When it comes to determining spiritual maturity we look at indicators in terms of growth, not of achievement. Each Christian is at a different stage of their relationship with Jesus and the desire is for there to be consistent forward movement, not perfection in every way. A Christian who accepted Christ but has lived for forty years outside of a relationship with God will look different than a Christian who has been faithfully growing in their relationship with God for forty years.
The Prerequisite for Growth in Christ: Salvation
We believe in offering frequent opportunities for people to make a decision to put their faith in Jesus Christ. True spiritual growth begins once someone has confessed their sin, placed their trust in Jesus, and started the journey of following Jesus as the leader of their life. Salvation opens the door for a person to begin growing in Christlikeness.
Growth in Character and the Fruit of the Spirit: The Umbrella Over Our Spiritual Growth
Once someone has made a decision to accept the grace of Jesus and follow Him as the Lord of their life, certain characteristics will grow and blossom in their life. These fruit of the Spirit grow through the discipline of the believer, the support of the Church community, and the empowerment and guidance of the Holy Spirit. All seven of the markers of spiritual maturity discussed below should be guided by a life that is growing in Christlike character.
If growth in character is not occurring, there is something severely lacking from the process of growing in spiritual maturity. Though there are hundreds of characteristics that point towards spiritual growth, Paul gives us a succinct list of the fruit that will be born of a life lived in the Spirit.
Christlike Character that guides our spiritual growth and journey:
- Love – It means to serve a person for their good and intrinsic value, not for what the person brings you. The opposite is fear: self-protection and abusing people. Its counterfeit (a fake version) is selfish affection, where you are attracted to someone and treat them well because of how they make you feel about yourself. (John 13:1; John 15:13; 1 Corinthians 13:3)
- Joy – A delight in God for the sheer beauty and worth of who He is. The opposite is hopelessness or despair, and its counterfeit is an elation that is based on experiencing blessings, not the person doing the blessing, causing mood swings based on circumstances. (Proverbs 15:13; John 15:11; John 17:13)
- Peace – Meaning a confidence and rest in the wisdom and control of God, rather than in your own. It replaces anxiety and worry. The false version of peace is indifference, apathy, not caring about something. (Matthew 5:9; Colossians 3:15; Philippians 4:7)
- Patience – An ability to face trouble without blowing up or striking out. The opposite is resentment toward God and counterfeits are cynicism or lack of care: “This is too small to care about.” (Matthew 27:14; Romans 12:12; James 1:3,12)
- Kindness – Is an ability to serve others practically in a way which makes a person vulnerable, which comes from having a deep inner security. The opposite is envy, which leaves one unable to rejoice in another’s joy. And the fake alternative is manipulative good deeds, doing good for others so a person can congratulate themself and feel they are “good enough” for others or for God. (Ephesians 4:32)
- Goodness – Being the same, authentic person in every situation, rather than a phony or a hypocrite. This is not the same as being always truthful but not always loving; getting things off your chest just to make yourself feel or look better. (Matthew 19:16)
- Faithfulness – To be utterly reliable and true to your word. The opposite is to be an opportunist, a friend only in good times. And the counterfeit is to be loving but not truthful, so that you are never willing to confront or challenge. (Matthew 17:19; Matthew 25:21; 1 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:24)
- Gentleness – Is the character that will show calmness, personal care, and tenderness in meeting the needs of others. The opposite is to be superior or self-absorbed. Humility is not the same as inferiority. (Isaiah 40:11; Philippians 4:5; 2 Timothy 2:24; 1 Thessalonians 2:7)
- Self-Control – The ability to pursue the important over the urgent, rather than to be always impulsive or uncontrolled. The slightly surprising counterfeit is a willpower, which is based on pride, the need to feel in control. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)
(This portion was largely inspired and adapted from Timothy Keller’s Galatians commentary).
As these characteristics are growing in us and guiding us, we can then seek to develop the seven areas of spiritual maturity that the Bible teaches us about in the Old and New Testaments.
Growth in Knowing, Loving, and Applying God’s Word
Someone who says that they love God would want to know more about Him. The primary way we do this is by reading the Word of God given to us in the Bible. Anyone who claims to be a Christian and does not feel the need to continue to study the Bible either does not understand what the Bible is or is plagued by pride. As Christians we get our truth and guidance in large part from God’s Word, so we must be committed to studying it faithfully and applying it on a daily basis.
Indicators of Growth Knowing and Applying God’s Word:
- Conviction – devotion to and following of the precepts of Scripture with zeal, whatever the cost. (Daniel 1:8)
- Devotion – is aligning personal desires, plans, worship, and hope with God. (Colossians 3:2)
- Ability to Teach – sharing our insights and what we have learned with others, to help them grow in Christian maturity. (Matthew 7:28; 28: Matthew 19-20; John 7:16; Mark 4:2; 2 John 1:9)
- Purity & Holiness – being set apart for God’s use, which is holiness in action. It does not allow us to be contaminated nor interfere with others in our growth and relationship in Christ and keeps us focused on what is important. (Matthew 5:8; Philippians 4:8; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 5:22; James 4:8)
- Guidance – willingness to help others to apply the precepts of Scripture in everyday and difficult situations. (Proverbs 27:9)
- Justice – doing and fighting for what is fair, moral, impartial, and right, according to God’s will. (Genesis 6:9)
- Zealousness – maintaining our enthusiasm for our faith and call, not allowing our church or ourselves to fall into a rut of meaningless rhetoric. (Luke 2:49; John 2:17 & John 8:29)
- Wisdom – truly desiring the knowledge of God’s Word and the proper application to our life. This enables us to make good judgments and decisions. (1 Kings 3:9; Psalm 119:97-98)
Growth in Communicating with God One-on-One and in Community with Others
Passionate prayer includes speaking to God often as well as listening for God’s voice, promptings, and whispers at all times. It also means that we pray often with other believers and seek God’s face in community. In addition, a life of passionate prayer will lead us to pray for and with those who are not yet followers of Jesus. Prayer is a wonderful array of praise, thanks, supplication (asking for God’s help and intervention), confession, and so much more.
Indicators of Growth in Passionate Prayer:
- Confidence – helps us rely on the Lord for all things in our life. It will enable us to push forward in the direction that we are called because He is governing. It makes us realize we are not responsible for the results of prayer–only surrender and obedience. (Philippians 4:13)
- Devotion – aligning personal desires, plans, worship, and hope with God. In prayer, we declare, “Your will be done!” (Colossians 3:2; Matthew 6:10; Luke 22:42)
- Submission – with awe and reverence, surrendering and yielding our will and plans over to God’s guidance. (Ephesians 5:21)
- Honor – seeking to honor God with actions and prayer. (Psalms 22:23)
- Frequency – learning to pray at all times, with eyes closed and eyes open. (1 Thessalonians 5:17; John 17:1)
- Community- making prayer a normative part of being with other believers. (Acts 1:14 & 4:24)
Lifting God Up to His Proper Place
Worship is a lifestyle. We worship in community, gathered regularly with God’s people. We also worship in the flow of a normal day. Our life should be punctuated by praise, celebration, and stopping to honor God for all He is and all He does. Our Worship is both Spirit-filled and Spirit-led. Wholehearted worship comes from our hearts and moves our lips and lives to exalt the God who made us and loves us.
Indicators of Growth in Worship:
- Consistent – mature followers of Jesus hunger to meet God in the community of His people. They make regular worship a priority in their life. (Hebrews 10:25)
- Joyful – a worshipper who sees the face of Jesus and enters the presence of almighty God will discover joy in their heart and on their lips. (Psalm 95:1-2 & 126:2)
- Sacramental – one of the values of gathering for worship is to celebrate the sacraments of communion and baptism with God’s people. These are times of deep intimacy and astounding joy. (Acts 20:7; Luke 22:19-20; Luke 3:21-22; Matthew 28:19)
- Spirit-Filled and Spirit-Led – worship invites the Spirit of God to move in power. It also acknowledges the presence of God’s Holy Spirit wherever we are or gather. (John 4:23)
- Authenticity – seeking the face of God and lifting Him to His proper place calls us to be honest with God about who we are and who He is. (John 4:23)
- Passion – encountering God in worship unleashes passion and excitement about meeting with the One who loves us. (2 Samuel 6:14)
- Embodied and Engaged– Spirit-filled worship engages not only our heart, but our bodies. We demonstrate our inward experience through outward expressions of song, dance, clapping of hands, lifting of hands, bowing before God, and other natural expressions. (Psalm 63:4; 2 Samuel 6:14; Psalm 96:1)
We Must Become Less and Learn to Serve
Service walks hand in hand with love; it is impossible to love someone truly without serving them. Christ lived a devout life of service, even to the point of washing his disciples feet and dying for sinful people. He calls us to live in a sacrificial way as well. This means that we must serve both regularly and faithfully in the areas of our gifting to forward the mission of the church. The way we serve and love others reflects on the way we love and serve God.
Indicators of Growth in Service:
- Humility – minimizes arrogance and removes pride. It is understanding our fallen nature and tendency to think we are better than we are, and our striving to lift ourselves up above others and God. It is admitting that others, and more importantly God is responsible for our achievements. Humbleness will enable us to be a teachable person who is willing to have the attitude of submission and servanthood, one who confesses sin and remembers how Christ served us! (Luke 22:27; Phil. 2:8; 1 Peter 5:3-5)
- Generosity – allows us to give to others because God has given abundantly to us. It is the wise use of stewardship and the attitude that all I have belongs to God and knowing we are the caretakers for His purpose. (Deut. 16:17; Matthew 10:8)
- Compassion – lets us feel the pain and plight of others. It will enable us to convey a deep feeling of love and concern that moves us to meet their distresses, struggles, and needs. (Job 29:13; Isa. 40:11; Mark 1:41; Luke 19:4; 1 Peter 3:8)
- Availability – willingness to adjust our own schedule, agenda, and plans to fit the right desires of God and others. It makes personal priorities secondary to the needs of God and others. It is to reflect God’s priorities so we are always available to Him and others when we are serving. (Mark 1:17-18; Acts 16:10)
- Servant Leadership – exercising real Godly leadership as Christ did, by His taking a towel, influencing, equipping, and empowering people to accomplish God’s purpose and plan. (Luke 22:26)
We Give Because He Gave It All.
A generous spirit comes from knowledge that God is the owner of everything, that we owe Him everything because of His generous gift of salvation. Our focus is not on getting what we can in this life, but on storing up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy. We place our full lives in His control and our money and resources at His disposal for His use and glory.
Indicators for Growth in Generosity:
- Acceptance – that God is the Owner of everything. He is the giver and provider of every good thing in your life, spiritual and physical, tangible (things/money) and intangible (time/energy/abilities). Our role is to be the trustee, manager, and steward of all that God entrusts to us during our lifetime. (Psalm 50:10-12, Chronicles 29:11-12, 1 Chronicles 29:14-16, Psalm 24:1, James 1:17)
- Giving out of plenty and out of lack – We recognize that God is our provider. We can give beyond what is comfortable and stretch our faith and trust in God. We can even give when we don’t have all that we might feel we need or want because we know God holds our lives in the palm of His hand. (Luke 16:11-13)
- Tithing – the first 10% of our income is a basic commitment to God’s work in the kingdom. Though all we have is a gift from God and should be held in open hands, we seek to give the first fruits of what we earn and have for the work of Jesus in the local church and the world. (Luke 11:42, Deuteronomy 14:22-23, Exodus 22:29, Genesis 14:20, Malachi 3:8-11, 2 Chronicles 31:5,12)
- Giving above your tithe – This is a sign of faith that goes beyond checklists and obligations. (1 Timothy 6:6-8, Ecclesiastes 5:10, Proverbs 30:8-9)
- Radical Generosity – introduces major risk in your giving as God leads you to give in a way you never have before. (Matthew 6:21, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, 2 Cor 8:9)
Fellowship within the Church
Community is not only about being together but growing towards health in all our relationships within the church. These relationships should be appropriate, supportive, selfless, rooted in humility, and they should provide avenues for grace-filled accountability. Our love for the local church should be so overwhelming that it extends to each individual that is part of it.
Indicators of Growth in Community:
- Thoughtfulness – considers and gives attention and care to others and their feelings first. (Philippians 2:4)
- Friendship – is the companionship and closeness we are to have with one another. It is the commitment to help form the character in others. This is not to be feared but embraced, even when it hurts! (Proverbs 27:17)
- Obedience – submitting to do what God requires of us. It is also recognizing the authority and direction from others, such as the pastor and church, so we can create winning situations. (Deut. 13: 4; Prov. 19:16; John 14:14; 15:14; 2 Corinthians 10:5)
- Flexibility – being open to others plans and ideas and willing to be instructed and challenged to change for the better. (Colossians 3:2)
- Supportive – coming alongside others, sharing our strength and courage in their afflictions and troubles. (Galatians 6:2)
- Accountability – supporting others as they struggle and challenging them to become more like Christ (Galatians 6:1-5, James 5:16)
Organically Reaching the World with God’s Love
We must always be pursuing healthy relationships within the church, but also fulfilling the Great Commission by seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ from those we know outside of our Christian Community. Our primary call on this earth is to reach others with God’s love and function as his ambassadors here on earth. We do this at Shoreline through Organic Outreach to naturally help as many people as possible become totally committed to Jesus Christ.
Indicators of Growth in Outreach:
- Stewardship of Time – the opportunities we have to live, serve, learn, and grow. In so doing, if we invest wisely, we will produce eternal treasures. If not, it will go to waste. (Psalm 90:12)
- Selflessness – altruistic giving of ourselves to others, as Christ gave Himself to us. (Titus 2:14)
- Fearless – facing down tough situations without being stupid. Being bold since God gives us strength as we reach out to those around us, even those who may be adverse to us. (2 Timothy 1:7)
- Growing Heart – a growing burden for those outside the church who need Christ in their lives. (Matthew 5:14-16, Matthew 25:40)
- Preparation – natural faith sharing will not just happen. We need to be prepared and equipped to share our story of faith and the good news of Jesus. This means we take time to prepare, practice and pray for opportunities to share the gospel. (1 Peter 3:15; Ephesians 4:11-12; Acts 1:8)