I may be a grown-up now but I don’t always act my age. That is, I don’t always act like I know Jesus, even a little bit.
I should know better—I grew up in the church. Still, on any given day, I can show more signs of a baby believer than one practically weaned on the Word. Yes, God loves me whatever age or stage I’m in—but His love doesn’t cancel out His desire for my spiritual progress. I’m grown up now—it’s time I grow something besides old.
In Ephesians 4:14, Paul writes: “No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for imposters. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything”(MSG).
What does it look like to grow up spiritually? To be like Christ in everything.
Years ago after expressing my frustration with my lack of spiritual maturity, a wise friend reflected on my outburst: “Sue, do you imagine you will someday reach a plateau where you no longer need to grow?” I understood what he meant—we shouldn’t expect perfection, this side of heaven. The important thing is to keep growing.
So how do we do that? Here are three lessons to keep in mind as we develop our spiritual maturity and cultivate Christlikeness this side of heaven:
Growing is a process—A mature believer stays in the race.
Growing is a partnership—A mature believer is dependent on God.
Growing is a privilege—A mature believer values her family ties.
GROWTH IS A PROCESS: A MATURE BELIEVER STAYS IN THE RACE
Currently, we’re in the middle of remodeling our kitchen—a project that my husband is doing himself. So far, we have an extra 1400 sq. ft., including an extra garage and bedroom I didn’t know we needed. The kitchen hasn’t been touched.
I have to remind myself we are in a process. The end result will be worth the wait and I’m confident that someday I will have a bigger kitchen—with or without the backsplash! The key is not to give up in the middle of the mess.
Our spiritual growth is a process—and it takes perseverance to stay there.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1b-2, NIV).
Once, while in training for a half-marathon alongside a group of middle-aged ladies, our coach said bluntly, “I hate to burst your bubble, but none of us are actually going to win this race!” Ha! Of course, we weren’t going to win. We were just happy to get out of bed early on a Saturday morning and try not to pull a hamstring.
“Your goal,” she told us, “is not to win, but to finish.” That was a goal I could live with, no matter how hard the daily workout.
In our spiritual race, God doesn’t care about our end time, or how fast we run. He just wants us in the race—to finish and finish well.
Like infants meandering along the path, we may get distracted from time to time, but we need to stay the course, “fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). Only then can we finish the race. Growing up means not giving up. We just keep going.
“Lord, help me keep my eyes on you. Some days I want to give up. Give me the strength to stay in the race and not worry about my time or about how others are running. Thank you and amen.”
GROWTH IS A PARTNERSHIP: A MATURE BELIEVER IS DEPENDENT ON GOD
Is it possible to grow into God’s idea of a strong, mature woman in my own strength? Of course not. God has high and purpose-filled expectations for me, but on my own, I’m weak, frail, and given to fits of petulance, self-pity, and pride—usually all in one day. In order to grow into His likeness—to be truly sanctified—the mature believer recognizes the need for partnership—a holy alliance with God and His community of believers.
And the more we mature, the sooner we recognize that truth.
As Paul writes in Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my dear friends… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (NIV).
My daily workout this side of heaven is ‘working out’ a perfect congruence between what I believe and how I behave. It takes effort, desire, and most of all, an awareness that I need God and other believers every step of the way.
Thankfully, it is God who instills in me that desire, passion, and will to obey—and the awareness that I have a lot of work left to do before I am fully mature.
When our eldest daughter Bonnie attended a leadership camp with several hundred other girls on the subject of state politics, it was a humbling experience. “These girls know so much more than I do,” she shared in our mid-week call. “I may be smart, but I’m learning I don’t know as much as I thought!”
Knowing her limits revealed a glimpse of her maturity. As mature believers, we too need the humility to recognize that we can’t do it alone.
Yet our helplessness is not a cause for despair or frustration. As a wise person once said, “Ministry is spillage.” We are connected to the Vine—the more connected we are, the more fruit our lives produce. Instead of trying to ride the do-it-all-ourselves bandwagon, God continually shows us our need for Him. He reminds us that we cannot become like Jesus without His supernatural empowerment—we must lean on Him. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b).
Praise God, the road to sanctification is not one we have to travel alone—and a mature believer learns to lean heavily on her companion.
“Lord, I’m desperate for you. Remind me I can’t live this Christian life by myself. Please provide community to encourage me along the way. I want to do all things by your strength and power. Thank you and amen.”
GROWTH IS A PRIVILEGE: A MATURE BELIEVER VALUES HER FAMILY TIES
Once we become part of God’s family, there should be a family likeness we grow into— that is, those closest to us should start to see some resemblance to Christ.
My sister and I are the only redheads in our family. Yet despite not looking physically like my parents, anyone who knew them knows I’m much more of a Moore (my maiden name), than a Donaldson. There is a strong family likeness.
Spiritual growth is developing a family likeness to Christ. Some may not care to have a resemblance to their earthly family, but once you choose to follow Jesus, there begins a lifetime process to become more like our Father. And it started with God coming after us. John Ortberg wrote: “God relentlessly pursued us because all he ever wanted was to be with us.”
I’m loved. I belong. The more I realize that the more I want to become like Jesus. It’s not a duty thing, it’s a glory thing.
Yet so often I can view my maturing process as something laborious and difficult, trudging along like a beast of burden instead of soaring on eagle’s wings.
Ephesians 4:30 in The Message paraphrase reads: “Don’t grieve God. Don’t break His heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for Himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.”
Growing up is something we take for granted until we see that it’s not always possible. Friends of ours had a baby boy born with a rare syndrome: Cornelia De Lang. As a result of his condition, their son will never grow up the way his rambunctious little brother is growing.
Becoming children of God comes with great privilege—the opportunity to follow God, grow into the likeness of His Son, and become filled with the Holy Spirit. What an incredible gift.
Ephesians 4:1 in The Living Bible reads: “I beg you to live and act in a way worthy of those who have been chosen for such wonderful blessings as these.”
“Lord, thank you that you came after me so that I could be in your family. What a privilege to become like you! Please forgive me for taking you for granted. May I actively pursue what pleases you most. Thank you and amen.”
Growing more like Jesus is a lifelong process this side of heaven, but thankfully, we are never in it alone.
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