The "Blueprint" To Spiritual Maturity (Article 17-11)
At the core of our salvation is our rebirth which we refer to as being “Born Again”. The whole idea of being re-birthed is a confounding concept. It certainly was in the time of Christ as exampled when Jesus tells a prominent Jewish Pharisee name Nicodemus “Most assuredly, I say to you unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:1-3). Christ goes on to say “Most assuredly, I say to you unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5). There are five (5) things we should conclude about these scriptures. First, our rebirth is a prerequisite to entering and seeing God’s Kingdom. Second, we are born into a new being – a heavenly being – a being the universe has never seen before. Third, when we are reborn, we no longer exist in the world as a human being, but rather a spiritual being. More concisely, our rebirth transforms us from a human being having a spiritual experience to a spiritual being having a human experience: Just as Christ existed when He walked the earth. Fourth, when we are reborn, we are born as new babies who must be nourished to grow and mature. Peter states “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, ...” (1 Peter 2:2). Paul states in 1 Corinthians 3:2, “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it,...” Finally, just as we needed our parents to teach us our value sets to mature, our Heavenly Father, by way of the Son, do the same as newborn spiritual beings.
Spiritual Maturity Means to Become Like Christ
When we become Christians, we are given all we need for spiritual maturity. Peter tells us that “[God’s] divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). God alone is our resource, and all growth comes by grace through Him, but we are responsible for choosing to obey. Peter again helps us in this area: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5–8). In sum, being effective and fruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus is the essence of spiritual maturity.
The Beatitudes – The Blueprint for Spiritual Maturity.
So, what is the great knowledge we should have regarding our Lord and Savior as it pertains to our spiritual maturity? A great beginning point to understand this is to study Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, referred to as the “Beatitudes” (Matthew 5:3-10). Rightfully so, many refer to the Beatitudes as the pathway or secret to happiness; however, I also notice as I’ve to study the beatitudes, it offers something else. It is spiritual maturity blueprint. Notice that Christ tells us in this sermon there are eight (8) things we must strive to do to find happiness. Next, notice that every one of the eight beatitudes deal with our spirit and not our flesh, and how each beatitude builds on each other. Finally, in my bible studies, I always encourage my listeners to pay attention to numbers in the bible. They all have meaning, and the number “8” relative to the number of beatitudes presents no exception. In Hebrew, the number “8” means to “super-abound” or to abound beyond something else. The “something else” refers to our salvation, resurrection, new birth and regeneration.
To fully appreciate the fullness and richness of the Beatitudes as it relates to our spiritual maturity, we must take a step back and notice the order (priority) in which Christ presents them to us. Note that they appear as building blocks or a pyramid. One beatitude builds on the other. We cannot achieve the 6th, 7th, or 8th beatitude without first working through the first five (5) beatitudes. At the foundation of it all is “Humility.” Without humility, we can go no further in our quest to become spiritually mature. We must first recognize our spiritual poverty, thus need for God. We see this when Christ states as the very first beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). In this very first verse, Christ tells us that our spiritual maturity is built on being “Humble.” In other words, nothing is possible without first knowing and understanding who we are from God and that we need God for all things. The opposite of humility is of course “pride” – one’s lack of knowledge, understanding, or acceptance to who one is relative to God and one’s need for God in all things.
In the 2nd beatitude, Christ tells us “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). In this verse, Christ tells us to mourn and pray for those who do not know Him, thus our Heavenly Father. It is an unselfish extension of our concern and grief for our brothers and sisters who are lost and may never be able to return home to the Father. Now note too how the 2nd beatitude builds on the 1st: To be humble in spirit. Christ tells us in the third beatitude “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). To be meek means to lower yourself to a position of servitude. Christ presented Himself to us in a lowly, mild, patient and subservient manner. One of the greatest examples Christ provides us in scripture is in John 13. "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded" (John 13:3-5). Yes, the "Lord of Lords" and "King of Kings" submitted Himself to His disciples and washed their feet. We too are to follow this same example and be the same for others. We are not to grab the seat at the head of the table, but rather take a seat which signifies our willingness to serve. If we are to be at the head of the table, it will be God's calling to do so, and not our own. At this point, notice again how the 3rd beatitude, that being our call meekness, is not possible until we understand humility and how to extend ourselves to mourn for others in prayer.
Going Into Action
Our call is to pursue righteousness, be merciful, be pure in heart, be peacemakers, and to be prepared to be persecuted. Let’s review how this unfolds. In the 4th beatitude, Christ states “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). This beatitude is very significant because it’s Christ's first call to us to go into action. It’s the half-way point to our full maturity. It represents a maturity level that requires significant “spiritual muscles” and determination. We no longer are to be passive, but aggressive. We must “hunger” and “thirst” for righteousness - all that is seen right and holy by the Father and the Son. At the same time, we recognize based on our humility, mournful spirit, and meekness that righteousness can only be accomplished by abiding in Christ and He in us. For it is the "Spirit of Christ (The Holy Spirit)" that gives us the power to do what the Father calls us to do.
Spiritual Muscles Needed More Than Ever
As believers and His disciples, Christ then calls us to be forgiving. He states in the 5th Beatitude “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 4:7). How hard it is to forgive others that have hurt us. What great strength it takes to “Turn the other Cheek.” (Matthew 5:39). What great strength it takes to abandon the Old Testament teaching “To take an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24). Our Lord calls us to forgive and prays for those who betray, slander, lie to, deceive, manipulate, exploit, abandon and physically harm us and those we love. We are to forgive by drawing from our commitment to be righteous; from a position of servitude (meekness); fueled by a mournful heart; built on a foundation of humbleness. We must then make peace – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). The work of the peacemakers is not a light and easy work. We are to have a “peaceable temper.” We endeavor to promote peace in others, and in the process, be quiet. Christ tells us to live peaceably with all men: even among men who are sowing the seeds of discord. We are to lay ourselves out to heal the differences of our brothers and sisters, to reconcile contending parties, and to restore peace wherever it is broken, as well as to preserve it where it is.
The Pinnacle of Our Spiritual Maturity
Our Lord’s last call in the beatitudes is a call for preparation. We are to prepare to suffer – not for our sake, but for His sake – the sake of righteousness. He tells us: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10). Here again, there is a profound significance in the order of the beatitudes. Here we see persons persecuted not for their opinions, but rather for their right conduct - true martyrs and confessors of righteousness. This saying is peculiar to Christianity and is not possible without having matured through the previous seven beatitudes. Our loving Father will provide for those who lose for him, though it may be life itself, we will not lose by Him in the end.
Our Maturity is An Ongoing and Continuous Process
According to the apostle Paul, our spiritual maturing is an ongoing process that will never end in this life. In Philippians 3:12–14, speaking with full knowledge of Christ, Paul tells us that He Himself has not achieved full spiritual maturity when he states “... I press on to take hold of that for which Christ 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 Christ Jesus.” Like Paul, we have to press continually toward a deeper knowledge of God in Christ.
It’s Not a Pyramid at All, But Rather a Full Circle
There is something suggestive in the fact that the last promise is the same as the first. We end, as we began, with “the kingdom of heaven;” but the path we journeyed includes all the intermediate spiritual maturity requirements. Although at first it seemed like the prelude to an end, it instead is the end to the beginning. See, although it appears as if the beatitudes represent a pyramid with a start point and end point, it is not. It is a circle, for a circle is eternal. It starts with the Kingdom of Heaven, and it ends with the Kingdom of Heaven. God is eternal and so is His Kingdom.