For the past five years, God has spoken repeatedly to my heart about what it means to grow in spiritual maturity. The Bible deals with the development of spiritual maturity and points out that we can and should take steps to grow. The problem is many of us have a different idea of spiritual maturity than what the Bible presents. It’s important to have the correct picture of who God is and who He is calling us to become.
When I began my evangelistic ministry nearly twenty years ago, preaching in churches across the nation, I had somehow gotten the wrong idea of what spiritual maturity looks like.
I had mistakenly confused spiritual maturity for an intense and aggressive pursuit of faith. There’s nothing wrong with fasting, prayer, and witnessing—those are great things—but there’s more to spiritual maturity than those disciplines. The Scriptures are clear that spiritual maturity concerns the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23). We know we are growing in Christ when we are growing in our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control.
Love, joy, and peace don’t come naturally.
Love, joy, kindness, gentleness, and patience are not our natural bent.
- We do not naturally want to be kind when we are frustrated by the political opinions of others that we read online.
- We do not naturally want to be gentle when we feel people have the wrong opinions about the world.
- We do not naturally want to be loving when people have hurt us.
- We do not naturally want to be joyful when our world faces difficult times.
But God by His Spirit works this fruit in us, even when life’s circumstances doen’t make sense. The essence of the fruit of the Spirit releases an otherworldly fragrance that draws people to the truth of who we are in God.
God wants us to have both truth and love.
Truth and love are two of the great themes of the Bible, and I like to think of them as the two legs of the Christian—without them we won’t get very far.
God’s truth changes our lives. If we move away from the truth of God’s Word, we move away from the power to save. It’s like trying to watch TV with the power cord unplugged. Without God’s truth, there’s no power to change our lives.
Many Christians, though not all, understand they are to live by the truth. They receive God’s Word as the final authority for their lives by practice. They know that the truth of God’s Word is powerful.
But God’s Word also distinguishes our need for love as well as truth. The Bible tells us often to love, show compassion, walk in kindness and peace, and even to “Let all that you do be done with love” (1 Corinthians 16:14, NKJV).
In order to grow in spiritual maturity and have a Christian walk that impacts others around us, we need to have both truth and love.
In fact, I’ve begun to see that it’s this otherworldly love God gives us that draws people to the truth.
Experiencing God’s love deep down helps us grow in our love.
We can grow in love by reading the Bible to get a clearer understanding of God’s love for us and for the whole world. We can also pray and ask God to fill our hearts with His love so we can know it more deeply. Romans 5:5 tells us about this: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Many Christians know about God’s love, but they’ve yet to understand that it’s available to experience on a deeper level. This is sometimes referred to as the “eighteen-inch gap”—the distance from the head to the heart. In other words, it’s one thing to gain head knowledge by attending church or reading the Bible, but it’s another thing entirely to experience God’s love in a real way that affects our hearts.
Experiencing God and receiving His love in a deeper way changes everything in our lives. The more we truly experience the love of God in our own hearts, the more love we have to give to others around us—in our families, in our friendships, in our workplaces, and in our communities.
It will be our love that will draw people to the truth we have in Jesus. Then we can share with them His truth that has changed our lives and filled us with His love.
Matt Brown is an evangelist, author of Truth Plus Love: The Jesus Way to Influence, host of Think Eternity with Matt Brown, and founder of Think Eternity—a ministry dedicated to amplifying the gospel every day through podcasts, devotionals, videos, live events, and more. Matt and his wife Michelle have three children and live near Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can follow Matt at @evangelistmatt and thinke.org.