We are in the process of learning 10 spiritual steps that will help us become more godly, pious, or as the title suggests, spiritually mature. Someone might ask, "If we are already saved, why make the effort to attain spiritual maturity? Why not relax and enjoy the ride?" This type of question reminds me of the student who, after having been given a homework assignment, wants to know what the minimum number of pages is required for the work to be accepted.
Like many other things in life, what you get out of Christianity is largely determined by what you put into your faith. Acquiring spiritual maturity is important for at least two reasons:
- In spiritual matters, if we do not consciously move forward, then we unconsciously move backward.
12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
- Romans 6:12-13
2. Pursuing spiritual maturity is the second stage in the 4-stage transformation God has planned for those who believe in Jesus Christ.
Stage #1 - Regeneration/salvation
Through faith in Jesus expressed in repentance and baptism we go from being a lost and condemned sinner to a saved saint - forgiven and made alive through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Acts 2:38
Stage #2 - Sanctification
The process of developing spiritual maturity (godliness) with the help of God's Word (the Bible), God's Spirit (Holy Spirit), and God's people (the Church). This series is an instrument to facilitate that process.
9For this reason we also, since the day we heard about it, have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
- Colossians 1:9-10
Stage #3 - Glorification
The putting on of our glorified heavenly bodies when Jesus raises us from the dead at the end of the world.
42So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; 43it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
- I Corinthians 15:42-44
Stage #4 - Exaltation
The reason for the glorified bodies is to enable us to exist with God as part of the Godhead at the right hand of God in Christ.
11It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12If we endure, we will also reign with Him;
- II Timothy 2:11-12a
Spiritual maturity is important, therefore, because it protects us from sliding back to our worldly ways and prepares us for entry into the spiritual realm of heaven when Jesus returns.
We have spoken about the first step to spiritual maturity which is discipline. Developing this virtue is important because without control of self or authority over our own spirit, we will not be able to cultivate and master the other nine steps of this journey.
The second step to spiritual maturity is intimacy, more specifically intimacy with God. Intimacy means belonging to someone else, close contact, familiarity or close association. Intimacy is both a state and a feeling. Intimacy feels warm, satisfying, accepting, personal, deep, private, exclusive, safe or comfortable.
In Genesis 2:25 for example, it says of Adam and Eve that, "...the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed." They were not simply physically naked and not ashamed but were also emotionally and spiritually naked (transparent) and were not afraid or ashamed. This transparency meant that they knew each other intimately with nothing hidden and nothing camouflaged as something else.
This is the type of relationship we strive for in marriage and the type of relationship we must cultivate with God in order to arrive at spiritual maturity. If this be so, how then do we discipline ourselves for intimacy with God? Two things to start growing in this area:
1. Conform to His way and will for our lives
In other words, do not let the physical world rule your time, priorities, desire or life. Godliness (maturity) does not happen by accident; you have to work at it. Cultivating intimacy with God requires us to actually pay attention to God - real attention is what He wants - Jesus said:
'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
- Matthew 22:37
Intimacy is not religiosity (fake external spirituality). It is developed and seen in sincere praying, serving, worshiping and giving.
The second way to intimacy with God...
2. Allow God to deal with you on His terms, not yours
Our terms with God always serve our purposes. For example, "Dear God make me healthy, more wealthy, happier, take care of my family and my things."
In his book, Swindoll says,
God often does His best work in us when He catches us by surprise and introduces a change that is completely against our own desire.
For example: in Acts 16:6, Paul wanted to go preach in the East where the territory was vast and without the gospel. God, however, frustrated his plan and sent him West to Rome where he was eventually martyred - something that was not in Paul's plan. However, he established the Church in the Roman Empire and because of this it flourished and spread throughout the world.
We know that despite this change that led to his suffering, opposition, imprisonment and death, Paul grew closer (intimate) with God and died praising and glorifying God for His blessings (II Timothy 4:6-8).
In the end, Paul was close to and very much like God - the end result of intimacy. When, therefore, you allow God to deal with you on His terms and you accept it, several things naturally stem from this:
- It moves you to seek Him more intensely.
- It makes you more dependent on Him.
- It produces a godly character in you.
The closer you draw to God, the more He deals with you. The more He deals with you, the closer you draw to Him - this is how the dynamic of spiritual intimacy works.
Godliness/spiritual maturity become the result of being molded by God because you are intimate with Him.
In our effort to be like God we need to go deep with Him, not just enjoy the view from the mountaintop. We want substance in our relationship with Him, not just a speedy worship service. We want to feel love and closeness with God not just talk about religion. The way to all of these is to cultivate the second step in our journey to spiritual maturity, intimacy with God.
- Would you describe yourself as an "open" person or a "closed" person? Explain why you think that might be.
- On a scale of 1 (very far) to 10 (very close), how near to God do you feel? What reason has kept you where you are at with God?
- Share a time or experience when you felt the closest/furthest from God.
- What is your strongest spiritual discipline (prayer, praise, giving, service, etc.)? Your weakest?
- How is God dealing with you today? What do you think He wants from you?