God wants us all to grow. Maturity is one of His goals for our lives. In fact, Hebrews 6:1 tells us, “Let’s Grow Up” (CEB). God wants us to always strive for spiritual growth so that we can “Be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV).
One of God’s five purposes for your church is to help your community grow in spiritual maturity. But there is a lot of confusion about what Christian maturity looks like. When you are making disciples, it is important that you are clear about what it means to become more like Jesus.
Maturity does not depend on age. You can be a Christian for 50 years and still not mature.
Maturity is not about looks. Some people may look spiritually mature, but they are not. Just because someone looks worthy does not mean they are holy.
Maturity is not achievement. You can achieve a lot without being firm in your faith.
Maturity is not scholarship. A seminary or Bible college degree does not make you spiritually mature.
You cannot become mature by comparing yourself to someone else. You become mature by comparing yourself to the Word of God. The book of James is a textbook on how to be mature. This gives us five marks of spiritual maturity.
1. A mature person is positive under pressure. “Dear brothers and sisters, when any trouble comes your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your strength has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4 NLT).
Just because you’ve become a follower of Christ doesn’t mean you won’t have problems. The question is not whether you will have problems; it’s how you react to them. Are you nervous, tense, or negative? Are you grumbling?
You can be full of biblical knowledge and remain grumpy under pressure. A mature follower of Jesus can be stressed and still be joyful.
2. A mature person is sensitive to people. “It is good if you obey the royal law found in the scriptures: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (James 2:8 NLT).
When children are immature, they are completely self-centered. But mature people don’t just see their needs; they see the needs of others.
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us that we will only be judged by how we treat others, not by how many Bible verses we know or how often we go to church.
3. A mature person has mastered his mouth. “We all make a lot of mistakes. If someone makes no mistakes when he speaks, he will be perfect. He could control everything he does” (James 3:2 GW).
One thing doctors often say when you go in for a checkup is, “Stick out your tongue.” The doctor uses your tongue to check your health. God also does this spiritually.
James 3 gives us several illustrations regarding the tongue. The chapter calls it a bridle for a horse (3:3), an udder for a ship (3:4), and a spark for a fire (3:5-6). James 3:8 says, “No one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil filled with deadly poison” (GW).
Earlier in the book, James writes: “If a man thinks he is religious but cannot control his tongue, he is deceiving himself. This man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26 GW). Gossip, spreading rumors, and constant negative talk are signs that you are immature in your faith.
4. A mature person is a peacemaker, not a bully. “What causes fights and quarrels between you? Do they not come from your desires that are fighting within you?’ (James 4:1 NIV).
We all know Christians who create more trouble than peace. Conflict is not a Christian virtue. In fact, the opposite is true. This is a sign of immaturity.
James tells us that selfishness and judgment are the two biggest sources of conflict in our lives. Both prevent us from reaching the Christ-like maturity that Jesus is asking us to achieve. Pride prevents us from admitting that we are wrong. Condemnation puts us in the place of God.
Christian maturity means learning to say no to the selfish, judgmental attitudes that regularly cause conflict.
5. A mature person is patient and prayerful. “So be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. Watch as the farmer waits for the land to yield its precious harvest, patiently waiting for the fall and spring rains. Be patient and persevere, because the Lord will draw near” (James 5:7-8 NIV).
Patience and prayer go together. They both express the attitude of dependence on God that defines a mature believer. As James 5 points out, this is an attitude that farmers understand. Farmers expect a lot. You won’t find any night cultures. We must wait for God to work in our lives. If you can’t wait, you can’t be patient. Patience is a key element of maturity.
When you’re trying to help people grow spiritually, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the people in your church who know the most scriptures are the most mature. Instead, see how God changes their character. Ask yourself:
- How does this person solve problems?
- Is this person sensitive to other people?
- Does this person control their mouth?
- Is this person a troublemaker or a peacemaker?
- Does this person pray without giving up?
This is the person who matures and grows in the likeness of Christ.