Four Signs of Spiritual Maturity

Four Signs of Spiritual Maturity

If you prefer to listen, enjoy the podcast version here…

Maturity Matters

Spiritual maturity is a topic I discussed in my sermon on April 21, 2024 titled: “What people on the narrow path need.

Paul saw that the Colossians were drifting off course. He was a mature Christian who had been commissioned by God to be an apostle. They, on the other hand, were a young community, probably about 10 years old. The paint on the pews was still wet. Okay, they didn’t have pews, but you know what I mean.

Paul’s example shows us that maturity is meant to be shared. People on the narrow path need people on the narrow path. They need coaches, encouragers, and people who are honest and caring enough to call them on their waywardness.

Believe it or not, there are times when ‘to live and let live’ is actually un-loving.

In our modern day, we devalue the beauty, power and blessing of maturity. Perhaps that is because we can fall victim to the thinking that ideas which are “novel” and “fresh” are always the best ideas. Sometimes they are, but not always.

I wonder if our modern obsession with novelty is actually about something else: feeding YouTube views, non-stop news cycles, and social media algorithms. It certainly keeps pop culture on a hamster wheel of quarterly profits. New money tends to follow new ideas. It also keeps people distracted from what matters most. It blurs the lens of vision. Are we living in a playground or a battleground? The Enemy loves to confuse.

Oh, I’m probably just being cynical.

Experience matters. Wisdom matters. Maturity matters. If I want a bowl of delicious apples, I could probably go buy some plastic ones. They’d look nice—from a distance. But real apples take time to grow. They give you nutrients that the plastic ones can’t.

What if you needed guidance about how to handle something off-the-charts stressful? What if you needed guidance about how to navigate a confusing life transition? What if you needed guidance about a family problem that had the potential to explode? What if you needed guidance about a serious illness, either for yourself or someone you care about?

Experience matters. Wisdom matters. Maturity matters.

There are times when someone who is new to the faith and has limited knowledge and experience needs to seek out some help from someone who is more spiritually mature than they are.

There are also times when the person who is more spiritually mature needs to recognize that fact and be the one to provide the advice or help. But how do you know if that’s you? How do you know if you are progressing along the path of spiritual maturity?

Four Signs of Spiritual Maturity

Here are four signs of spiritual maturity. During my sermon I said that I would circulate them online so that you could have more time to think about them. They will also appear in The Up Daily Devotional on April 26th. Here I provide a bit more space and background to the subject.

The following four signs aren’t the only signs, but they certainly help move us in the right direction.

First, you have a firm faith that is loving and rooted in biblical truth

Like every point I’m about to make, this is evident in Jesus (obviously). It is also present in people like the apostle Paul. James also comes to mind. He was the half-brother of Jesus who became a leader in the early church centered in Jerusalem, a hotbed of religious zeal and turmoil.

My vehicle has winter tires and all-season tires. Such is life in Canada. Certain tires are good for certain seasons. A firm faith, however, is not seasonal. It is being an all-weather follower, not a fair-weathered follower.

This first sign of spiritual maturity stresses the importance of being “loving.” This is critical. Some people think they are “firm” in their faith, but what they really mean is that they are firmly committed to certain doctrinal ideas. That is certainly a good thing. But in the Bible, firm faith is never detached from loving action. To hear and not to do is not to hear at all. As stated in James 2:26: “faith apart from works is dead.”

When Jesus, Paul, and others speak about “bearing fruit,” whether that be in Matthew 7:16, Colossians 1:6 or elsewhere, they are speaking about showing evidence of our loyalty to God. Like a fruit tree, our lives will “produce” acts of love. This is in keeping with the great command to love God and neighbour.

Does this mean that people who are spiritually mature are perfect? By no means! Ours is a stumbling obedience. It does mean, however, that there is growing evidence of love in our lives.

A firm faith is also rooted in biblical truth. That’s an important qualifier. How do we know if the truths we claim to know and live by aren’t just vague generalities? How do we know they aren’t simply personal hobby horses? Kyle Idleman has an entire book devoted to these very questions. He says that people who project their personal preferences onto the Lord are actually worshiping “Mesus,” not Jesus![i]

A faithful and careful reading of the Bible as God’s infallible Word ensures we are staying on track.

Second, you are consistent in spiritual practices—like worship, Bible-reading, prayer, and servanthood

Consistency is the secret recipe (which, now that I think about it, isn’t a secret at all.)

Throughout the Bible, words like steadfastness pick up on this same idea. These words are not only about your personal fortitude and character; they are about proactively doing things which ground you in the love and truth of God regardless of how you feel.

Worshiping God, reading the Bible, praying, and serving others are all practices which are given to us in Scripture. They keep us tethered to God and to his ways even if it’s stormy outside, or inside.

We humans easily forget that we are sinful by nature. The world tries to convince us that most people are generally good. God teaches us that all people are naturally bad. (Do we need to teach children how to be bad or how to be good? Exactly.) Left to our own devices, and in the words of Reformer John Calvin, our hearts are “a perpetual factory of idols.”[ii] We are naturally inclined to centre our lives around the wrong things. We quickly turn money, success, popularity, achievements, or even people, into idols.

In his kindness and mercy, God invites us to be in a relationship with himself. In his kindness and mercy he helps us become more like Jesus. To help with this, he prescribes practices which feed, nurture and strengthen us. When we receive what God has given to us, and when we consistently practice them, it is a sign of maturity.

My wife was listening to an interview with Brady Boyd. Speaking about evangelism, he said “we’re into microwaving when God’s into marinating.”[iii] That’s hard to hear in an era of instant gratification, drive-thru windows and Amazon Prime. But it’s wise. And it applies to more than just evangelism. It applies to life in general.

Before I move on to the next point, let me state the obvious. It is pretty much impossible to mature in the footsteps of Jesus when you don’t consistently worship God with other fellow-followers, don’t consistently talk to him, don’t consistently learn from him, and don’t consistently serve the people he calls you to help.

Third, you have kept the faith through life’s ups and downs for an extended period of time

The California Redwoods are massive trees, apparently the biggest living things on earth. Some are higher than 360 feet tall, and some are more than 60 feet around. Many are over 100 years old, and some are even over a thousand years old. Some of them have even been partially burned in forest fires, but they still stand. In some cases, the bark is a foot thick.

Roots. Growth. Time. Adversity.

Maturity includes walking with Jesus over an extended period. Think of actual walking. Then think of walking over an extended period of time. You’re going to go through pleasant pastures, but also murky bogs. You’re going to walk over smooth paths, but also rocky terrain. You’re going to walk during sunny days, but also through forest fires.

That’s like life. Maturity sticks with Jesus when it would be easier to resign yourself to the couch. Redwoods are not so easily singed.

I think this principle of endurance through the ups and downs is evident in Mark 4 where Jesus tells the parable of the sower. In it he describes several people who fall away from the faith. They include those who hear God’s word but don’t “endure”; those who follow for a short time until they fall away because of tribulation or persecution; and those who are seduced by the “cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” which enter in and “choke the word” (verses 13-20).

In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul gave what has become a clarion call for following Jesus over the long haul and through the ups and downs. For the record, he endured a lot. He was put in prison, flogged, exposed to death, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, and shipwrecked three times. Toward the end of his life, this godly Redwood wrote these words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” If you’ve been trying to think of a good verse to put on your tombstone, there it is.

Fourth, others sometimes come to you for advice

This is simply an observation I have made over the years. And remember our context. I’m not talking about people in general, although that may also be the case. I’m talking about being approached by other Christians. Not always perhaps, but sometimes.

When Person 1 provides Person 2 with wisdom which is humble, biblical and loving, Person 2 will probably return to Person 1 for more wisdom when it’s needed in the future. People kept returning to Jesus for godly wisdom. The same was true for Paul and James. True, what they had to say turned some people away. That is bound to happen when you are more committed to being a God-pleaser than a people-pleaser (Galatians 1:10). Even still, sincere devotees continued to return and benefit from their words.

The Work of a Lifetime

Hopefully this has been helpful as you think about spiritual maturity. There are other things that could be said—things about humility, hard work, courage or virtue. But I think that these four signs ensure our compasses are pointed in the right direction.

  1. You have a firm faith that is loving and rooted in biblical truth
  2. You are consistent in spiritual practices–like worship, Bible-reading, prayer, and servanthood
  3. You have kept the faith through life’s ups and downs for an extended period of time
  4. Others sometimes come to you for advice

Let me speak directly to those of you who have read (or listened to) these points and feel discouraged. They make you realize how far you have to go.

First, remember that you are made right with God not because of what you’ve done (or what you haven’t done). You are made right with God through what he has done for you in Christ. God adopts us into his family when we repent of sin and believe in who Jesus is and what he has done for us on the cross. This is a free gift! Paul reminds us of this fact in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”

Second, in my experience, people who are striving to follow Jesus (by God’s grace and with his help) have more things to celebrate than they realize. In fact, knowing how far you have to go is often an indication of how far you’ve come. People who are spiritually dead don’t tend to notice or care; so if you notice or care it means you aren’t spiritually dead.

Third, discipleship isn’t about competing; it’s about learning and serving. I recently heard it said that God meets you where you’re at, not where you should be at. I love that. Thanks be to God for his patience and grace!

Our final thought is from Billy Graham. He died in 2018. Toward the end of his life he wrote a book called Nearing Home. In it he said: “spiritual maturity is the work of a lifetime.”[iv] How very true. In a world of instant gratification we seek lasting sanctification. Trials and triumphs, victories and U-turns are all part of the refining process. We are all on a journey. We accumulate experience and knowledge. When calibrated to Christ, your experience and knowledge can be a lasting help to other pilgrims.

What if God had given someone you know—and perhaps even you—a measure of maturity which would help others along the path?

Maturity is meant to be shared. People on the narrow path need people on the narrow path.

[i] Kyle Idleman, The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins (David C Cook: Colorado Springs, 2015).

[ii] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.10.8., p. 108.

[iii] As quoted in an interview for Focus on the Family called “Setting A Godly Example for the Culture.” October 8, 2020.

[iv] Billy Graham, Nearing Home (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2011), 149.


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