Where’s the Growth Chart?

During the “Top Ten” series for pressing on to spiritual maturity, I had a dear friend email me with a few questions:

What does this process of spiritual growth look like exactly?

How is growth measured? Since there are no “growth charts” for young believers (as there are for infants: “failure to thrive,” “average,” etc.), how does one know if she is where she should be?

  • What exactly is spiritual maturity?
  • How is it quantified?
  • Is it determined by the amount of time that one has believed?
  • Her biblical knowledge?
  • Her “spiritual” activities?
  • How Christ-like one appears? (How much is enough?)
  • Can one grow as she should without the privilege of a local church?

Wow, she delivered a truck-load of great questions to my inbox! That’s one thing I love about my friendship with her. She’s an “iron-sharpening” friend because her questions always push me to go deeper as I formulate answers!

I’m certainly not an expert on this, so I’ll welcome any insights you care to share, but I’m going to try to wade in and attempt to answer a few of these. Here’s the first one:

“What exactly is spiritual maturity?”

Spiritual maturity has progressing levels. Generally I should probably use the term “spiritually growing, maturing or progressing” more often than “spiritual maturity” like it is some kind of terminal degree that can be obtained! No matter how long we’ve walked with Christ, all of us should be in some sort of growth process. There are times when we level off, fail and fall, pick back up and start over, but generally we should be progressing forward in growth.

Scripture uses the term “mature” to describe those who’ve gone beyond the basics of Christianity and are digging into the meat of the Word. That process of maturing has affected their conduct.

Spiritual maturity certainly isn’t something that’s determined by the years you’ve been a Christian. I’ve known several 40 year old spiritual infants and apparently Paul did, too:

[box]For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12–14)[/box]

How is growth measured?

I think spiritual maturity may be measured by seeing qualitative victory over sin patterns occurring over an extended season of time.

Paul is a great example of someone we see maturing in his faith. As a fairly new convert, he was a fiery zealot, very knowledgeable of the OT Scriptures, but still a little “quick on the draw” when it came to demonstrating grace to others (Acts 15:39). But we see him mature in this area as he progresses in his walk with Christ (2 Tim. 4:11).

Spiritual growth can actually thrive during seasons of adversity.

Adverse circumstances can become a training ground for spiritual growth. Difficulties provide us with the opportunity to reach for God’s grace and respond in the power of the Spirit. Spiritual growth can be measured in how our responses to trials begin to mirror Christ’s response. I’ve never been incarcerated, but Paul’s attitude during his time in prison is a beautiful picture of spiritual maturity:

[box]Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. (Philippians 1:12–14)[/box]

Can one grow as she should without the privilege of a local church?

Paul explains in Ephesians 4 how spiritual maturity occurs. God has given “gifts” to the Church in the form of spiritual leaders who equip us in our growth:

[box]As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ . . . (Ephesians 4:14–15, but read the whole chapter for the full context)[/box]

Without receiving the benefits from the spiritual leadership that God has placed within the Church it will be very difficult to progress spiritually. We need the biblical teaching from knowledgeable pastors, the exhortation and encouragement from fellow believers, and the life examples from those who are further along in the growth process. (Check out more on that topic by clicking here.)

How is growth quantified?

Perhaps a level of spiritual maturity is reached when we can say (like Paul), “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Paul admits that he’s still a work in progress, but he’s also reached a point in that process where he is able to call others to follow his example:

[box]Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:12–17)[/box]

This idea of others “imitating” a mature believer is not some blind following, but is the pattern of training and discipling for the church that Paul lays out in Titus:

[box]Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:3–8)[/box]

Helping others reach a point of spiritual maturity was Paul’s goal in every interaction he had with fellow believers and I’ve adopted it as my life pursuit as well:

[box]Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col 1:28)[/box]

Are you pressing onto spiritual maturity?

What does that look like?

What qualitative victory do you have over sin patterns of the past?