The Nature of Maturity as the Product of Spirituality
While this has already been briefly mentioned, the relationship of maturity to spirituality is important enough to warrant elaboration. Unless one recognizes the elements of spirituality and their role in biblical maturity, many of the qualities listed below will be sought by people in their own energy or strength. The result will not be true spirituality or maturity, but rather human reformation (see Luke 11:23-26 and Col. 2:20-23).4 As I hope the next point will make clear, many of these mature qualities which are also qualities of biblical leadership are unique because of the element of biblical spirituality and its role in bringing about Christ-like change and maturity. Biblical spirituality involves four distinct factors.5
(1) Biblical spirituality that leads to maturity first involves regeneration, being born anew by the Spirit of God through faith in the person and work of Christ. By the new birth, one is brought into a vital relationship with God. This new spiritual life provides the necessary spiritual foundation and spiritual equipment (a new nature, the indwelling Holy Spirit, united to Christ, etc.) for spiritual growth and change (see Eph. 1:15-19; 3:16-19; 1 Cor. 2:14-16; Jam. 1:18-21; 1 Pet. 1:22-2:3). In 1 Peter 1:23-2:2, Peter makes it clear that the new birth is foundational and necessary for spiritual growth to occur. Based on the reality of their conversion or their spiritual regeneration, Peter appeals to the expression of fervent love for one another. This regeneration purified their souls, it brought forgiveness of sin and a new spiritual nature or inner person, one with capacity to know and fellowship with God. However, this was the work of the living and abiding Word of God (vs. 23). So in this passage we are shown the vital role of the Word of God in both instances. This naturally leads to the next vital element in biblical spirituality so needed in Christ-like change, which Peter quickly moved to in 1 Peter 2:2, “…like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (spiritual grow and change).
(2) Biblical spirituality that leads to biblical maturity is also the result of biblical wisdom imparted by the Holy Spirit and the study of the Word. It is this biblical wisdom that gives spiritual discernment because God’s Word enlightens the believer’s understanding with the spiritual principles and the moral directives of the mind of Christ to guide his or her life (see Col. 1:9, 28; 2:6-7; 1 Pet. 2:1-2; Ps. 119:105, 129-130). This is also evident from Paul’s comments about the spiritual man in 1 Corinthians 2:15-3:3. There he says, “the one who is spiritual discerns all things.” While some see the phrase “the one who is spiritual” (pneumatikos, “pertaining to the spirit, spiritual,” or “of that which belongs to or is activated by the divine Spirit.”)6 to simply refer to one who is saved in contrast to the purely soulish, unregenerate person (vs. 14), the context supports a different understanding of the word spiritual. The apostle is talking about a person who, through the control and teaching ministry of the Spirit, has grown beyond the basic ABCs of the milk of the Word (cf. 3:1-3) and is thus able to discern all things. Just being saved does not give one the capacity to have this kind of broad discernment. Such discernment is the product of spiritual growth in the knowledge and application of the Scripture which requires time (cf. Heb. 11:11-14).
(3) Biblical spirituality that leads to maturity involves the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. We hear a great deal today from the secular world about spirituality using such terms as “getting in touch with your spirit” or “getting in touch with a higher power,” but this is New Age thinking and is actually a part of Satan’s deceptions and false doctrine that seeks to promote human reformation in seeking to get man to become like gods himself. Satan’s methods always bypass the person and work of Christ. Biblical spirituality is the work of the Holy Spirit who comes to indwell every believer and only the believer in Jesus Christ at the moment of faith in Christ. Thus, the Holy Spirit is a prominent member of the Godhead who is involved in producing spirituality in every believer in Christ. As Ryrie comments,
This is not to say that the other persons of the Godhead do not have their particular work in this, nor that the believer himself has no responsibility, nor that there are not other means of grace; but it is to affirm His major role in spirituality. The ministries of the Spirit involve teaching (John 16:12-15), guiding (Rom 8:14), assuring (Rom 8:16), praying (Rom 8:26), the exercise of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:7), warring against the flesh (Gal 5:17), and all of these depend for their full manifestation on the filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18). 7
Believers are commanded to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), which means to be controlled, led, and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.8
(4) Biblical spirituality that leads to maturity involves time—time to grow and mature in one’s walk with the Savior.
If the spiritual person judges or examines or discerns all things (1 Cor. 2:15), this must involve time in order to gain knowledge and to acquire experience for discerning all things.… This could not be accomplished overnight; it is something which is true only of a mature Christian.
In that word maturity I think we have the key to the concept of spirituality, for Christian maturity is the growth which the Holy Spirit produces over a period of time in the believer. To be sure, the same amount of time is not required for each individual, but some time is necessary for all. It is not the time itself which is determinative of maturity; rather it is the progress made and growth achieved which is all-important. Rate multiplied by time equals distance, so that the distance to maturity may be covered in a shorter time if the rate of growth is accelerated. And it will be accelerated if none of the control which ought to be given to the Holy Spirit is retained by self.
Here is a proposed definition of spirituality which attempts to be concise and at the same time to keep these above-discussed factors in mind. Spiritually is a mature and maturing relation to the Holy Spirit. While this may simply be another way of saying that spirituality is Christian maturity, it tries to delineate more openly the factors of Spirit-control over a period of time. Certainly the definition satisfies the requirements of the description of a spiritual man in 1 Corinthians 2:15, for one who is experiencing a grown-up relation to the Holy Spirit will be able to discern all things and at the same time not be understood by others.9
The biblical characteristics needed in a Christian leader are only found in one who has reached a certain degree of maturity in Christ. It is no wonder that the apostle, when discussing the qualifications of elders in 1 Timothy 3, warned against choosing a recent convert (3:6). But the fact still remains,
Even though a Christian is mature, there is always room for further development… Spiritual maturity does not mean there is a cessation of spiritual growth. Full grown people develop in physical prowess; emotionally mature individuals grow emotionally; and the mentally mature expand intellectually. So it is in the spiritual life. Because of his discernment, a Christian may be considered to be spiritual, but he is never to cease his spiritual development. As Paul said: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12-14).10
4 The point of this story is that change brought about through any human means (like Jewish exorcism or human reformation) will fail. The only kind of change that is truly effective is through faith in Christ and growth in His life. The key is that there has been not faith in Christ which means the Holy Spirit has not come to indwell. If an exorcism or some other kind of human reformation occurs and there is no response to God through Jesus Christ, then the way is free for the demon to return or worldly patterns to dominate again.
6 Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Fredrick W. Danker, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979, electronic media and G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, T. & T. Clark, 1973, p. 368.
8 For more detail on this issue, see Part 2, Lessons 4 and 5 in the ABCs of Christian Growth: Laying the Foundation on our web site at /docs/splife/abc/toc.htm.
Related Topics: Spiritual Life