How is spiritual maturity defined?

adultbabyWe have talked a lot on this blog about spiritual maturity. While some get offended at being called spiritually immature, it is a reality in scripture. My question to you is: how do you define spiritual maturity?

A pastor recently told me that he believes upwards of 70% of the contemporary church are spiritually immature/carnal. Do you agree? Is this why the church seems to be so ineffectual? Is this one of the reasons  the pimps and false prophets are basking in the spotlight while true teachers get ignored?

The most obvious case in scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 where Paul rebuked the Corinthian saints.

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.

For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?

The broader question is who is primarily responsibility for one’s spiritual growth?

The Barna Research Group’s recent survey on spiritual maturity revealed something we perhaps already knew and have seen more than often on this blog.  The majority of Christians today are spiritually shallow. Charisma reports:

81 percent believe spiritual maturity correlates to “trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible,” and even among born-again Christians (a small subset of the entire group polled), only 30 percent mentioned having a relationship with Jesus as one of the characteristics of spiritual maturity. Other elements included living a moral lifestyle (14 percent), applying the Bible (12 percent) and sharing your faith with others (6 percent).

Among pastors surveyed, nearly 90 percent said a lack of spiritual maturity was one of the nation’s biggest problems-yet a minority of them stated that this wasn’t the case in their own church. When asked to identify the most important portions of the Bible that define spiritual maturity, more than three-fourths gave a generic response: one-third simply answered “the whole Bible,” 17 percent said “the gospels,” 15 percent said “the New Testament,” and 10 percent offered “Paul’s letters” as their source of definition. Just one-fifth of pastors cited specific Bible verses that speak of a mature believer.

So how do we tackle this problem? Your comments are greatly desired.

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29 thoughts on “How is spiritual maturity defined?

  1. 70%??? I would personally say somewhere around 90%. The biggest problem I see is that there is a lack of interest in God’s word, from both the leadership and the laity. Muslims and Atheists know more scripture than the average Christian – and I speak from experience from that one. I had friends in college that were scared to debate those two groups for fear that they would lose. And what’s even sadder is that the ones that did debate the Muslims and Atheists, looked really stupid because… the Atheists could quote more scripture than the Christians!!! What sense does that make? Christians can quote Kirk Franklin or Joel Osteen better than they can quote the Bible, which is sickening. But, then, most of these pastors wouldn’t want it any other way because if the sheep knew more word, then the pastors couldn’t fleece the sheep any longer….
    OOOOOOH!!! I could write on and on regarding this topic. This is something that has frustrated me for years. Even in my own walk, I had so many people look at me like “it don’t take all that” when I talked about Christians reading the Bible everyday and praying everyday. It’s obvious that someone that has such an attitude don’t read much Bible.
    Also, folks really need to get filled with the Holy Ghost. There’s not a lot a power manifested in the body of Christ. Jesus’ ministry shewed forth the power of God, as did Paul/Peter/etcetera. These leaders today, they think they’re doing something because they got $ or a megachurch – but where’s the healing, the miracles, the deliverance, the word coming forth boldly with power???
    I could go on and on and on…

  2. Wow, Jon, you nailed it man.
    1. People need THE HOLY GHOST for real!
    2. Stop quoting people and quote the WORD!

    Thanks for your comments. All good my brother.

  3. I agree with jon. The Holy Spirit needs to move on the individual. There is nothing that we can do as humans. The Word of God spoke of a great falling away in the last days and we are witnessing it right now.
    There is a section of the body that is sleeping and they will be awakened in due time

    It is the Father who choses the believer and makes them grow up in a partucular season

  4. My grandmother used to have a saying that went like this……..

    It’s holiness or hell,

    when she addressed God’s people she didn’t sugarcoat the lack of not doing it God’s way!

    Good article that hopefully will accomplish the desire effects of its author, concise and to the point!
    What can I say?

  5. It’s a dual responsibility when it comes to spiritual growth—from the leadership and the individual believer.

    I’m COGIC and so I think one contributing factor to the present carnality we have, is that people think the church was so harsh in the past; and that much of what the believers did in the past was abusive or outdated or just religious…and yes some of it may have been but there was some good in it or else we wouldn’t be here…

    but at any rate, it has produced among leadership this feeling that they should correct for all of that. They try to coddle the members way too much. They try to appease them where they are rather than help them where they need to go. And appeasing worldly people is a whole another issue. It has made for more progressive teachings (self-help, financial success, and etc.) but little spiritual progress…

    Aside from the leadership dumbing it down ..…I think the primary reason that believers can’t grow up; is because they love the world too much. way too much.

  6. @ Vaughn…true dat! Holiness or Hell. Although it wasnt adequately explained, we all knew what that meant. But Vaughn many people in todays church dont think its that black and white. Even those in leadership. Can we live under a “holiness or hell” approach?

    @rogers thanks for your comments. I agree both are responsible. I think discipleship is an all important component of spiritual growth and maturity. But can one disciple himself? In that case, whos at fault and how to correct it?
    Ive never known COGIC to be a “discipleship” oriented organization. Praise seems to be more of an identifier. You learn how to pick em up and put em down before anything.

  7. I agree with the comments. There’s plenty of fault on both the individual and the leadership. In this generation of unchurched it seems also that the leadership is failing to educate them on the reality of the life in Christ. That it is a sweet walk, but not glamorous all the time. Some of the newbies come in expecting everything to be picture perfect, and are not taught how to ‘press through’ the initial stages of living in holiness.

    I heard a young missionary testify about her prayer life, and her need to have music up blaring in the background and a runny nose, etc to “feel” like she was in the move of God. In essence it came across to me that “feeling” like God heard her prayer was the only way she believed it was heard.

    I recently started a prayer ministry and another person wanted music to be playing during it. I couldnt see why, but realized they were most likely looking for the emotional draw from the music to make them feel as if they were experiencing the move of God.

    So it all goes back to really understanding what God is requiring, what he desires, and making his desires our own. Denial of self, and learning of him are the very first requirements; and what we must continue to do to build a lasting relationship. And in building that relationship, God will reward us and take care of us along the way. And he will show himself from time to time in a powerful way to let you know you’re still with Him. But in the meantime you have to continue to have faith that he is keeping you, and that he will do what he said and never leave you. You only understand this through reading God’s word.

    Unfortunately we aren’t reading or being taught, or for some of us, wanting to hear what it takes to make it.
    God Bless.

  8. I am a part of today’s church and I don’t believe that it’s black and white at all…just thought I’d chime in on that..

  9. Holiness or hell? There are too many contributing factors to take into account for one’s life for our faith to be just black and white.

    My mother is a Christian and didn’t believe in divorce and stayed married for a long time because of what the word of God teaches abut God hating divorce and that you sin (become unholy) if you divorce for reasons other than adultery being committed.

    So, she was married to a man for a number of years who never cheated on her BUT…he somehow got on drugs and often came home in violent fits and beat her unconscious a few times, and bruised her body…he would bring drugs into the house and he once even threatened to kill her. these were all horrible things, but to her knowledge, he wasn’t unfaithful to her. So finally, she couldn’t take anymore and she left him and has since married a man that loves her dearly…but her ex-husband is still alive.

    Now, with the black and white mindset, one would consider my mother an adulteress…however, who would stay in a situation that’s harmful and potentially deadly?

    That my friends…is a shade of gray.

    Comments???

    GCMW: This thread is about spiritual maturity or the lack thereof. We’ll have to table your line of questioning until that topic comes up. Perhaps you can address it in terms of whether you think you mother was spiritually immature to come to that decision.

  10. It’s ok if you don’t have answers for that one. I understand…but my point is…that everything is not right or wrong, black or white, holiness or hell, etc…not everything.

    Now as far as my views on whether I think my mom was spiritually immature to come to that decision….

    I actually know my mother was very mature spiritually to make the decision to get out of that crazy situation. A spiritually immature person on the other hand…would’ve probably stayed and endured it longer than they really had to and may have been seriously hurt. This man went on to commit heinous crimes against other women and was eventually convicted for it. I’m glad my mother got out of it…whether he cheated on her or not.

    Let me tell you why I say a spiritually immature person probably would’ve stayed..it’s because one of the characteristics of a SI person is that they often put the principles over people…Rules over relationship…in other words, they follow the black and white letter of the law…while all along ignoring the ‘spirit’ of what God was trying to convey. They read what the bible says and does just that….whether people are hurt and injured in the process or not.

    On the other hand, a SM (spiritually mature) person can follow the letter and the spirit of the word…and realize that when Jesus forbade divorce save adultery, it wasn’t an absolute to be followed at the expense of harming his people, but a precedence that was set to cause men to honor the covenant relationship of marriage.

  11. Hbr 12:14 Follow peace with all [men], and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

    I believe that we have to be about it (striving), while knowing that God holds the reins to our hearts, and knows whether we are striving or postulating.

    It’s a sad notion to try and fool ourselves, and you know what? God is greater than our consciences, so figure on those of us that are into self deception, are we in the age where the strong delusion spoken of in the bible?

    I guess you were wanting me to elaborate some? I hope that this suffices!

  12. Uh… no if God said dont eat of that tree, a spiritually mature person wouldnt eat of that tree, not try to put “people over principles” whatever that’s supposed to mean.
    Obedience is a key sign of maturity.

  13. I’m a bit confused by your reply. What ‘tree’ are you referring to? and what I meant when i said they put “principles” over “people”…by telling my mom to stay in an abusive marriage because they bible says she can’t divorce…over being first concerned for her safety and well-being…is putting principles over people…rules over relationship….

    I hear you about obedience being a key sign of maturity, so do you think that it was a sign of immaturity that my mother did divorce this man??

    GCMW: Maturity is learning to obey God’s word, not doing what you feel is best. Using your mother’s divorce as a case in point, is a bad example and youre not doing so good of a job explaining how it is/isnt spiritually mature or how it can be applicable to an everyman. Too many variables that we are not aware of and probably dont need to get bogged down with.

  14. @GCMWatch

    You can say whatever you want to say about my mother’s spiritual immaturity for divorcing an abusive man…but you wouldn’t hold your daughter to those standards….regardless of what is written.

    If someone was beating on your daughter…anyone in their right mind…including YOU would want her to get out.

    obedience or not.

    GCMW: Again, that’s why this IS NOT an appropriate example of spiritual maturity. Already, youre emotionally invested. End of this conversation.

  15. I’m not emotionally invested in it…I’m just having a conversation that needs to be had….you should post it as a topic….

    I guess I’m on ban punishment again.

    typical.

    GCMW: lol Henry you have a complex. Youre not on ban or anything. And we have already discussed divorce on this blog in GREAT DETAIL and just dont want to go into it again here. Use the search and you can read it for yourself.

  16. LOL! yes, I agree the shout-until-you-drop approach doesn’t make for much discipleship 🙂 …yeah, when I think about it, much to my embarassment, COGIC is not so great with discipleship.

    Can one disciple himself? No…I was discipled by my parents as most others are. And God has over the years, attached me to just-got-saved-yesterday people to disciple. Although at the time, I didn’t realize that I was discipling them…

    really, it all goes back to the holy spirit;
    Whether its a pastor, parent, or person God assigns you to, everyone has to come through spiritual maturity through the Holy Spirit. We are often discipled by the holy spirit through people; but I think a mark of maturity is when you can receive direction directly from the Holy Spirit…not to say, that we should all abandon our churches, because we don’t need pastors or anything like that….

    But anyways, if we run into stunted growth, its our fault–because of refusal to be responsive to the spirit of God.
    I guess that dovetails with previous comments about the problem with low maturity levels at churches, that people need to be filled and even at mainline pentecostal churches, more emphasis is needed on Christ and the spirit of God, the one that Jesus says “leads us into all truth.”

  17. Elder Foster,

    Thanks for linking to my post. I’ve made some corrections to that also.

    This topic on spiritual maturity is a very good one also. What I’ve found is this…if the leader is silly, he/she (yes she) will attract silly people. If the leader is interested in spiritual growth, others will gravitate toward that same thing. The leader, though totally not responsible, has caused the people of God to err. that cannot be overlooked. Ultimately, I believe that a person has a responsiblity for spiritual growth and development as the relationship with Christ should be a priority within the life of the believer. Hank Hanegraaff says, “walk in the light the Christ has given and more light will be extended” The reason many are so immature and have stunted growth, is that oftimes they don’t walk in the light that they have and sometimes don’t pursue greater than their associates.

    Finally, if a pastor isn’t interested in building spiritual maturity among his membership and creating a solid system of accountability, you’ve got trouble no matter what the name is on the door. that’s why there are so many lopsided churches…shout good but no or little knowledge of scripture, then the inverse that is just as problematic in my opinion. There must be balance and maturity in all things.

    There does however come a point when a person realizes that they’ve got to run this race for Christ even if that means leaving others and traditions in the dust…C’est tout!

  18. I’m happy your mother got out. He was no husband, he was a devil who could have eventually beat her to death.

  19. I think the spiritual mature person knows the difference between walking in the flesh verses walking in the spirit and the consequences of each.

    The seen verses the unseen; spiritually immature folks will usually concentrate only on the seen, thus will please thier flesh without considering their “soul.”

    The solution: God’s word. Putting your trust in men, nations, etc.. will always bring God’s judgement. Trusting His word and His promises goes against everything we “naturally” desire, thus we seek the “seen” (immature) and those who have learned they are indeed helpless (mature) will always seek God’s word and His Trurths alone. In fact, the mature will no longer fear death, their flesh is already dead. 🙂

    Who is responsible? Each individual is. Faith equals obedience. Trusting in our Hope and glory to come is what a mature believer lives and dies by.

    Blessings Pastor! – didn;t mean to ramble..

  20. Pastor Foster:

    As you are a member of the clergy with beliefs similar to mine, care to weigh in on this topic? I would have posted this request on your “about” page, but that appears to no longer be possible. However, as this topic is concerning spiritual maturity and false doctrines and teachers, it may actually be relevant to the conversation (as opposed to being a blatantly transparent pathetic and gratuitous attempt to promote my own site!) Thank you. Sorry about being away so long, but you know what me and my family are going through right now 🙂

    http://healtheland.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/my-questions-on-the-practice-of-spiritual-warfare-and-deliverance/

    http://healtheland.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/my-questions-on-the-practice-of-spiritual-warfare-and-deliverance/#comment-36709

  21. Job man thanks so much, Im praying for you and you family that God will carry you through. I will read through the links and put an addendum quote on the article.
    Bless you. Call me if you need to.

  22. I’ve read Job’s post – a must read IMHO. I have to take a Spiritual Formation class soon, not looking forward to it to be honest, but I’ll wait till after I have finished it to do that aweful judging thing 🙂

    God’s word is the ONLY weapon any man need. God has never lost anything or anyone to Satan, He uses nations and men to bring His judgement to be sure, but He always restores His own. Man has never been nor ever will be able to control demons, satan etc.. absent the power of God. In other words, No man cast out demons – God does; and sin is not a demon.

    Those who support any of this spiritual warfare nonsense have abandoned the word of God (there ONLY weapon) – as all false teachings do and are ultimately speaking on Satan’s behalf. The sole purpose of Miracles and Signs were to establish apostolic credentials – 2 Cor. 12:12 – The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. Think about it – if all believers were able to preform miracles Paul would have had no reason to say that it was a True sign of apostleship. The apostles had a unique authority and ministry. The apostles had personally seen the Lord and had been taught by Him. Does anyone today have these credentials? No.

    Paul nor any other ever “rebuked” Satan, they pursued holiness and obedience until death – living faith. We are to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, set apart to God, and totally “transformed” wearing the armor of God everyday and under all circumstances – Ephesians 6:11 and 13.

    1 Cor 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

    Christ did it all!

  23. Brother Foster
    That’s a funny picture, but sadly true.
    I think our fruit of the Spirit will show were we are as christians. Paul refered to thier fruit by calling them carnal. For them thier fruit were of the flesh and not the Spirit. To know if one is a mature christian we only have to look at thier fruit. It should be the fruit of the Spirit.

    Galatians 5:
    24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
    25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit

    The reason Paul spoke to Corinthians as babes were that he saw that they had not the fruit of the Spirit and therefore would not understand anything spiritual.
    Because they did not allow the Spirit to led them.

    A very good topic…

  24. How can one measure spiritual maturity? Or any maturity? Are not the guidelines of such things subjective?

    Maturity is defined, by Webster, as: full development; perfected condition: maturity of judgment; to bring a plan to maturity.

    Perfected condition? Can any of us really be mature?

    You believe in a supreme being. Based on your own experiences and the words in a book, you have come to conclusions about how the world is, and that view is, for you, mature. You know what makes sense to you. And you know what ideas in faith are correct to you.

    But is it not immature to look on the interpretations of others and judge them? Did you walk in their shoes?

    You talk about others who believe most-nearly the same things as you as if they are misguided. How then must you feel about those who have rejected your beliefs wholesale?

    Is it mature to feel they have made a poor choice? Might they be as mature as you in their own faith’s eyes?

    Perhaps real maturity is being secure enough to say: “I believe this, and it is cool if others believe something slightly, or even completely different, because I am no wiser or more perfected than they are. I am capable of being mistaken as much as there are. I am not infallible”

    I am a student of many philosophies and religions. In all my study, there is really only one thing I have found that leads humanity toward external peace. And that is internal peace. Being secure enough to believe something, despite what may come, and believing in other people’s ability to do the same when they are ready.

    I think this kind of maturity supersedes any kind of spiritual maturity. A maturity that seems to be arbitrary and defined by how much like you another person is, rather than how at peace with other ideas they are.

  25. Subjectivity is the enemy of true Christians. Subjectivity is defined as “pertaining to or characteristic of an individual; personal; individual: a subjective evaluation; placing excessive emphasis on one’s own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric.”

    Our first responsibility as Christians is defined in
    Matt 11:28-30. That we are to surrender everything to Christ, learn of him, and apply that knowledge to our lives. Galations 2:20 reiterates this in that we die to self, and Christ lives through us. So we give up self for Christ. Our entire lives are lived from God’s subjective standard which is outlined in the scriptures. We know how God feels because he tells us over and over again in the Bible.

    God also says that he has no respect a person, so each one has opportunity to receive him, and there’s no special treatment. Also, 2 Peter 1:20 tells us there’s no private interpretation, so anyone really seeking God will come to the same conclusions because his Word does not change, and he will give you understanding.

    So any deviation from the scripture is transgression against God and not man, although all of these offenses will bring consequence to man in some manner both in this life and in eternity. This is how we end up with 2 million denominations. But the Bible tells us there’s only 1 church. That church consists of those who believe the whole Bible, and have applied it to their lives.

    Pertaining to maturity and perfection, only Christ is perfect. But Christians are to press toward that mark. You know the level of maturity by how much of the Bible is alive in them. This will be evident in how they treat people, and how they represent Christ to the world around them. No, we are not going to accept anyone else’s belief (any other religion) as Truth because we know that to be contrary to scripture, but we are always to love those individuals whether they ever agree or not. Nor are we to misapply what God has instructed us. Proverbs 27:5 says Open rebuke is better than secret love, so I cannot just let errors go uncorrected. Whom the lord loveth he chasteneth. Your parents had to correct you, and we must as believers correct one another in love.

    That’s what Christ displayed. He came to correct the hypocrite Pharisees and Saducees who applied their own rules, not God the Father’s law, and also came to rescue anyone who accepted his teaching. The folks he came to rescue were lost, unbelievers. The righteous don’t need a saviour. Lastly, he told us to go to all the world and preach the gospel, and teach them to observe what he commanded of us in the scriptures. Matt 28:18-20. Anyone that will receive it has the power to be a child of God.

    You don’t need a subjective standard to figure out a 3 year old is less mature than a 10 year old. You can tell by their behavior and physical differences. The same rule applies to Christians. You know the most mature by their life, by the things that they are able to do in the power of God that he gives each believer. Everyone has access, but everyone won’t grow to the same level because not everyone makes the same effort, and not everyone has been a believer for the same length of time. Scripture says draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. So the more you give God the more he will give you, and the more mature you will be.

    And yes we’ve all walked in their shoes. At one time or another we were all unbelievers. We were all lost. We were all disconnected from God because we denied Jesus. Even ones such as myself who were taught Christian values from an early age. I was lost until I accepted Christ for myself. And the teaching I received barely scratches the surface compared to what I have learned since I accepted Christ. My parents put over twenty years of teaching in to me, but less than two years of a personal relationship with God has built hundreds times more on top of that.

    So I have walked in a sinner’s shoes; I can relate to anyone outside the will of God. But what I want for them is what Christ wants for them, and that’s to come to the knowledge of the Truth. That he died for all people, and will save ANYONE that calls on him. I want them to be like HIM and not like ME. But that decision is for them to make. But as a believer in Christ, I must present the Truth to them; they accept or reject it.

    Once you accept Christ, you must learn about him for yourself, develop a relationship with him for yourself. And whatever you lack, ask it of him and he will give it to you. God will meet you at whatever stage you’re in if you give him a sincere heart. But you cannot pick and choose what part of God you want to accept and reject. That’s against his instructions. That’s what shows immaturity.

    Please read these passages. I hope they will help you.

    Matt 13:3-23
    James 1:22 -25
    God Bless You

  26. I have a couple of observations

    Spiritual Maturity primarily deals with our ability to distinguish (discern) between good and evil and the choices that we make as a consequence, therefore submission and obedience to The Word of God is not optional.

    In regards to the idea of people matter more than principles, this may not be the popular view but God is more concerned with our growth to becoming Christ-like more so than he is concerned with our comfort or our pleasures.

    1. If I steal from you to buy fast food for my children, are we saying that the child’s wants matters more than our obligation not to steal (8th commandment) because it is a child?

    2. If I was your biological relative and slept with your wife, although we have a matter of forgiveness to deal with but do we say that because we are family that we pretend that it never happened and carry on the usual family traditions without dealing with both the adultry and the fornication?

    3. If I told you I was going to kill someone and went out and presumptiously shot someone would we hide it from the law because I am your friend and you do no want to see my incurr the consequences of my action and say because it is family we cover for each other not considering the fact that The Bible says do not kill?

    4. If being the pastor of the church you discover that I am a practising gay, do you hide the truth to protect my reputation stating that God is a God of love and that the man of God shpuld be honoured so turn a blind eye to my sin thus allowing me to continue to minister when it is clear I am not right to do, but I am doing so under the banner of this people matter more than principles therefore we are not to judge?

  27. I believe people are comfortable being complacent– it is safe. But it says in the Word that we must be either Cold or Hot!
    People forget that we are in this world daily! We are subject to subliminal messages that remain a part of us and order our steps. Therefore it is vital to replace the crap we pick up in the world with the Word of God. We have to go before the Lord, allow Him to search us and remove anything that is unlike His Holy Spirit and replace those things with more and more of Him. The Holy Spirit is our power and if we don’t have it, than we don’t have no power!
    I see we lack relationship with God, we need to sit in His prescence as opposed to trying to get to the next deliverance conference…
    Now that’s my two cents…
    May you “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called (Ephesians 4:1)
    InHIM~ Shona Marie

  28. Hi Mark, I looked up1 Cor 1:13 and realised that you must have meant 1 Colossians 1 verse 13 which is a truly powerful verse in its entirety. Redemption can be done through money, did Christ redeem us with money? No, he redeemed us through his blood, and yet the verse you quoted has no mention of Jesus Christ’s blood. Why? and why? Warfare!

  29. Thanks for the prayers and the offers of assistance! You know, God is really working miracles for my family right now. It is really during times of trials that you see how wonderful the grace of God is!

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