The Shape of Spiritual Maturity
The word translated “maturity” in Hebrews 6:1 belongs to a family of words that are translated elsewhere as “complete” or “perfect.” It carries the idea of wholeness or full development. To “go on to maturity,” then, involves growing into a complete, fully developed disciple of Christ. It means to become increasingly like Christ in our thinking, moral character, and devotion to God.
Ephesians 4:13–15 describes spiritual maturity as being built up
to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
Mature Christians are those whose lives are marked by such stability that they are not easily led astray by teachings and practices that are contrary to the Word of God. On the contrary, mature believers are “growing up in every way” into Christ.
The How of Spiritual Maturity
Growth naturally follows birth in one’s spiritual life, just as it does in one’s physical life. That it is normal, however, does not mean that it is automatic. God has provided specific instruments to lead His people to spiritual maturity. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this provision:
Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto. (WCF 25.3)
Ordinary means of grace have been provided by God for both the “gathering” (conversion) and “perfecting” (maturing) of His people. The means that God has provided for creating faith in His people are the same means by which He intends for them to grow in faith. When Scripture encourages believers to advance in the Christian life, it never has in mind that we can outgrow our need of these ordinary means. Rather, as we continue to employ these means faithfully, we are empowered to grow deeper and stronger in our relationship with Christ.
Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Scripture is God’s Word written, and apart from it we cannot have a saving knowledge of God or grow in our relationship with Him. The Apostle Paul says God gave us the Scriptures to profit us through teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness so “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). To grow in maturity, a Christian must grow in his understanding of and submission to Scripture.
A casual acquaintance with the Bible will not suffice, as Jesus makes clear in the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount when He contrasts a house built on a rock that withstands the storms with one built on sand that is destroyed by them. The latter represents the person who merely hears the Word of Christ without submissively complying with it. His life lacks stability. The former is like the wise man who not only hears the teachings of Jesus but “does them.” His life will be characterized by a maturity that stands firm through the trials of life.
God has designed His Word to shape us through reading and hearing (Rom. 10:17; Rev. 1:3), through meditation and memorization (Josh. 1:8; Pss. 1:1–3; 119:11), and especially through faithful preaching (2 Tim. 4:1–5).
Through prayer, we have access to the very throne room of God as we approach Him in and through Jesus Christ. We are commanded to pray (1 Thess. 5:17), told that some things simply do not happen without prayer (Mark 9:29), and instructed regarding how to pray (Matt. 6:5–13; Luke 11:1– 4). Through prayer, we develop intimacy with God as we pour out our hearts to Him with reassurances that through Christ our High Priest, He sympathizes with us and will provide help and mercy in our times of need (Heb. 4:14–16).
Prayer helps strengthen our faith not only when we see the Lord fulfilling His Word as we pray but also when we are not granted good things that we ask of Him. It was through the Lord’s refusal to grant Paul’s request that the Apostle learned to trust in the sufficiency of God’s grace that displays God’s power in our weakness. As a result, Paul matured to the point of being able to say, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:8–10).