What does spiritual maturity look like? If you do not know what spiritual maturity looks like, how then can you attain to it? Aren’t you operating like a blind archer without an aid? How can you ever hit the mark if you cannot see it?
More than that, how are the ministry gifts (pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc…) supposed to develop and grow the Body of Christ to maturity if we do not understand what spiritual maturity is, how it behaves and how to attain it?
Most would say, “Look at Paul, Peter and John if you want to see spiritual maturity.” Yet even Paul said, “I have not yet attained.” (See here).
Some believers seem to think spiritual maturity is walking in the gifts of the Spirit. Others think it is knowing the Bible. Both are clueless if this is what they believe. Samson walked in the power of the Spirit but none would ever call him spiritually mature and the Pharisees knew their Bible but Jesus called them sons of the devil. On the other hand, John the Baptist did no miracles but was called the greatest prophet and Enoch had no Scriptures yet walked with God so closely that God took him to heaven alive and whole (the first rapture).
I began having dreams and visions within mere months of being saved; I saw heaven; I prayed about the Rapture of the Church and received a dream and two visions to show me what it was going to be like. When I graduated from Bible School I knew a lot of Bible. I was very well taught and had memorized more scripture on accident than most people do on purpose; I had been filled with the Holy Spirit and operated in the gifts of the Spirit; I had walked in faith and gotten results. I had seen a supernatural manifestation of demons that defied natural explanation and cast them out, yet I was just a very well-educated carnal Christian. I was not particularly spiritual.
Some will say, “It is bearing the fruit of the Spirit.” And the last is at least close but while the fruit of the Spirit is something we should bear, it is the byproduct and not the source of spiritual maturity.
Natural maturity is marked by reaching the full height of an adult and more—reaching the fullness of being an adult by becoming like our parents. In like manner, spiritual maturity is attained by becoming completely like Christ in every way by imitating Him.
What does spiritual maturity look like?
Spiritual maturity, to borrow a phrase from the vernacular, makes believers look like the spitting image of Jesus on the earth. He is the Word of God made flesh; we are living epistles known and read by all men.
Be a Berean and search the Scriptures yourself: Spiritual maturity is nothing short of growing into the full height, breadth and depth of Christ Himself (See here, here and here). This is Christian perfection: to be like Jesus in thought, word and deed.
Jesus taught this idea repeatedly as did all the apostles. Yet somehow most of us have missed the point.
This is why the fruit of the Spirit is a byproduct of spiritual maturity; God is love and those who imitate Him learn to walk in love. We imitate the Father and soon understand the love of the Father for each lost soul. He has been with them every moment of their lives. He has been the silent witness to everything said or done to them and everything they have said or done. He treasures each sinner the way we treasure our own children and looks for the good in them. As a believer sets his eyes on Jesus, he begins to see the sinner differently. Jesus died for sinners, therefore a sinner is worth dying for–even if the sinner is the one killing you. We grow to understand why Jesus loved His enemies and prayed for them.
Reproduction isn’t merely a man producing a genetically similar offspring the way an animal does; a man is much more than an animal. A man has ideas and philosophies, a culture, a value system and a worldview. Throughout scripture, God teaches the Israelites that being a parent means more than producing genetic offspring but multiplying who we are and what we know and believe. Marriage is a tool we use to reproduce more than our bodies; it is a tool we use to reproduce culture, value systems and worldview. This is why we are commanded to not marry outside the faith.
We are commanded to go into all the world and make disciples—to reproduce what God had done in us in others. The reason there is so little discipleship is that there are so few who are spiritually mature.
And HOW do we do imitate God and grow to become like Jesus?
In the same way a natural child learns to walk, talk, and every other aspect of life by imitating his parents, we also grow as we imitate Christ in thought, word and deed.
The disciples were first called “Christians” at Antioch. It means “little Christs.” The believers took it as a badge of honor, so the pagans changed it to “Chrestians” which basically means “Little do-gooders.” But to explain what makes a person a disciple there is no better phrase than to say “I aspire to be like Christ and imitate Him until I become like Him in every way.”
Developing spiritual maturity begins when we set our eyes on Jesus and begin to follow Him. It begins the first time we hear that we must forgive those who have wronged us if we are to be forgiven and we face our anger, unforgiveness, even bitterness, and let it go to please Him.
We often begin imitating Christ like a child imitating the sounds of its mother. It is a poor and inadequate imitation but then we keep at it until we can speak clearly. Is a child aware that it imitates or is it how we are naturally designed?
Eventually a child will learn to imitate on purpose; I remember imitating the way my father walked and seeing my own son do the same with me. I also remember taking my father’s signature and using it to create my own. I attempted the scribble until I had created my own version of it. Now my own scrawl is as unique as I am.
I also remember deciding that I didn’t want to imitate my father’s temper but instead imitated my maternal grandfather’s quiet temperament.
We are commanded:
Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. NKJV
This was the great advantage of the Apostles; they had walked with Jesus and seen what He did. But we are more blessed because we never saw Jesus after the flesh and so we are not caught up in the external and temporary but on the internal and eternal nature and character of God.
This is why we read our Bibles–not so we can win a Bible quiz–but so we can see who God is, what His attitudes are, how He acts and what He does. A person who only fears God will hate Him and avoid Him but a person who loves God will imitate Him.
This is why, Jesus said we must be born again and why He rebuked Nicodemus (shameless plug–see the chapter “A True Father” in my book “A Greater Reward“).
This is why we must become like a little child and call no man father except God alone (imitate the Father in heaven, not the one on earth).
This is why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees as sons of the devil and why He declared so boldly that those who believe in Him would do greater works than Him.
This is why Paul determined to preach Christ alone and told the Church to “imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
This is why husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.
This is why we are expected to do good works, because Jesus went about doing good.
This is why we are commanded to “seek His face” and why we will not be perfect until we see Him as He is (and not as we suppose He is).
A spiritually mature believer is like Jesus in thought, word and deed. Just as Jesus did nothing except He saw the Father in heaven doing it, the mature believer looks to the Father for his queue and does what he sees, speaks what he hears and thinks as God thinks. The spiritually mature imitate God on purpose and study the Scriptures, and pray that they may see the face of God more clearly, so they can always do the right thing. They abide in the Spirit so that they can overcome every natural inclination and they do not live as mere men.
As a minister in the Church, my role is to lift up Jesus, to show my hearers and readers who God is and what He does and to clearly show the pattern with my own life so that those who follow me will also be following Christ. I must continually seek the face of God so that I can more clearly show who God is by my own thoughts, words, and deed.
And while I have not yet attained, this one thing I do: I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you” (Philippians 3:13-15).
About the Author
Ken Van Horn has been a pastor for over 25 years–only two years of which was full-time ministry. He has worked as an electrical contractor, editor, probate judge, web developer, consultant and recently completed “A Greater Reward” based upon what the Holy Spirit revealed to him while serving as a judge concerning the work of justice and the imminent Judgment Seat of Christ.
He is currently developing a start up church in Cusseta, Georgia and does itinerant ministry when available.
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