Discipleship is a process of spiritual formation. As the Holy Spirit works to conform us into Christ, in conjunction with our cooperation, we grow into maturity.
So it’s no surprise that the New Testament teaches a lot about what the maturation process involves.
For example, Jesus’ parable of the sower teaches us four clues about what it means to be a mature disciple:
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. (Luke 8:14–15)
Jesus gives the first clue of spiritual maturity: We cannot be spiritually mature and growing without encountering the Word of God (the seed).
Any other approach to spiritual maturation will fall flat. Any other religion of philosophy won’t cut it.
Maturation involves encountering the Word and allowing it to penetrate the soil of our lives. We must be receptive to begin maturing.
Second, our encounter with the Word of God cannot be met with our personal opposition.
Our active or passive opposition (our soil) can either allow or prevent God’s Word from taking root.
Active opposition would be actions ranging from being in total rebellion to being closed to making application of the Word when we read it. Passive opposition might be indifference or ignorance without any intention to address it.
We must weed out the weeds, rocks, and debris that keep the Word from taking root.
The spiritual disciplines help clean up our soil to be prepared for the seed to germinate and ultimately produce fruit.
Third, the spiritually maturing person produces fruit.
At this point in our discussion, the Word of God has penetrated, germinated, and is producing visible fruit. While God does most of this work, it is incumbent upon us to allow it and participate in the process through the spiritual disciplines.
For instance, Paul says the Holy Spirit produces fruit in us that is contrary to what the flesh produces (Galatians 5:17). If we are growing in maturity, we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit (such as love and joy).
Fourth, multiplication must take place.
In the other Gospel accounts of the parable of the sower, Jesus says:
Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:8)
Not only will our lives produce fruit, but as our maturity deepens, our fruit will multiply to other people and places.
Our fruit will bear fruit. Those whom we disciple will disciple others.
We don’t provide growth. Only God creates kingdom growth. Paul points this out in 1 Corinthians 3:6: We sow and water, but God makes the kingdom grow.
Paul expected those he reached to grow to maturity. The Greek word most often used in the New Testament for maturity is teleios, which means “perfect” or “mature,” and it relates to the word “telos,” which means “the end.” The end goal of the Christian life is to mature in our faith and ultimately become more and more like Jesus.
In Ephesians 4 Paul lays out the fivefold gifts that God gives the church. These God-given gifts should be exercised for three purposes: edification, unity, and maturity.
Maturity doesn’t come from passivity; maturity comes through activity. The activity comes from the two sources we mentioned above: God’s work (the lion’s share) and our work.
God gives the gifts, and we use them. When we serve others with God’s gifts, we will grow in maturity.
Looking at your models of ministry and determining whether they are robust enough to create mature disciples is important.
- Do the people in your church enrich the soil of their lives?
- Are they receptive to God’s leading, or do they resist when asked to serve?
- Do they produce fruit?
- Is the fruit of the Spirit evident, or do they lack in joy and patience or other fruit of the Spirit? Do they use their God-given gifts to serve others, or do they just keep them for themselves?
As you think about the people in your church, but most importantly, as you think about yourself, how would you answer these questions?
God wants you to grow to maturity, and you must determine whether that is happening (through some of these tell-tale signs) and take steps to grow: encountering the Word, addressing opposition, looking for fruit, and multiplying disciples.
For more resources on growth strategies and how to identify stages of maturation, you might want to check out:
- “Real-Life Discipleship” by Jim Putman
- “DiscipleShift” by Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington
Both of these resources have helped me get in tune with areas of my life that need maturation as well as identify those around me who need help in growing to be more like Jesus.
For King Jesus,
Matt Dabbs for the Discipleship.org Team