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Marks of maturity > I need your help…

May 24, 2008

How do we know if someone (ourselves included) is spiritually mature?

How do we know if someone is growing spiritually?

What are the marks of spiritual maturity and depth?

I’m wrestling with this question and really need some help… Here’s my first stab at it.

Spiritual growth is measured by fruit. “By their fruits you will know…” What is fruit? Well, the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace…” (Galatians 5) Ok, how is that measured? “Love is patient, love is kind… love keeps no record of wrongs…” (I Corinthians 13) 

Another marker seems to be obedience. Are we more obedient to Christ and his way today than we were in days past? “Teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28) “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 15) 

Here’s a related question > Is this even a good or valid question? ie Can we judge spiritual maturity? Can we know someone’s else’s or even our own heart/character? 

Here’s the question I’m really after… As a leader/pastor/spiritual director how can i help people mature spiritually in my context and how will we know if we’re failing or succeeding in obeying Christ’s  command to make disciples…

i would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or via email kevinrains (at) mac (dot) com  

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Bob permalink
    May 24, 2008 2:11 pm

    “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5)

    Pure heart = regeneration/changed life/altered values and goals/new creation.

    Good conscience = obedience/pure life/deep repentance in a way that isn’t merely a suppression of evil but rather a preference for good.

    Sincere faith = perseverance. Not having a faith that is contingent on life circumstances or emotions. One that has been “tested by the light of the sun”

    Interestingly enough, I think a mature disciple recognizes and regularly grapples with doubt. If you talk to someone and they don’t have a “question regarding their faith burning in their hearts” I’d wonder if their faith burns at all.

    Also, they should show evidences of a journey. If you’ve known them for 10 years and they are basically the same place they were 10 years ago, I’d wonder what’s going on. Life (including spiritual) changes with time. You should be able to look back and identify things that have changed from 1 year ago, 3 years ago, 10 years ago, etc. Most importantly, the (mature) person will be able to articulate this journey themselves.

  2. May 24, 2008 4:23 pm

    These are good, meaty questions man. Not easy to answer though, as you already hinted at. I’m just going to throw a few thoughts in the mix and see how they sit.

    First, it would be very difficult to “see” where someone “is” spiritually in a snap-shot. I mean, I think we really need time to get a real glimpse at someone’s deep, inner character – the shape of their soul. They might give off a good first impression, but that doesn’t mean much if they fall apart when something gets hard next week.

    Two words that connect with the time thing, as I think about it, seem to be Progression and Consistency. Over time, are we/they progressing/evolving? Are we allowing God to mold us, even if it’s difficult? Are we trying to cooperate with Him as He moves in and around us? And, it may seem contrary to progression, but are we consistent over time? Steady, stable – not prone to be “tossed here and there by various winds of doctrine.”

    Love has already been mentioned above but this is the biggest thing of all. It encompasses all the “keep the commandments” business. It IS the commandment that He left us to keep, and we can’t really “keep” it unless we are, to whatever degree, filled and changed by it. Again, I think it takes time to see how someone will react in any given situation – how they/we treat people. I mean, do we love people or not? Do we lay ourselves down for others as we can, as we are put in positions to do so?

    This may be random, but another concept that pops up at me in this discussion is Zeal. It’s not bad, I just very often see it expressed most recognizably without much wisdom attached to it. The term zeal without wisdom is one that can be used of spiritually immature people. Sometimes we grab hold of something we think is important, something we believe in strongly or believe God wants for us and everyone, and we just go hog-wild with it to extents that God very likely never intended. Zeal is often mistaken for maturity, I think.

    Short bursts or long haul?

    Are we/they inordinately “hung-up” on legalistic technicalities about different things? This seems to often be a symptom of someone who is insecure and are trying to find something on which to hang their spiritual hats. This is also connected, seems like, to a tendency to be argumentative and to thrive on debate. Debate can be fine, and at times necessary, but we’ve all seen unhealthy attachments to this form of conversation, whether in ourselves or in others.

    OK, that’s enough rambling from me. Last thing is I think it would be very hard to measure a level of “success” in this arena. It would take years to effectively get an accurate take on it with an individual, much less a whole community of people. There are things, practices, ways of being for you, which you must simply find and continue in and know that this is helping to cultivate an atmosphere of growth for those in your care. There is a huge part of it that isn’t up to you at all. Disciples must also “be made” themselves. OK, that’s it. Peace.

  3. Micah permalink
    May 25, 2008 8:22 pm

    I always default to selflessness. The process of spiritual formation is the process of moving from selfish to selfless. It’s almost always true that if somebody grows closer to God, the practical outflow of that is for them to be a little less selfish.

    I love the fruit thing, though. Tom Thatcher, over at CCU, gives the most amazing (and shortest) 90-minute lecture on fruit that you’ve ever heard. Rock-your-world, permanently-change-your-perspective good. I keep pushing him to write a book but he hasn’t gotten around to it yet.

  4. May 26, 2008 5:04 am

    OK, I really would love to do a podcast over these questions, especially from a UM Pastor point of view, because I have been preaching that we must learn to “count” differently, and keep score is a radically different way. And These are the questions that I desire to wrestle with and I would love to have you and I sit down and throw out the thoughts, and see if we can take our wrestling to a different plane of existence. Peace!

  5. May 26, 2008 4:47 pm

    I really like Martin Thornton’s language of “proficiency” for these kinds of questions. Unless we can read hearts, I’m not sure we can really accurately perceive or decree to what point someone has grown, or where they are on the “ordo salutis” (and that ordo isn’t even progressive stages, really, but overlapping and paradoxical). But we can talk about what practices and dispositions characterize someone who is becoming proficient in following Christ.

    But I would have to add that we do that from wherever we’re standing. Don’t different families of Christians frame the goal of Christian life differently enough that they would frame what it means to “grow” in that life differently? An Orthodox mystic seeking theosis would expect and cultivate different symptoms of growth than a thoroughgoing Reformed believer or a Wesleyan pietist. (I’ve found Simon Chan’s “Spiritual Theology” extremely helpful on this.)

  6. May 27, 2008 7:52 pm

    Great questions (and comments) and I really like the way you are asking the questions…a hint of uncertainty as to whether we should ask them in the first place. I think the second question, “How do we know if someone is growing spiritually?” is the most helpful kind of question to ask. This question seems to be directed toward “progress” rather than arrival at some ubiquitous definition of “spiritual maturity.”

    It seems to me that being in the business of “soul care” should at least pay attention to whether someone is getting healed and set free as he or she gets connected to Jesus, and then, whether or not there is a present desire to give away what one has received. This desire to give away is evidence of thankfulness of being a recipient of God’s grace, as well as evidence of a maturing picture of how they get to be the hands and feet of Christ in “setting the world to rights.” The giving away of what one has received will of course include the love of Jesus, the care of Jesus and often-times will include an associated joy or pain as we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

    In short: repentance, healing, and getting one’s hands dirty in the stuff of the kingdom.

    When I look back on my own journey in following Christ…this seems to me to be how God continues to grow me and my desire to see “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

  7. Pat permalink
    May 31, 2008 9:59 pm

    Fantastic question, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days since you asked it.

    I too, like jared above, think more about progress than about arrival. Some of the greatest spiritual growth in the lives of my friends and acquantances could really only measured by knowing their story – for one woman, being able to trust in a good God after a horrible past; for one man, being willing to listen before speaking. Those were hard-won victories, and frankly most people wouldn’t look at them and call them “spiritually mature”. But to know where they had started their journey, and how far they had travelled, that made all the difference.

    For me, I can only measure my own “maturity” by my relationship to others – am I being more compassionate, caring, listening to my wife? Am I less self-centered and more engaging with my kids? Do I intentionally practice the hospitality of presence around folks I don’t like? Am I willing to spend time with those I am frustrated by? And also – am I willing to say “no” to the good, in order to say “yes” to the great?

    Do I practice what I preach?

    Ahh, there it is, isn’t it?

  8. July 13, 2008 3:03 am

    I really think the fruits of the spirit can be seen as a measuring stick for this. In Galatians 5:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 13 we are given a list of outward attributes of someone who has cultivated the Holy Spirit internally. I think the mark of maturity is an obvious manifestation of these fruits, and a master, would be someone who seems to demonstrate these virtues effortlessly as if they were just being themselves.

  9. jared permalink
    August 20, 2009 6:31 am

    lol…ok….my name is jared kedge….and i’ve been proven to be phycic…(yea dont no how to spell errr that one..) so what ever ur talking about …ur talking a hell of about me…just thought you should know…thats all..

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