Two Bible Passages Used to Support Spiritual Maturity That Don’t Fly

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

I have heard that there’s nothing like flying first class. It’s never been my experience. Yet, I always hope for the possibility anytime I fly. Upgrades are great! I hope the same can be said about my efforts to invite you to an upgrade from the uncomfortable “spiritual growth/maturity” model. Today, let’s begin to explore whether or not the current model has a comfortable biblical basis.  

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As I delve deeper into the modern idea of spiritual maturity, I discover two features of those who promote it. 

  1. Proof-texting. String together enough verses and you can prove almost anything from the Bible. If you connect enough verses that seem to prove the ideas of spiritual growth or maturity, people will believe it. If the word “maturity” appears in the verse, then surely the verse is talking about spiritual maturity or growth. 
  2. Theologizing. Most of the scripture verses commonly used to support the idea of spiritual growth or maturity say nothing about it. Yet writers and speakers place their theological ideas on the scripture to make it say what they believe it says. 

Two examples: 

From an article entitled Top 7 Bible Verses About Spiritual Maturity from the web site: — #1 – Colossians 1:9-10

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

My purpose is not to explain this passage but to point out that it does not mention spiritual maturity. It may imply spiritual growth by the use of the word “increasing.” However, spiritual growth, as most modern Christians understand the term, does not seem to be what Paul is praying for. Admittedly, “growth” and “increase” may be synonymous. If so, then the question becomes, “In what are we to increase/grow?” The answer is given: the knowledge of God. The increase/growth is to be in or by the knowledge of God.

Now we’re bumping into a reality very different from spiritual growth. I’ll simply say, this “knowledge” is not intellectual knowledge but experiential. It is the “knowing” of communion, of relationship. The Apostle is praying that the Colossians will increase in their experiential communion of God. That’s it. That’s enough. The idea that St. Paul is praying that they would only develop a greater intellectual understanding or emotional experience of God is foreign to him.

The “knowledge of God” is not a thing attained but an experience of God Himself. 

A second example comes from Pastor John MacArthur who uses 1 John 2.12-14 to illustrate what he believes to be “spiritual maturity.” He declares this passage an “essential text because it lists the three basic levels of spiritual growth.”

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (ESV)

  • Little Children
  • Young Men
  • Fathers

Are these three levels of spiritual growth or simply three designations of a Christian without reference to growth?  They are not presented as a “growth” pattern nor is spiritual growth implied by St. John, the author. In fact, every description of each designation could characterize any Christian at any time in their life. Additionally, the same characterization, “you have known Him/the Father,” is written about fathers and children/babies. How does this indicate spiritual growth?

Another possibility: could these be physical designations rather than spiritual designations? After all, the word for “little children” in vs. 12 can refer to anyone of any age; all believers who are the “offspring” of God. 

Rather than interpret this passage with a “spiritual growth” paradigm, I see something else. If a baby can “know” God and an adult can “know” God, then why don’t we simply make knowing God the journey and goal of our lives (instead of spiritual growth/maturity)? 

Two bible passages used to support the spiritual growth/maturity paradigm can be upgraded from a “spiritual growth/maturity” paradigm to a “communion/knowing God” reality.

There is much more to knowing God than there is in becoming spiritually mature. 

You can continue to sit in the economy section. But at least consider what it would be like to move to a place of participating in the very life of God Himself. Mystery says, “Come.” 

What do you take away from these thoughts today? Share below. 

Dr. K