From time to time I receive notifications of the surveys Barna Group does relating to religion, and specifically Christians and Christianity. The title of the latest survey is “Many Churchgoers and Faith Leaders Struggle to Define Spiritual Maturity“1
The results, though distressing, are not surprising. The sad truth is the results should not surprise anyone familiar with the study the Barna Group released on the 10th of April titled “Most American Christians Do Not Believe that Satan or the Holy Spirit Exist”2
It is an essential and integral part of Scripture that the Holy Ghost exists, is a real person, and the third Person of the Godhead. It is also clear from Scripture that Satan exists and is a real person as well. Thus, without having a basic trust in the Scripture and what the Scripture teaches, how could anyone ever understand what spiritual maturity is, let alone try to get there?
When the study on the existence of the beliefs of “Christians” demonstrates the following:
Four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective. A minority of Christians indicated that they believe Satan is real by disagreeing with the statement: one-quarter (26%) disagreed strongly and about one-tenth (9%) disagreed somewhat. The remaining 8% were not sure what they believe about the existence of Satan.
Although a core teaching of the Christian faith is the divinity and perfection of Jesus Christ, tens of millions of Christians do not accept that teaching.3 More than one-fifth (22%) strongly agreed that Jesus Christ sinned when He lived on earth, with an additional 17% agreeing somewhat.4 Holding the opposing view were 9% who disagreed somewhat5 and 46% who disagreed strongly. Six percent did not have an opinion on this matter6.
Much like their perceptions of Satan, most Christians do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living force, either. Overall, 38% strongly agreed and 20% agreed somewhat that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” Just one-third of Christians disagreed that the Holy Spirit is not a living force (9% disagreed somewhat, 25% disagreed strongly) while 9% were not sure.
Can we then really expect the following findings to be any different:
5. Pastors are surprisingly vague about the biblical references they use to chart spiritual maturity for people.
One of the reasons churches struggle with making disciples may relate to the lack of clarity that pastors have about the underlying biblical passages that address the process of spiritual maturity. This is most clearly reflected in the huge proportion of pastors who give generic responses when asked to identify the most important portions of the Bible that define spiritual maturity. In fact, one-third of pastors simply said “the whole Bible.” Other generic responses included “the gospels” (17%), the New Testament (15%), and Paul’s letters (10%). In all, the survey showed that three-quarters of pastors mentioned some type of generic answer to this query. In addition, one out of every five pastors gave a semi-generic response, such as “Romans” or the “life of Christ.”
As for verse-specific responses (mentioned by just one-fifth of pastors), the most common passages included: Galatians 5, John 3:16, Ephesians 4, Matthew 28, and Romans 12:1-2. Just 2% of pastors specifically identified the Galatians 5 passage relating to the “fruits of the Spirit,” which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. Theme specific answers represented just 7% of responses, including the Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commission, the Great Commandment, and the Beatitudes.7
The thing that is highlighted most prominently in both studies is the lack of Biblical knowledge and understanding — especially among Pastors. If pastors cannot properly identify spiritual maturity, how in the world are their congregations supposed to grow and be more spiritual? Simply put — they can’t. They are limited by the knowledge and understanding of the under-shepherds who are supposed to feed them.
It is amazing, yet it is not. The amazing part is that they continue to call themselves Christian, yet have little to no idea of what a Christian is, because they won’t read the Scriptures. One of the most important things a child of God must do, is read the Scriptures. This is not go read a book someone wrote about the Scriptures, but actually read the Scriptures themselves.
Because the Scriptures are the heart and mind of the LORD God toward man. In the 49th Psalm, the 107th Psalm, Isaiah, and many other places in Scripture, the heart of the LORD God toward man is plainly revealed, as it is here:
Hear this, all ye people; give ear, all ye inhabitants of the world: Both low and high, rich and poor, together. My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding. I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp. Wherefore should I fear in the days of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?
They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:) That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. (Psalm 49:1-9)
Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isaiah 55:1-11)
And again here:
Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? (Ezekiel 33:10-11)
Additionally, there are many other passages that speak to the very same thought and desire of the LORD God that every single soul be saved and reconciled to Him. The LORD God would that every person repent and believe in Christ as their Saviour.
In like manner, the LORD God has published the standard for spiritual maturity. However, if one never reads the Scripture or only reads their “pet” books, or their pastor only preaches from certain books, and on certain subjects, then what do we expect? I would certainly hope that we would not expect spiritual maturity to appear out of thin air and without extensive instruction and admonition from the Scripture. The LORD God has provided in Scripture both the standard for spiritual maturity, and how to get there. He expects us to read the Scripture, be taught by it, and walk in its instruction. It is amazing how very easy it is to find both the standard, and how to get there. In fact, the standard for spiritual maturity ought to be obvious:
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)
Moreover, the LORD gave indicators and markers so that we could know and understand how we are to work toward that maturity in Christ:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (II Peter 1:5-11)
And He expects all His children to work toward the end of being conformed to the image of Christ:
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.8And this will we do, if God permit. (Hebrews 6:1-3)
Knowing that the end of it all is charity, the love of God being continually expressed in everything we do:
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (I Corinthians 13:4-13)
Understanding that the love spoken here is not the world’s kind of love, but the love of God in which we are rebuked, chastened, challenged and tried so that we may know of our witness and testimony, whether we are growing or not, and be reassured that we are indeed the children of God:
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. (Hebrews 12:4-11)
The problem is, most American “Christians” are without any chastisement at all. Hence, they cannot grow and be spiritually mature. How can this be said? The proof is in the surveys referenced and quoted above. How can one be a Christian when one does not even believe what the Scripture, which is the word of God, states? And how can one be a Christian when one does not honor the LORD and His word? After all, it is plain in the Scripture how high a position of honor the LORD God gives His word:
I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. (Psalm 138:2)
Thus, spiritual maturity begins in the word of God — the Scripture. Without the message of the gospel from Scripture, salvation in Christ and subsequently staying in the Scripture and learning, no spiritual growth can or will occur. The problem with American “Christians” is not that they are not growing spiritually like they should. The problem is that the express conditions for spiritual growth are simply not there. It is no wonder they can’t “put a finger” on spiritual growth and how to achieve it.
- If you DO NOT accept this teaching and doctrine, you are NOT SAVED, and NOT a Christian — END OF STORY!↩
- The same note applies here.↩
- And the same applies here. Why? Because if Christ Jesus sinned, then he had his own sin to pay for, and could not pay for our sin. Secondly, if Jesus Christ could sin, then God could sin. If Jesus Christ did sin, then Jesus Christ, who is Almighty God in the flesh, is not Holy and Righteous, and thus God is not Holy and Righteous. And just what religion are these folks now?↩
- Christian? Really?↩
- There is not a one of these passages and verses mentioned that have to do with spiritual maturity. All the references given either apply to the church, or to attributes that are given to every believer at salvation. Spiritual growth is beyond just having attributes that you begin to use. Rather, it is about changing, not just the very way you act or your attitude, but your entire concept of existence, and the way you think about everything. In short, to be spiritually mature is to look at everything, including yourself, the way the LORD God knows everything to be, and letting that knowledge drive everything about your life.↩
- You know, these really are the “first things.” Yet, how many truly born again believers actually get beyond these?↩