You have heard me talk often about Spiritual Maturity and what it consists of. Today I want to talk about some of the character traits you will find in someone who is in the parent stage of the discipleship wheel.
These 5 character traits, when found in a follower of Jesus who is being changed by him and on mission with him, are good indicators of spiritual maturity.
We grow to maturity best if we are in relationship with others. And there’s a reason for that. The goal we call maturity is the consistent habit of loving God and loving others well. It is not simply knowing the Bible (although that helps). It’s not laboring on five church committees (although service, when done for the right reason is a form of love) Maturity is loving well and allowing others to love us well too.
With that in mind, here are 5 character traits that should be found in someone who is a mature disciple. A mature disciple will display these traits in every sphere of their life, meaning they act the same way at work, at home, in the world and in their church.
A Mature Disciple:
Speaks The Truth In Love
Immature believers can be destructive to others when they don’t have the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. God’s love is a crucial component when we are declaring to a lost world that we have found what they need for abundant life. Without that, it won’t take long for the world to see a disconnect. Real faith in Christ leads to an understanding of God’s heart to restore relationship with Him and with others. God’s heart is to save and rebuild. As we grow up we begin to know Him who is the Truth, and to love what He loves – ourselves and others.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 13:1
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is,Christ. “Ephesians 4:15
Jim Putman, author of this blog, is writing a new book called The Death of Discipleship about the dynamics of pride and humility in the discipleship process. Download the free primer for this book here.
As we grow up into our salvation, we move from self-centeredness to other-centeredness, from consumer to contributor. Not because we think less of ourselves, but because we are thinking of ourselves less often. Immature believers tend to use the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ a lot. As in: “I don’t like the worship music – I didn’t like the preaching style – They didn’t welcome me at church today – I don’t love my spouse the way I used to anymore – My friendship isn’t meeting my needs.” These types of statements are saying that the world revolves around me, others exist for me – this is a far cry from what real love would say. We need to grow up out of these attitudes.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:2-3
Forgives And Does Not Take Offense
When others fail us – love offers grace and does not get offended. Maintaining this attitude hinges on having the right perspective. Seeing things through the other persons eyes and having true empathy makes it easier to overlook an offense. Often when people know that sin has hurt their relationships, they are afraid to trust again. Yet Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love keeps no record of wrongs. In other words, it forgives. It also tells us that love endures all things – it keeps trying to make the relationship work.
At the same time, we may need to distance ourself from an unhealthy relationship with someone who refuses to get help. We do this to draw a boundary for their own good. It shouldn’t leave us stuck with a fear of ever trusting anyone again. Not being forgiving makes us run the risk of becoming bitter – and bitterness ends up destroying us and our relationships.
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Prov. 19:11
Is Humble And Submits To Authority
In my book The Power Of Together I talk about a gentleman I met who had been through seven churches in five years. He believed God had given him the gift of teaching, and if a church didn’t allow him to teach he never stayed there long. If he did teach and anyone didn’t agree with his opinions he also didn’t stay long. When asked what the conflict had been, he explained that in every case he believed he had been right and those who disagreed with him either didn’t have his level of education or the humility to learn from him. He and his wife bounced from church to church, disagreeing with the leaderships over minor issues. He displayed no desire to commit to a church or to submit to the authority of its leaders.
When I speak with someone that refuses to place themselves under the authority of men, it is usually a good indication that they are not under God’s authority either. When Jesus came to the earth, he gave up all of his authority and humbled himself. Humble people do not assume they know everything, they are usually ready and willing to learn from everyone around them. I call these people lifelong learners, and this attitude is one of the things we look for when we hire staff at our church, and definitely a characteristic of spiritual maturity.
“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave” Philippians 2:6
“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
Is Able To Feed Himself or Herself
In the physical world, it is a big step when a child can begin to feed themselves, rather than passively being fed. It is the same way in spiritual growth. As we mature, moving from consumers to contributors, we will no longer expect weekend services or even our life group alone to feed us. We are learning to feed ourselves through time alone with Jesus each day. God has given us several ways to grow and mature in our journey with him. First, we have a model to study: Jesus. We can treat him as our ultimate role model. Second, we have the Word of God as the Holy Spirit-inspired road map that tells us where to go and how to get there. Third, we have the Holy Spirit living inside us. He empowers us to live out what we have learned in the Word of God. Lastly – we have the Holy Spirit working through others as we do life together with them. As we feed ourselves, we become well-nourished and are able to take the responsibility to help feed others who are just starting out.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” John 15:4
Obviously – this is not an exhaustive list. Becoming more like Jesus is the target of spiritual maturity and if you were to sit down and list out all of the characteristics of Jesus you would find more than just these five. However, if you know someone whose life consistently exhibits the above five characteristics, it will be a great indicator of their relationship with God and their life as a disciple.
By Jim Putman