When my oldest son was a child, he seemed physically underdeveloped for his age. He was smaller than most of his friends and my wife and I were concerned. So, we took him to the doctor for a check up to make sure that there was no disease or physical impairment.
Thankfully, everything checked out as normal. The doctor assured us that if we continued to make sure that he ate right, had physical exercise, and got plenty of rest, he would develop normally. Now that he’s older, he is quite normal in his physical development.
Physical development is, for the most part, predicated on time. Unless there is disease or impairment, growth physically is assured as each year passes. Some of us can remember having our mothers stand us up against the wall so she could measure how much we had grown each year. Sure enough, with the passing of each year our progress physically could be measured. Until we reached adulthood, each line on the wall demonstrated our physical development.
Unlike physical development, spiritual growth cannot be assured with the passing of time alone. A man may be in Christ for thirty years and still be characterized as a spiritual child. The passage of years alone does not guarantee that growth will occur. There are other factors that contribute to spiritual development and if they are not there, growth is not guaranteed.
The Church is filled with spiritual babies who simply have never grown up. Yet what is even more amazing is that few churches seem concerned with this lack of spiritual development of its members. It is as if we have normalized spiritual immaturity. One of the reasons for this is we have not helped believers to understand the stages of spiritual development. There is great vagueness when it comes to how believers are to grow. Most believers have a general sense they should be growing, but they are generally clueless when it comes to grasping the specific stages of spiritual development.
I am convinced a central reason for the lack of understanding the stages of spiritual development is the general belief the goal of the Christian life is going to a place rather than getting to a place. In other words, believers have been largely taught the goal of the Christian life is going to heaven at the end of life either by death or translation when the Lord appears. So why worry about spiritual growth if we all end up in the same place? Since the goal is just getting there, what difference does it matter what condition I am in as long as I get there? I would submit this framework of understanding the Christian life stifles any possibility of growth.
But that is not what the New Testament teaches is the goal of living the Christian life. It is not going to a place, but getting to a place that is the ultimate goal. In other words, the goal of the Christian life is to develop through various stages of Christian development so as to reach maximum maturity and fruitfulness thus bringing glory to God. Thus, spiritual development rather than escapism is the goal of the Christian life.
This alone creates an atmosphere where maximum growth is possible. Think of it as providing a culture of growth. If we focus the Christian life primarily on going to heaven when we die, it won’t produce a culture conducive to growth since all we are concerned with is going to a place. But if we are focused on getting to a place—that is, reaching predesigned realms of spiritual development— than that produces a culture whereby growth is possible.
That does not mean going to heaven is not a reality for those who are redeemed. It is, as the apostle Paul reminds us (“to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”). But the focus shifts from merely ‘getting to heaven’ to where the real focus should be—the condition I am in when I arrive. In other words, it’s not just whether I make it to heaven but the maturity I have attained to when I get there.
Does Holy Scripture portray definitive realms of spiritual maturity? Yes! In a follow-up blog I will enumerate what each one is. But in this blog, I sought to lay the framework for a general understanding Scripturally for spiritual development.