Spiritual Maturity - How is it measured?
Can spiritual maturity be measured by how long a person has been a Christian or by how much a Christian knows?
What does maturity mean and especially as it relates to our spirituality?
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. - Ephesians 4:11-13 NASB
Some of the words that stand out to me above are equipping, work, service, building up, unity of the faith, knowledge, and fullness.
Obedience might not be a very popular word among the hyper-grace crowd. I am not a member of the hyper-grace crowd so I will go forward in my use of it. I want to propose to you that spiritual maturity is not measured in time or in knowledge but in obedience. Let me explain...
There are Christians who have attended church their entire lives, every Sunday, some since the first Sunday after they were born. They identify as Christian and will more than likely attend church every Sunday until the Sunday before they die. And yet, some of these long time church attenders can be really immature people. I'm talking like immature in general, compared to an unbelieving population. In fact there are unbelievers who point to these people as the reason why they don't believe.
Then there are Christians (this category will hit closer to home for me, personally) who pursue studying God within formal education. Church attendance is not enough for these people. They go on to study God in their undergraduate and graduate studies. They learn all they can about God, about the Bible, possibly about the original languages the Bible was written in. They could tell you facts about God and the Bible which would amaze you. Yet still, some among this population are also acting immature. If the shoe fits, wear it, right? Unfortunately, as I write this blog, the shoe fits too well on me in this paragraph. My undergraduate studies and one of my MA degrees is basically in Christian/Biblical Studies and yet I have allowed immaturity to display itself in work situations, in relationships, and in general.
So where does obedience fit? Attending church, every Sunday, your entire life, is great! Studying God and the Bible is great! But years in the faith and knowledge do not automatically translate into spiritual maturity. Obedience does.
In the Bible, James says that faith without works is dead. Again, the use of the word "works" could possibly make some hyper-gracers cringe but let me use an example to show how faith and works are seamlessly intertwined.
You are in a building. Someone approaches you and says, "the building is on fire!" You agree with them, "yes, the building is indeed on fire," you respond, and yet you remain in the building. What is your fate? If the building is truly on fire and you remain in the building then you will die. Your mental agreement and confession of the facts did not produce a positive result for you. However, if your response is to evacuate the building - that action PROVES that you believed that the building was on fire. Your life is saved as a result of your action.
Let's create another example. God says in His word that sex outside of marriage is wrong. You agree with God and confess "sex outside of marriage is wrong" and yet you proceed to have sex outside of marriage. There are multiple "Choose Your Own Adventure" endings that I could make up right now but let's say you end up getting pregnant but wish you had no ties with the other parent of your child. Now you are tied for the duration of the life of your child to that other parent. This makes you unhappy. Now, what does the obedience of faith look like? God says sex outside of marriage is wrong. You do not engage in sexual activity outside of marriage. You marry one day and have a wonderful and fulfilling sexual relationship with your spouse. BECAUSE you believed what God said, you obeyed what God said. Do you see how faith and works are intertwined?
So how does this relate to spiritual maturity? Person A has been a Christian for 50 years. They obey two things in the Bible. Person B has gone to seminary and earned a Master's of Divinity. They obey three things in the Bible. Person C became a Christian two months ago and has learned 10 things and obeys all 10 things. Which one is most mature? I say Person C is most mature because by their greater obedience, they look more like Christ than the others who lack obedience. Person C lacks time as a Christian and lacks knowledge of the Christian faith but what they have learned so far, they believe AND obey which makes them look more like Jesus than the others.
Obedience is NOT a dirty word. Neither is works. I hope the above examples help show that without action, there is no true faith. Mental assent/agreement and verbal confession cannot produce the same result as obedience. The one who obeys most looks most like Jesus who obeyed it all!