What does spiritual maturity look like?
The Bible verses that undergird the ministry of Graceworks are Colossians 1:28–29.
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me. (NIV)
Every time I read these verses I am reminded of the need to be clear as to what Christlike maturity looks like. Graceworks understands spiritual practices like spiritual mentoring and spiritual friendship as involving followers of Jesus walking together in their journeys of following Christ, with the aim of growing in Christlikeness. We need to be clear as to what that looks like. I have reflected on this for a long time and I have written on it before, but here is my latest attempt to lay out the marks of Christlike maturity. They are:
Numbers 1 to 3 I gleaned from the writings of Paul Stevens and I have been using them for a while. Number 4, Cadence, is my recent addition.
The first mark of maturity is the health of our relationship with God — our communion with our heavenly Father. In Genesis we see a picture of an intimate relationship between God and human beings (Genesis 3:8). Jesus models for us this communion — something we see especially in the Gospel of John. A healthy relationship with God is marked by at least two things, trust and obedience. We trust God for our deepest needs. As we journey through life, we understand that we are not independent beings. We need God and we are confident in His provision. Our trust in God also extends to our trusting His will. Therefore, with His help we live lives of obedience both in the ethical shape of our lives and in the choices we make at the crossroads of life. We love God because He first loved us.
The second mark of our maturity is the health of our relationships with others. We shouldn’t be surprised by this as Jesus had made it clear that love of God and love of neighbour are inextricably linked (Mark 12:29–31). The first negative we encounter is in Genesis 2:18 when God tells us that “it is not good for the man to be alone”. We note that this was God’s call at a time when Adam had not yet sinned. He had perfect access to God yet that was not enough. Human beings are created for two relationships — with God and with other human beings. John goes so far as to remind us that it is impossible to love God without loving our brothers and sisters (1 John 4:20). A mature Christian, then, is also one who relates to others healthily and that includes relating to those in his or her church family, biological family, and others in society; the neighbours the Lord brings our way (Luke 10:25–37). Such relationships are characterised by connecting — we actually know the people we are connected to — and by sharing what we have with them.
A third mark of Christlike maturity is our involvement in the purposes of God in the world. Adam and Eve were given the mandate to represent God and care for creation on His behalf (Genesis 1: 26–28). Jesus would say, “As the Father has sent me, I send you” (John 20:21). Representing God in the world involves two things, proclamation and demonstration. We live in a fallen world with a humankind alienated from the God who loves them. To co-labour with God is to preach the gospel — to appeal to a lost world to repent and return to God through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And since God wants to make all things new (Revelation 21:5), to co-labour with God is also to show God’s redemptive purposes in all arenas of life, including the church, our families, our work, and in society. Through word and deed we serve a needy world on God’s behalf.
A fourth mark of spiritual maturity is how one is able to have a healthy balance of work and sabbath. Although the word sabbath is not mentioned in the creation accounts, we note that on the sixth day God created Adam and Eve, and gave them their assignments, but on the seventh day they were not allowed to carry out those assignments. It was the day that the Lord rested from His work and Adam and Eve were blessed by God’s rest (Genesis 2: 1–3). They only started work the day after that, so very early on God had planned that human beings were meant to function in a rhythm of rest and work. The sabbath command would be explicitly given in Exodus 20 and, yes, the Christian Sunday is the first day of the week while the Jewish Sabbath is the last day of the week. What is clear is that human beings were meant to function in a cadence of rest and work. We are called to co-labour with God but, one day in seven, we are expected to down tools, to rest and to focus on remembering God and reconnecting with others — one day in seven is specially given to communion and community.
These then are four marks of spiritual maturity. A person is growing in Christlikeness if he or she is growing in his or her relationships with God, with others, with God’s mission, and with time. As we begin a new year, and the Covid pandemic has given many of us the space to relook at our lives, let us do a personal audit of how we are doing in these four areas of life and which of these need work as we journey on in life. After all, if we are to help others become fully mature in Christ we should be on the same journey.