folks fired up about defending the centrality of the Gospel. But trust me Chris, I’m on your team on that issue!

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  • This is an excellent article. I particularly like point 3. I used to tell me church that weakness is never a mark of maturity. We walk around saying I can’t do this or that with a sense of pride in our weakness. It’s something I default to writing about a lot.

    Another point I make about maturity, which is more philosophical than theological, is that Maturity is the ability to abstract a complex idea without oversimplifying it.

    • Thanks Adam, good point. Piper has a great chapter on that in “Brothers We Are Not Professionals.”

  • Paul in St. Louis

    Hey, Clint, excellent article. It just so happens that I am in the process of preparing a sermon on 1 Corinth. 3. As a rule, I do not cadge sermon material from other pastors, but yours just fits so perfectly. May I use portions of your article for my Sun. eve. sermon? They say that plagerism is the sincerest form of flattery, right? May our Lord continue to bless you.
    Paul in St. Louis, MO, USA

    • It’s all yours. And don’t bother giving me any credit (see oint 5), everything I know I probably heard from someone else at some point anyway!

  • nutz. Im guilty of point 5. great post Clint.

    • Hey Shane, at least you’re mature enough to admit that! That’s half the battle.
      Prov 17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than 100 blows into a fool.
      Thanks for your faithful reading of C-Gate.

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  • Is there a reason that #5 is “Tendency to give Credit for Spiritual Growth to God, not People” rather than simply “Gives Credit for Spiritual Growth to God, not People”?

    In other words, why just a “tendency”? And if you think a mature Christian only shows a tendency to give credit to God and not people, then why not say about #1 – #4 that mature Christians show a tendency to do these things?

    • Yeah, good question. Probably better to say “A Habit of Giving Credit for Spiritual Growth to God.” By ‘tendency’ I meant a ‘leading in their heart’ or an ‘inclination’ to give credit to God, as opposed to the immature who has an inclination/leading/tendency to give credit to men for spiritual influence. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

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