FIRST-PERSON: What spiritual maturity looks like
PENSACOLA, Fla. (BP) -- Spiritual maturity contains amazing ironies. It is a strange mix of progressive growth while still experiencing fresh wonders.
New truths are revealed from old Scriptures. Progress may mean being "weaker" -- not always exponentially stronger. And that's a good thing, because maturity can mean moving past certain struggles and yet also engaging in more personal warfare on sin.
The Holy Spirit is the agent and power moving us on to maturity. As the apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God."
If the Holy Spirit is genuinely present, we will be changing, maturing. Author and pastor Tim Keller describes change as both "gradual and inevitable." Spiritual maturity does not come overnight, yet it should be present and noticeable. Particularly to us. In fact, we should be the most attuned of all that God is making us a new creation. As J.C. Ryle, the 19th-century British pastor and bishop, wrote, "The Spirit never lies dormant and idle within the soul: He always makes His presence known by the fruit He causes to be borne in heart, character and life."
My own definition of maturity has certainly changed over the years, as things I now take most notice of were not exactly on my radar 30 years ago.
What I'm learning about spiritual maturity:
-- Growth is experienced, not only in knowing the Word more, but also in finding more awe at the grand narrative of the story of God. The living nature of the Word of God grows more staggering. There is delight in its piercing and wonder in its power.
-- The Gospel that I received 50 years ago is more vibrant, more alive than ever. The cross grows bigger each day. In fact, nearly daily I recognize its power in me with more clarity, not less.
-- My faith is stronger yet I have fewer answers about God. The word "mystery" is now a comfortable place instead of a place of doubt or fear.
-- I find more grace for others because I deeply understand the grace I've received and my deep flaws that Christ is transforming. Becoming a new creature is a lifetime process. When I identify that I am "in process," I allow others to be also.
-- God doesn't want me to be grown up. He wants me to be more childlike. Real maturity is when I am more dependent, not less. A child is trusting and needy. If Christ says that children are "the greatest in the Kingdom of God," I'd better live like one.
-- Maturity is seeking less for myself. A new grid for life stewardship, well beyond percentages of my finances, is forming.
-- Suffering is now understood as the inescapable reality of life on this planet, not something I should try to avoid at all costs. It's in our broken places where Christ's sufficiency and our transformation may be beautifully displayed.
-- There is more insight into the reality of my soul and my sin. Alongside is a heightened awareness that I am easily self-deceived. Sin battles are intense.
As J.C. Ryle wrote, "A deep sense of that struggle, and a vast amount of mental discomfort from it, are no proof that a man is not sanctified. No, rather, I believe, they are healthy symptoms of our condition and prove that we are not dead, but alive. A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within. He may be known by his warfare as well as by his peace."
-- I pray more for Gospel boldness, as I understand my reticence is the greatest barrier for me to live life on mission. Witnessing cannot be driven by guilt but by the power of the Holy Spirit -- He brings the boldness.
-- The awfulness of a life without Christ is becoming exponentially clearer. A life without hope, purpose, meaning and unfailing love is the great eternal tragedy. The beloved Creator wired me to be in relationship with Him. If I miss that, I miss everything. If others miss this, they miss everything.
-- The things of earth growing strangely dim. These are words I once sang as a teenager in open-air tabernacle set on a hillside in rural Missouri. Now I know what they mean.