Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

Free The Church

Spiritual Maturity


The spiritually mature care for the young

Published on: May 17, 2009

Leadership Requires Knowing Where You are Taking Others

I am a gymnastics coach. If I do not know what the “big tricks” are and how to train athletes to do them, my coaching will only go so far. Knowing where you are going with the training has to be known before one even begins to coach. For the very first steps have to be done with these goals in mind.

So when I read the Barna Group survey recently published entitled, “Many Church Goers and Faith Leaders Struggle to Define Spiritual Maturity”. They came up with a variety of problems.

…an underlying reason why there is little progress in helping people develop spiritually: many churchgoers and clergy struggle to articulate a basic understanding of spiritual maturity. People aspire to be spiritually mature, but they do not know what it means.

Not only the congregation, but the pastoral leadership has little understanding of what spiritual maturity means.

Pastors want to guide others on the path to spiritual wholeness, but they are often not clearly defining the goals or the outcomes of that process.

For the majority of believers they think that spiritual maturity means following rules and having consistent devotional practices. This is encouraged by the pastoral leadership who view maturity by the activitivities of their congregants. And yet to their dismay,

…a minority of pastors believe that spiritual immaturity is a problem in their church.

Well, of course… if these pastors think spiritual maturity is outward actions, then no wonder their congregation is spiritually immature.

Spiritual Maturity

So, let me state simply what spiritual maturity is: it is knowing how to abide in the Lord’s rest. This takes time and experience to know. And it is all centered upon knowing how to trust God. Consider what the writer of Hebrews said.

Heb 4:1-4

1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.
2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. (KJV)

These three points can be gleaned from this passage.

  1. Faith
    Verse 2 says, “the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it
  2. Eternity
    Verse 3 says, “the works were finished from the foundation of the world
  3. Sabbath
    Verse 4 says, “God did rest the seventh day from all his works

Faith and trust have split hair definitions. Faith is what you believe in your heart, trust is the application of that belief in real life circumstances. Faith is our means of cognition. Hebrews says, “through faith we understand” (Heb. 11:3) . It is by faith that we know God. Knowing who God really is, and what His character is truly like takes time in developing an honest relationship with Him. When we know Him in truth, then our character will reflect His character. Many of the problems encountered in the Christian walk are due to our not responding in the character of Christ towards our situations. That error is sometimes simply because we are mistaken about His character. Other times it is because the work of the cross has not carved deep enough in our lives to reveal Christ’s character. When we trust God in all our circumstances we enter His rest. It is there that we find “the peace of God that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). It is in trusting God we develop the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It is by faith we know His voice and understand His will.

Eternity is the abode of God. He does not dwell in time and space, except through the body of Christ. His Spirit hovers over creation (Gen. 1:2) but is not part of the creation. So entering the rest of the Lord is to touch eternity. For “the work of God was finished before the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3) means that when we rest in Him we are trusting in those finished works of His which are being expressed by His present involvement in our lives.

The Sabbath rest is not a single day observation of once a week, but the every day abiding in His rest. Paul told the Colossians:

Col 2:16-17
16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (KJV)

The shadow he refers to is the eternal rest that is to be experienced every day. Let us consider how the sabbath fits in the 10 Commandments listing.

Knowing that Yahweh is God we have no other gods before Him nor do we make idols in our hearts. Thus we abide in His sabbath rest daily trusting God. Because we trust Him daily we naturally honor our parents because we know they were established by God for our lives. Because we trust God we love our enemies and do not murder others in our heart nor in reality. Because we trust God we will not commit adultery nor any other sexual immorality because God’s plan for all families springs from eternity. My wife is my soul mate, and there is no other woman for me. Likewise, because we trust God to take care of us we do not steal nor we do not lie nor we do not covet any thing. For we know that God knows all our needs as well as our desires.

So knowing God brings us into His rest, and when we abide in His rest, we cause no harm to others.

Teaching Others

It is very disheartening to read from the Barna survey that many pastors do not understand what spiritual maturity means. They are the blind leading the blind, or the incompetent raising others to their level of incompetence.

Knowing how to abide in the Lord’s rest comes by experience. The writer of Hebrews said:

Heb 5:12-14
12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (KJV)

Spiritual maturity comes from the diligent effort to follow God in truth. This trial and error effort is guided by both the study of His will and personal response to our actions which is what develops discernment. It comes from being a doer of the word, and not a hearer only (James 1:22) which is why James further said that faith without works is dead (2:17). Paul goes further to say that spiritual maturity which comes from acting upon what you know regarding God, which brings hope from experience.

Rom 5:1-5
1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (KJV)

We are encouraged to find spiritually mature people to follow as role models.

Heb 13:7
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (NIV)

What is that outcome of their way of life that you to imitate? Their abiding in the Lord’s rest.

Comments to Original Post

Tim Price

Submitted on 05/17/2009

Alex, great post… I watched Angels and Demons yesterday and the “leadership” of that institutional “church” also failed in understanding leadership and many other things… What is sad is that folks want to point at one institutional “church” structure and say that one is bad or another one is bad. The idea that church would ever be institutional is a bad concept, much less the reality of it.

One text I would add to your post is Eph. 4, from where some get the “fivefold ministry”. In the beginning of the chapter it tells us that EACH has been given a gift or calling. Later, there is a listing of some, and some and some, upon where the “fivefold folks” pounce with their focus. Yet two thing escape in this mindset that tie back to what you shared.

The purpose of these callings is that all would be brought to maturity. Maturity is not exact defined in this text. Implied is that we would be consistently moving towards what God want, not tossed by every wind of teaching… Secondly, the some, some and some, mentioned five times is all inclusive because God has given gifts or calling to EACH person; not a group of specialists.

Maturity, though not articulated in so many words is knowing what your calling is and being employed in that calling as a part of the body of Christ. This involves interaction, listening to God and man, a lot of love, forbearance….

We can’t define maturity exactly because it is not something we finally achieve. It is a never ending process. I think “church leaders” want to define the daylights out of “maturity” but doing so kills any chance of maturity happening.

Great post! Lots to consider and it has fomented lots of thoughts from others…


Timothy L. Price

Alexander Douglas
Submitted on 05/17/2009

What you are saying is part of the reason so many are confused on the issue. Maturity is automatically relegated by many as knowing your function and service to the body of Christ and the world.

I specifically avoided that because it leans on performance. Maturity in nature is not performance but completion. Fruit is mature when it is completely ripe. We are complete only as we abide in Christ. Abiding in Christ is the same thing, in my understanding, as entering the rest of the Lord because we rely upon His completion for us.

When we trust Christ to “work all things for good for those who love Him and are called by according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), He takes up the slack in our incompleteness to complete us in perfection (not our perfection but His). So, yes we serve Him, but only according to the leading of His Spirit and will. If we serve according to our ideas, we are not in His rest, but in our flesh.

Of course, Angels and Demons is a movie hostile to Christianity, so I would not put much stock in it.

As for Ephesians the word “some” has some interesting possibilities. I am of the opinion that “some” refers to different people that God uses at different times to help us in trusting Him. The focus needs to come off the “5 fold ministry” people and turn back to God who is the Shepherd and Mentor of us all. He is the one who brings us to spiritual maturity, and people in the body are temporary vessels of His work.

Submitted on 05/17/2009


I love this! Really and truly. After reading it, I had to set it aside for a while to think about it. You do have a point about entering into the Lord’s rest, that is true.

Your initial question about what we are aiming for in maturity was answered another way by Paul. He was talking to a group of people who were already believers when he said:

Gal 4:19 “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,”

I have written elsewhere that the Body of Christ has no sin or sickness in it and that it is robust and not weak. The individual members may struggle with these things, yes, but these things are not part of His Body. We do not carry them into the kingdom with us.

I believe the goal of Christ is to fill “all in all” and that this may be what Paul meant when he referred to Christ being formed in us. As I write these words I have suddenly stumbled upon something that seems to infer that this is the correct goal and measure of maturity:

Eph 1:22-23 “And [God] hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

We are striving to become mature individually and collectively. Maturity may provide us some insights into the “big tricks” of the enemy, but the knowledge of these seems to me to be a byproduct of maturity. Christ being fully formed in us is the goal, and the evidence of maturity in believers is the manifestation of that “accomplished salvation” working in and through us.

Alexander Douglas
Submitted on 05/17/2009

That very same verse had gone through my mind, too, even though I did not use it. Frank Viola made the observation that Paul was speaking of the collective expression of Christ being formed in the Galatians. This brings up another topic. I was really addressing individual maturity, but collectively applies, too.

I am in agreement with your message from the Lord, it bears witness in my spirit, too. Christ’s body is robust and healthy. We confuse the visible view of the body which has the wheat and tares together, with the invisible view of His body which is the active flow of His Spirit through those who are surrendered to Him. We do not see that, but He does.

Furthermore, finger pointing at the Church implies that Jesus is a loser. He is no loser. He is the champion of the world. It is a grave mistake to confuse the busyness of organized religion with the reality of the organism of Christ’s body. He is accomplishing what He wants to do with His real body.

So for those of us who are part of the organism, our individual maturity matches the collective maturity as we trust Him and abide in His rest.

Gina Moran
Submitted on 05/18/2009

Hi Alex,
I enjoyed the post. I agree that this is a great way to define spiritual maturity. I also enjoyed the others comments. Resting in the Lord can be amazingly hard sometimes. It is definitely something that I constantly have to work at… so I may not be very mature in this area yet, but I am working at it all the time.

Alexander Douglas
Submitted on 05/18/2009

I think the good news is that spiritual maturity is a two way street. As children we learn what life is about, but our bodies grow without our help (apart from eating). So, too, with spiritual maturity. We pay attention to God and respond accordingly, but God is the one causing us to mature. So our rest comes from not being concerned with those things that God is not bringing to our attention. As long as we are attending to what God wants from us, even though we can see a multitude of other things we lack, we can rest in Him because He will deal with those other things in His time and priorities. Thanks for your feedback.

Alexander Douglas
Submitted on 05/19/2009

David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, sent me this email.

“hi Alexander,

thanks for posting about our spiritual maturity release. I really appreciated what you described – and the biblical connections you laid out.

good stuff. thanks for pushing the conversation forward.


David Kinnaman
President | Barna Group”

I am delighted that you are following up on your survey. This discussion would never have been started without you. Your organization is such a valuable group that benefits the body of Christ greatly. Thank you for your work.

Submitted on 05/19/2009


Tremendous insight into “rubber-meets-the-road Christianity” and true spiritual maturity in Christ Jesus! One growth criterion the Bible stresses in this regard is unconditional COMMITMENT to God’s Word, God’s way, God’s will. The proof is in the perseverance (Eph. 6:18; Rev. 14:12), not the performance. The affirmation is in the abiding (Jn. 5:38, 15:4-5), not the accolades. The confirmation is in the continuance (Jn. 8:31; 1 John. 2:19), not the commendations. The manifestation of maturity is in the martyrdom (of dying to self and in the laying our life down for the Lord Jesus–Lk. 14:26-27, 33). Yes, spiritual maturity in the Christian life is staying true to the course–for the duration of the race. Not if we fall, but when we fall, the mature saint gets back up and gets back in the chase still believing, still hoping, still trusting. “Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Heb. 4:11). –DVB

Alexander Douglas
Submitted on 05/19/2009

Wow, David, well said!

Submitted on 05/19/2009

Good topic. Jesus tells us to go and make disciples. Knowing what a disciple is might help in fulfilling that task.

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