Spiritual maturity is achieved through becoming more like Jesus the Messiah. After salvation, every disciple begins the process of spiritual growth, with the intent to become spiritually mature.
According to the apostle Paul, it is an ongoing process that will never end in this life. In Philippians 3:12–14, speaking of full knowledge of the Messiah, he tells his readers that he himself has not
already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which the Messiah Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in the Messiah Jesus.
Like Paul, we have to press continually toward deeper knowledge of God in the Messiah.
- Ephesians 4:14 (NASB) — 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
- James 1:6–7 — 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Master.
Why is this important? Many followers of Jesus are self-satisfied because they compare their “running” with that of other followers, usually those who are not making much progress. Had Paul compared himself with others, he would have been tempted to be proud and perhaps to let up a bit. After all, there were not too many believers in Paul’s day who had experienced all that he had! But Paul did not compare himself with others; he compared himself with himself and with Jesus Christ!
Can we dig deeper?
- The dual use of the word “perfect” in Philippians 3:12 and 15 explains his thinking. He has not arrived yet at perfection (Phil. 3:12), but he is “perfect” [mature] One mark of this maturity is the knowledge that he is not perfect! The mature disciple honestly evaluates himself and strives to do better.
- Often in the Bible we are warned against a false estimate of our spiritual condition. The church at Sardis had “a name that you live, and are dead” (Rev. 3:1). They had reputation without reality. The church at Laodicea boasted that it was rich, when in God’s sight it was “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). In contrast to the Laodicean church, the believers at Smyrna thought they were poor when they were really rich! (Rev. 2:9) Samson thought he still had his old power, but in reality it had departed from him.
- Self-evaluation can be a dangerous thing, because we can err in two directions: (1) making ourselves better than we are, or (2) making ourselves worse than we really are. Paul had no illusions about himself; he still had to keep “pressing forward” in order to “lay hold of that for which the Messiah laid hold” of him.
- A divine dissatisfaction is essential for spiritual progress. “As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1–2).