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Monday, 24 February 2014

How do we mature spiritually?

What does spiritual maturity look like?
Most believers earnestly want to "grow" and "mature" and "advance" as believers. A desire to grow is a mark of true life wherever it is to be found. But what does spiritual maturity look like? This "what question" must come before the "how question".

According to the New Testament, spiritual maturity is first and foremost becoming more like Christ (Ephesians 4:15; Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18), who was filled with grace and truth, John 1:14.

We know someone is advancing if they are becoming more filled with grace and truth, more like Jesus, more filled with the fruit of the Spirit of Jesus (Galatians 5:22). Not just filled with truth, but filled with grace in equal proportion.

False spiritualities
There are false spiritualities, counterfeit maturities. One is the Pharisaical version, where the emphasis is on personal outward 'goodness' or 'righteousness', to the detriment of a humble contrite heart. This variety of maturity leads only to a judgemental spirit.

Then there is the Pietistic variety, where the emphasis is on lots of personal Bible study and prayer, with very little connection with others. This kind of 'maturity' is largely head-knowledge growth, "truth" without "love" and it can easily lead again to a fearfully judgemental spirit, and uselessness in the kingdom of Christ  - because no church can stand up under the scrutiny of our new found knowledge.

We must studiously reject all such false spiritualities for what they are - counterfeits of Christ.

A personal journey
I know what I am talking about when it comes to counterfeit spiritualities because as a young man, hearing doctrinal preaching for the first time, I grew in truth very rapidly, at the expense of grace. I do not even want to remember that proud young man anymore for I have had to repent of him many times before God. I was all knowledge and little grace. I could see error everywhere. Frankly I was the only one on the right track in the whole world, let alone my local church. Error here, error there, error everywhere. Except in my own judgmental heart where I was unable to see the biggest sin, the devilish sin of pride.

For years I was useless and unteachable, but by the grace of God, he rescued me from myself.

Some reasons false spirituality develops
(i) A wrong emphasis on knowledge. One of the reasons I am so hostile to the encroachment of the academy on the church is its poisonous "knowledge is all that matters" attitude. This was a deep influence on me. I read tons of books and with each one became one notch prouder and one degree more useless. I am deeply suspicious of any church or movement that pushes knowledge.

(ii) No discipleship. One reason I am so passionate about discipleship is because I was not discipled. In the crucial years when I was growing in truth at the expense of love, no-one took me under their wing and pointed out my foolish errors. That's because I was going to one of those "come three times a week to a meeting" churches. No organic connection with one another, just a formal connection three times a week in one of those, what do they call them? "church buildings", whatever they are. 

The only way to grow is in the body
There is only one way to grow into Christlikeness and that is in the body of Christ. In deep and meaningful connections with brothers and sisters, recognizing we are no more than an ear, an eye, a foot, a hand, and growing together. In fact I am not even convinced any longer that there is such a things as individual personal growth or at least that it is as important as many say it is; what the New Testament sees is the church corporate growing as each part does its work:

"Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Ephesians 4:15-16)

The only mark we are growing as believers is that we are becoming more and more like the Jesus we read of in the Gospels. Someone who is profoundly connected to others and whose knowledge is tempered with grace and love and mercy and kindness. And the only route to this maturity is radical connection to the body of Christ in which I realise I am just a hand, just a foot, just an eye, just an ear in desperate need of my brothers and sisters and the gifts they bring to the table.

All other spiritualities are counterfeit, no matter what stable they come from.

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