Spiritual maturity is God’s primary goal for our lives. We are beings who have fallen from the greatness of the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 3:23). When we are reconciled with God through faith in Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:17-21), God begins to restore us to the greatness of His image (Romans 8:29-30; II Corinthians 3:18).
This is the process we call spiritual maturity. God is far more concerned about changing us than about changing our circumstances.
We must recognize that God’s changes are thorough — affecting every aspect of our being — our thoughts, attitudes, values and actions. His work is a deep transformation of character. Consequently, sometimes these changes are painful (II Co. 1:8-9; Heb. 12:1-11; Ja. 1:2-5).
Spiritual maturity is a process of bringing your will into conformity with God’s will. This involves your intellect (as you use your mind to explore God’s truth), your will (as you increasingly yield to God’s authority), and your emotions (as you cultivate godly affections). A maturing Christian will pursue all of this with increased humility.
“For the Christian, the path of connectedness to God involves the development of a Christlike mind, will, affections (or emotions), character, relationships and actions. When any of these capacities is undernourished, our spiritual growth will be stunted” (Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality).
Spiritual maturity must be understood as part of the gift of salvation, for “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29). We experience this in dimensional and sequential progress based on the three tenses of salvation. We are saved; we are being saved and we will be saved.
We have joy in what we possess but we wait and groan for its completion. We taste and are satisfied as we go on to hunger for what awaits us.
The gospel is a gift that we receive once for all in Christ and experience in temporal sequence until “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, Jesus transforms our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20) and then “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father” — “so that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:24-28).
Of course, we are not passive recipients but active participants who are “working out our salvation with fear and trembling. But we can only do this because it is God who works in us “to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13). And the gospel reminds me that I am an unworthy recipient who has been made worthy by Jesus.
We need the deep encouragement and confidence that comes from knowing that sanctification is God and the believer at work together, not pitted against one another (Colossians 1:29; Philippians 2:13).
God put his treasure (the gospel) “in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). Yet “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).
We are motivated to godliness by the fear of the Lord, the consequences of evil, love for one another, the judgment seat of Christ, and other worthy realities.
“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:9-10).
A grace-based motivation for godliness will not diminish our need to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” or “the struggle against sin” (Hebrews 12:1-4). But trying to do these things without “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and finisher of faith” will easily degenerate into something unworthy of the gospel.
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
The gospel of grace must always be the primary motivational reality for transformation. And it will be for chest-beating, mercy-pleading, self-confessed sinners who go home justified (Luke 18:9-14). Without this as our motivation, we easily slide toward religion where I must get myself to the place where God looks with favor on me. This is to engage in religious notions of propitiation where I try to propitiate the Deity and ignore the truth of the gospel that our loving God already propitiated Himself by becoming the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:1-2).
“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 3:3; 5:16, 25).