by Jim Putman: “Too many Christians have accepted an improper definition of spiritual maturity, rather than understanding God’s definition. And this improper definition is only causing frustration, disappointment, and chaos in their lives, not to mention the lives of those they are discipling.”
I’m sure some of you may consider this a bold statement, and wonder how I came to make it, or if it is even true. Allow me to explain:
To be clear, I believe strongly that Christians need to know the Bible. Christians need correct doctrine. We need to obey God’s directions for behavior and use the gifts God has given us. We teach those principles, and we stand firm on God’s truth in our church.
Yet the Bible is also clear that Bible knowledge or even obedience to God’s laws or using our spiritual gifts is not the compete definition of spiritual maturity. These things are important, but they are pieces of a bigger picture.
The entire Bible is about relationship. Remember, in Matthew 22:40 Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang on loving God and loving others. Every law God gives expresses His desire to build and protect relationships.
Jim Putman, author of this blog, is writing a new book called The Death of Discipleship about the dynamics of pride and humility in the discipleship process. Download the free primer for this book here.
Being spiritually mature means we understand the heart of God and seek to love what and whom He loves. It causes great difficulty for the team (the church) when leaders miss the point. In many Christian circles, spiritual maturity has become about rule following, gaining knowledge (which puffs up rather than builds up- 1 Corinthians 8:1) and elevating high skilled charismatic personalities.
Knowing Scripture and listening to good teachers are both good things, but these alone do not make a person spiritually mature or create a body of mature Christ-followers.
Going back to the Matthew passage – if all the law and the prophets hang on loving God and loving others, we should pay close attention to what God’s Word has to say about love.
In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul, being led by the Holy Spirit, lays out the definition of love. According to the latter part of this passage, Christians can have all sorts of gifts and abilities and do all sorts of wonderful things, but if we don’t have love, then everything else is worthless. He speaks with hyperbole here to drive home a point. We can do some great things, he says, but without love those great things don’t amount to anything. We can follow the rules, give away all our money, offer our bodies to the flame as martyrs, move mountains with our faith, fathom all knowledge and all mysteries, get doctorates in theology, and win every single game of Bible trivia every invented.. But without love, it’s all for nothing.
In 1st Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul calls the Corinthians “infants in Christ”. Notice what he says marked them as such. It was not lack of skills, or gifts. What marked them as immature believers was lack of love. Paul chastised them for quarreling and jealousy. Spiritual maturity was tied directly to their ability to be in relationship with one another.
Back to what I said at the beginning of this post, I believe strongly that Christians need to both know the Bible, and know correct doctrine. These are important components of Spiritual maturity, but they are part of a bigger picture. As our faith in God grows deeper, we gain a deeper understanding of God’s heart to restore relationship with Him and with others. The Holy Spirit begins to change our hearts toward others. As we grow up Spiritually we begin to love what God loves. And God loved people enough to give His son in exchange for them.
Written by Jim Putman
This was originally posted on Jim Putman’s blog here. Used with permission.