Seeking Spiritual Growth: Four Suggested Markers for Spiritual Maturity

I was talking to a friend, who was telling me about a brother in Christ who was on the verge of leaving church due to a stagnation in his spiritual growth. A while after that, I heard of another sister in Christ who actually decided to leave her current church to another one due to the lack of growth opportunity in her current church. It got me thinking a bit. To give a bit of context, I think the grace of God has been upon me thus far in my own spiritual journey and hearing accounts of lack of spiritual growth in church is something that sounds like angelic tongues to me.

Before I dwell further, let's look into the definition. What do we mean by "spiritual growth?" If I may give my own definition, it is the development of Christlike character and behaviour in the Christ disciple through a renewed mind and tested faith. It is the maturing of his faith, understanding, holiness and commitment. The ultimate goal, as we see, is Christlikeness and this is mentioned in Scripture such as Ephesians 4:15:

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Emphasis mine)

The context of this verse is the giving of the five-fold ministry in the church such that believers can be built up in the body of Christ and it becomes clear that maturity is equated to increasing Christlikeness. Likewise, Paul talked about it in Romans 8:29:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Emphasis mine)

While Reformed Christians may use this verse to argue for unconditional election and limited atonement, one way to look at this is that God's final destination for us is Christlikeness. Hence, as we grow spiritually, Christlikeness seems to be goal of spiritual growth and maturity. And the marks of this maturity include:

a) Spiritual Understanding

One mark of spiritual growth is the growth in spiritual understanding. By spiritual understanding, we mean to say that to be able to understand the mysteries of God beyond the basic elementary teachings. For example, an immature Christian may just be satisfied with the teaching that Jesus died for him on the Cross and hence he is saved through the blood of Jesus and by repenting of his sins. Moving beyond this basic is the understanding that this salvation frees us from the bondage of sins and with the grace of God in our lives, we are empowered to live a life led by His Holy Spirit, which means that the change in our behaviours stems not from a legalistic standpoint. This sense of basic and 'advanced' teachings can be found in Scriptures such as:

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites,the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement - Hebrew 6:1-2

Hence, as we mature towards Christlikeness, we will find that our spiritual understandings will begin to grow beyond the basics and we are able to comprehend more clearly on the practical implications of God's words in our lives.

b) Changed behaviours

Maturing and growing towards Christlikeness and growing spiritual understanding should also lead us to have changed behaviours in our lives. As mentioned, the grace of God that we experienced should be the driving force to motivate us towards changing our behaviours. Even in Romans 8:29, as quoted earlier, the conforming to the image of his Son comes in the broader context that He has already justified us and hence we are free to live a life that has peace with God and assured hope. And this is encapsulated in Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Notice that the offering of our bodies is being done in view of God's mercy, and not in view that it is the right thing to do or that it justifies us. In such a context, this means that as we mature, we will see that our behaviours begin to conform more to Christ and it will be obvious to people as well.

c) Stability

Stability is another mark of spiritual maturity. Ephesians 4:14 says:

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

This means that we are not easily swayed by all kinds of teaching. It also means that we do not easily buy into new teachings just because they make sense. And it also implies that we do not be moved by all kinds of external influence that we may experience. I can't help but think of the times when I see how some people are being swayed by their own hearts in ways such that they are easily manipulated. I went through that stage when I bought into some of the teachings by those wealth and health preachers and some preachers who preach empty messages by quoting Scriptures out of context (and I ended up quoting the same way as they quote as well).

We will all go through that stage cos we were still trying to figure out our way in faith, but I think as we mature, we will become more stable and even be more discerning as well.

d) Care for weaker believers

The last mark that I will talk about is the mark of care for weaker believers. By this, I mean that we do not disregard the needs of younger immature believers or even believers who have fallen. Galatians 6:1-2 has this to say:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.

The NASB translation of this passage translates 'you who live by the Spirit' to 'you who are spiritual.' Implicitly, this means that there are two groups of people, the spiritual ones and the not-so-spiritual ones. And it is implied in an obvious manner (oxymoronically) that the spiritual ones are at a 'higher plane' than the other group but it gives them a higher responsibility to ensure that they take care of their weaker brothers and sisters. Similarly, in Romans 15:1

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

The immediate context of this verse talks about the Gentile believers in the Roman church as the stronger believers as they were not constrained by the dietary restrictions and other traditional Judaistic practices that the Jewish Christians in the church were holding on to. Paul wrote them this to remind them that they have a responsibility to care for the 'weaker' believers so as to build them up.

Nevertheless, we know about these marks of spiritual growth and maturity and these marks may not be exhaustive. Do feel free to comment on what you think are the marks of spiritual growth and maturity.

But how do we grow? How do we mature? In what ways can we gain in our own spiritual understanding, discernment and etc? Why do we even stagnate in the first place? We will seek to answer these questions in the next post.

Till then, stay tuned.

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