All living things grow. With human beings, we watch babies learns to crawl, to walk, to talk. We grow from total dependance on our parents to eventually being parents are ourselves. The maturing process is a journey to independence.
Our spiritual journeys are just the opposite. We start off in rebellion against God, thinking we are fully independent from Him.
Spiritual maturity, then, is the process of recognizing our complete dependence on God and learning to rely on Him rather than ourselves. As we grow and mature in our relationship with Him, we realize how much we need Him.
But for all the talk we hear about spiritual growth, it’s often difficult to understand exactly what that looks like.
Too often, churches and ministries focus on getting people into church, getting them to pray a prayer and check the “Christian” box. But after that, there isn’t always a lot of post-decision care. New people coming into the church might call themselves Christians, but they might not have much of an idea what that means on a daily basis. Following Jesus isn’t just a one-time decision. It’s a daily process of growth.
That growth is a biblical imperative. The expectation of Scripture isn’t that we grow old together, but that we grow up together. The book of Hebrews lays this out as a strong rebuke:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child (Hebrews 5:11-13).
So what does growth look like in the life of a Christian?
You’re Learning More About God
When you love something, you get to know it. Imagine being married and not knowing basic facts about your spouse. Not only is that ill-advised for household bliss, it’s an indication of a lack of love. When we don’t know Jesus, don’t know His gospel, don’t grow in it, that is indicative of the fact that our love for Him is either non-existent or at best immature.
You’re Digging Into Deeper Theology
Just as a child’s diet changes as he or she matures, so does the baby Christian’s. To borrow the metaphor we see in 1 Peter 2, we start off on the “milk” of basic truths about God and his work, but the expectation is that we grow. Beyond the basics, anyone who has been a Christian for some time should be able to “chew” on more advanced concepts. The foundation should be built for them to grow.
You’re Not Waiting on Others to Feed You
Too many Christians still want a pastor or leader to spoon feed them—telling them what to think, what to read, and so on. That’s not good enough for growing Christians. You absolutely should seek out a church with sound theology and Gospel-centered preaching that challenges you. But anyone who has been a Christian for longer than a year should be able—at least partially—to feed themselves.
You’re Learning and Teaching
Notice that the expectation of Scripture is that, in time, all Christians should be teachers: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). It’s not necessarily that we all stand up on a stage and preach at church, it’s that anyone who has been a Christian for a reasonable duration of time should be able to not only understand the Word of God, we should be able to teach it to others.
Teaching the Gospel is a biblical expectation for all Christians. The gift of teaching is not for all, of course, but the ability to relay, share and help others grow on a micro level is for all of us.
You’re Growing in Grace
Peter tells us that we should be growing in grace. This is to share the heart of God. Not to desire justice or retribution for those who wrong us but for our lives to be characterized by grace. Our default response should not be anger or bitterness but forgiveness and grace. Even when people don’t deserve it. Because that’s what grace is.
You Find Yourself Wanting to Obey God
In John 14:15, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” One of the natural expectations of a growing Christian is faithfulness and obedience to the commands of God. Not out of duty, but out of love for Him. Our obedience results from what Jesus has done for us and of our love for Him.
You’re Growing as a Person
The apostle Paul, in Colossians 1:10, talks about bearing fruit. In Galatians 5:22-23, he lays out the fruit of the Spirit: : Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. One of the best ways to measure growth is by looking at this fruit in our lives. We are all different, and so we’ll all see certain fruit from this list growing more naturally than others. Joy may happen for you with ease and be the most challenge for one of your friends. Still here’s the thing: All of this fruit should be visible not just in our own self-assessment. Impartial outsiders should be able to observe these fruits growing in our lives. If other people don’t see evidence of this fruit in our lives, then perhaps our fruit is not growing as much as we think it is.
You’re Less Worried About Personal Preferences and More Concerned about Unity
Paul, in Ephesians 4:13-15, notes that unity of the faith and knowledge of Jesus are measures of fullness in Christ. The war of personal preferences that dominates consumeristic American Christianity is not a result of maturity but evidence of a lack of it. It’s not wrong to have a blend of styles between churches, but the degree to which believers expect or even make efforts to change a church based on their preferences often causes a substantial lack of unity.
You’re Willing to Speak the Truth in Love
Paul teaches us, in Ephesians 4:15-16, to speak the truth in love and to grow in Christ—which makes the whole body grow in love. This flies directly in the face of our culture’s obsession with avoiding offense. Still, it’s God’s truth. But it also doesn’t mean banging people over the head with everything you disagree with. As you grow spiritually, you’ll learn not to avoid hard topics, but to speak into the lives of other believers—always with loving humility and grace.
You’re Engaged in Community
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to continue meeting together. In a culture moving further and further from regular church involvement, the Bible teaches that growing, mature Christians will continually and consistently meet together. We are created for community.
It’s easy to call ourselves Christians. It’s easy to stay where we are. Growing takes work. We have to be intentional.
The Gospel is like the gym: the more we get in it, the more it shapes our lives. If we only engage once a week, it will take a long time to see results. Our love for Jesus should compel us to grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him, so we can become more like Him.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.