Becoming a Christian is an instant thing, and it is not a process. When the supreme judge of the universe pronounces the word, “Not Guilty”, and the gavel falls with a resounding crack, in that holy moment, your position is changed instantly. You know you are guilty, and the whole world knows it, most definitely, the accuser -he knows you are guilty. You look for an explanation, but the declaration is sealed in the blood, “Your penalty is Paid, Free to Go, Sin no more!” That is justification. The moment you put your faith in Christ, you are declared righteous, and you are placed by God into the body of Christ. You have been born again, you become a new creation.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)
Peter writing to the believers, says in his first epistle in ch.2, “desire the pure milk of the Word”. Notice that verse 1 begins with the word “therefore.” He is referring to something that he has said earlier. What was that? “Since you have been born again through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). You began your new life with the Word, and now you must sustain your new life with the Word. And he ends his epistle by saying, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Why? “That’s for His glory” (2 Peter 3:18). God commands us to grow, and the spiritual maturity is a fundamental necessity in Christian life.
What Spiritual Maturity is not
- Our spiritual growth has nothing to do with our position in Christ.
At the very moment you’re justified, you immediately become a new born. You receive all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 1:3), in order for you to grow. Positionally, everything is taken care of. Our status before God is based on Christ righteousness and not our own, however the real and true change is enacted upon us by the Holy Spirit. Growing is not instant, it’s a process and it takes time. So, spiritual growth is not a matter of your position in Christ.
- We do not grow spiritually in order to receive more favor from God.
It is not a matter of gaining more love from God. God gave his fullest love when we’re delivered from the Satan’s hands in to Christ’s saving hands. He loved us when we were sinners, when we were enemies of Him, even before we ever came to Christ (Romans 5:7-10). His love does not change according to our behavior. Once you are saved you are always saved. You cannot lose your salvation. The word that caused you to be born again is enduring (1 Peter 1:23), so your security in the family of God is guaranteed. God gave His only Son, and there is no other greater gift to be given.
- Spiritual growth cannot be measured by time of decision.
Our spiritual maturity cannot be measured by the number of years we have been a Christian. Certainly, time can be a factor as growth concerned, but it is not the key contributor. We have seen people who have been saved a long period of time and grown very little. But, some people mature spiritually in a brief period of time. And there were people shown to be grown in Christ, suddenly fallout from the faith (Luke 8:13, 14). We cannot measure spiritual maturity by the calendar. The difference is the long, persevering commitment to the principles of growth.
- Spiritual growth cannot be measured by visible morality.
The visible morality does not mean anything about your position or growth (Matthew 19:16-21; 23:27). Churches are flooded with seemingly good people who hold to a faith that does not save. They have visible virtues and an external morality. They may be loving, kind, tender-hearted towards others, honest, and trustworthy, however they know nothing about serving the living God and glorifying Him. People may confess their sins, clean up their behavior and amend their ways because of self-guilt. That is external reformation, and not the internal regeneration.
- Spiritual growth does not necessarily depend on our Intellectual Knowledge.
We cannot equate our spiritual maturity with our biblical knowledge (Romans 1:21; Romans 2:17–29). There are people in the church who know all about God and understand gospel truths. They know the Scriptures, they possess the knowledge of Christ, but no application of those truths in their lives. Knowledge alone is not enough. It’s what you do with what you know. Knowledge puffs you up with pride (1 Cor. 8:1), and it actually retards the growth. Only when our knowledge conforms us to the character of Christ we become spiritually mature.
- Spiritual growth is nothing to do with our involvement in the religious or ministry activities.
Many people think that if they are busy enough in the church activities, in the worship team, in ministry leaderships they must be spiritual. Busyness neither qualify us for salvation nor for spiritual growth. Many think that we need to serve God, and doing lots of church activities confirms their spiritual maturity. We have to be very careful of this attitude. The God who made the heaven and earth does not live in temple made by man, nor is He served by the human hands (Acts 17:24-25). God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine” (Psalm 50:12-15). So, our busy church activities are not necessary indicators of our spiritual maturity (Matthew 25:1-10; Matthew 7:21-24).
- Spiritual growth cannot be measured by our health, wealth and prosperity.
Many people equate their health and wealth with the favor of God. If they have a lot they think that God has blessed them because they’re good Christians. Most certainly God is the one who blesses, however that does not necessarily an indication of their spiritual maturity. There are so many poor Christians, and sick Christians in the church who are spiritually mature. Believers in Christ are promised to have suffering in this world (John 16:33). One of the curses of the fall of Adam was poverty (Genesis 3:17-19), sickness and disease. So, don’t equate your positive circumstances as a sign of God’s approval on your spiritual maturity.
Spiritual growth is matching my practice with my position.
My position in Christ is perfect, but my practice is not. Spiritual maturity is, to have a progress in my practical life, to live in a way that is corresponding with my position. I have a definition of who I am in Christ. I have a high standard and God says, “Live up to that standard. Grow in your salvation and in the knowledge of My Son. Practice what you are in Christ.” “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
The pure milk of the Word will cause you to grow. And, maturity comes when you can take the Word you are feeding on and use it to meet various challenges, circumstances, and decisions of life. The maturity comes only by the constant practice of discernment. According to James they are ‘the doers of the Word and not hearers only’ (James 1:22). Consistently we must exercise discernment so that our ability to distinguish between good and evil, our ability to distinguish between true and false doctrine becomes better. We exercise discernment primarily through the study and application of Scripture. God commands us to move from the milk to solid food, from basic principles of God’s revelation to deeper doctrines (the more complex aspects of the Word of God).
The spiritual maturity of the believer is the sure indication of the new life and the very presence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that gives the new life, and energizes our growth. So, all of us who have been placed in to Christ, whose veil is removed, can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. As we gazed upon His glory, the Spirit makes us more and more like Christ, and we are changed into his glorious image gradually (2 Corinthians 3:18). “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The more we grow in grace, the more we bring glory to God. When we live to God’s glory, we put ourselves in the process of spiritual maturity.
Scripture warns us to test ourselves, to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Genuine saving faith produces good fruit, and there has to be a growth in our Christian walk (Luke 8:15; John 15:1-6; Ephesians 4:12-16).
A Check List for Authentic Spiritual Growth:
- Love for God (Psalm 42:1ff; 73:25; Luke 10:27; Romans 8:7)
- Repentance from Sin (Psalm 32:5; Proverbs 28:13; Romans 7:14ff; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 John 1:8-10)
- Genuine Humility (Psalm 51:17; Matthew 5:1-12; James 4:6, 9ff)
- Devotion to God’s Glory (Psalm 105:3; 115:1; Isaiah 43:7, 48:10ff.; Jeremiah 9:23, 24; 1 Corinthians 10:31)
- Continual Prayer (Luke 18:1; Ephesians 6:18ff.; Philippians 4:6ff.; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; James 5:16-18)
- Selfless Love (1 John 2:9ff, 3:14; 4:7ff)
- Separation from the World (1 Corinthians 2:12; James 4:4ff.; 1 John 2:15-17, 5:5)
- Spiritual Growth (Luke 8:15; John 15:1-6; Ephesians 4:12-16)
- Obedient Living (Matthew 7:21; John 15:14ff.; Romans 16:26; 1 Peter 1:2, 22; 1 John 2:3-5)
It is one thing to become a Christian and belong to the family of God. It is another thing to read, study and gaining the knowledge of the Word. But it is totally a different thing to knowing God intimately, and knowing the heart-beat of the King who wrote the Word. Spiritual growth then goes from knowing you are saved, to knowing the Word of God, to knowing God in fullness, and matching my practice with my position.
Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. John Piper