The other day I was in a conversation with another Christian about what made certain Christians seem to stick out. What quality or qualities did they have that seem be to be different from other people. Certainly some people have more winsome personalities than others, but more than personality, there seem to be some Christians that just seem more…mature than others.
I’ve had the privilege over the years to meet some well known Christian leaders. Most I’ve met are good people who are leaders for a reason, but even here there are a few who stick out in my mind who not only are leaders, but who demonstrate a maturity that is rare even for them. One leader who definitely sticks out even though I’ve only met him a couple of times is an African-American pastor by the name of Robert Smith. He seems to have that rare quality of being truly concerned about the welfare of people he doesn’t really know. The fruit of God’s spirit seems to be abundant in his life and manner. Buck O’Neil, one of the all time greats of the old Negro baseball leagues always struck me as someone who might have been a Christian when I watched interviews of him. I recently read a report that confirmed that, but left me wondering what qualities Buck had that could be observed and in an interview. What was it about his manner that suggested he knew Christ? There are also several lesser known people who I have known in my lifetime that also exhibit this quality. My mentor Eli Keeran was just a math teacher in a public High School and yet almost everyone who knew him confessed that he was man of great spiritual maturity.
In thinking about this It seems to me that there are some qualities that spiritually mature people seem to have in common. We might call it “Christlikeness” but what exactly does that look like in a person? There have been many, many books written about people who have “success” from the world’s perspective, ”the seven habits of highly effective people” comes to mind, but what are the signs of spiritually mature Christians?
There are lots of different ideas about what spiritual maturity looks like, but in thinking about this I realized one helpful approach might be in Galatians 5 where Paul gives us the qualities fruit of the Spirit. Like any fruit it tastes best when it’s mature, or fully formed and ripe.
Galatians 5:22–23 (ESV) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
There is some debate about whether Love is one of the qualities of the fruit, or if it is the quality of the fruit of the Spirit and the other words describe what that Love looks like. Either way we look at each as a key to a spiritually mature Christian.
Love- Jesus taught in the book of John that Christians will be known by their love for one another. One thing I have noticed about mature Christians is that their life is primarily oriented by love.
Joy- This is different from happy. Not every mature Christian is always happy…life can be hard, but the joyful Christian is one who is not bitter. They have an internal joy that radiates in spite of circumstances.
Peace- This I think has two sides to it. There is internal peace….the kind of settledness that comes from not fighting against God. That peace with God means they have a sense of peace with themselves as well.
Patience- The spiritually mature has patience with things because they increasingly know God is in control, even if it doesn’t work out like they think they want.
Kindness- Because there is no bitterness, they harbor no ill will towards others which produces kindness. They are uniformly kind in how they treat others because they recognize they have been shown kindness. They get no satisfaction in the pain of others so they look to aleve that kindness whenever they can.
Goodness- Spiritually mature people are not petty, but always want the best for others and what is right according to God. They don’t try to act good….it becomes part of their character.
Faithfulness- This is another two-sided coin. It’s uncertain exactly what Paul meant here but I have found that those who are mature in the faith act faithfully in trusting what God is doing in every situation. But this is also true in their acts with others. Because they do trust God, they also act faithfully with other people. They do what they say they will, even if it cost them something.
Gentleness- Because mature people don’t get satisfaction from others discomfort they act gently in how they treat others. I think Spiritually mature people also recognize that acting harshly rarely produces benefits.
Self-control- Spiritually mature people become more adept at controlling how they act in every area of their life. They learn how to control their emotions, partly because they realize that God ultimately has control, but I think they have a bigger perspective on life. They also learn to control their impulses in general so they don’t easily blurt things out that might hurt someone else.
But in my opinion perhaps the single most easily identifiable Christian quality you find in the spiritually mature is Self-Denial. This quality isn’t listed in Paul’s fruit of the spirit but is seen in many other places in the new testament, and perhaps best seen in the life and teachings of Jesus. In my opinion true self-denial is love in its purest form. It is putting others interests and feelings above your own.
I’m sure there are other aspects to spiritual maturity that I haven’t included….but hopefully this is a good start.