There’s this notion out there that the more you know the more mature you are; information equals transformation. This or that person or leader is so biblically knowledgable, they must be mature. This is especially dangerous for leaders and is one of those things that just ain’t so! Rick Warren shares with us five marks of spiritual maturity from the book of James.

Originally published by Rick Warren

God wants all of us to grow. Maturity is one of his purposes for our lives. In fact, Hebrews 6:1 tells us, “Let’s press on to maturity” (CEB). God intends for us to always pursue spiritual growth so that we may “be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29 ESV).  

One of God’s five purposes for your church is to help your congregation grow in spiritual maturity. But there’s a lot of confusion about what Christian maturity looks like. As you’re making disciples, it’s important that you are clear about what it means to grow more like Jesus. 

Maturity isn’t about age. You can be a Christian for 50 years and still not be mature. 

Maturity isn’t about appearance. Some people may look spiritually mature, but they aren’t. Just because someone appears dignified, it doesn’t mean they are holy. 

Maturity isn’t about achievement. You can accomplish much without being mature in your faith. 

Maturity isn’t about academics. A seminary degree or a Bible college degree doesn’t make you spiritually mature. 

You don’t get to be mature by comparing yourself to anyone else. You become mature by comparing yourself to the Word of God. The book of James is a manual on how to be mature. It gives us five marks of spiritual maturity.

1. A mature person is positive under pressure. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (James 1:2-4 NLT).

Just because you become a Christ-follower doesn’t mean you won’t face troubles. The question isn’t whether you’ll experience problems; it’s about  how you respond to them. Do you get nervous, uptight, or negative? Do you grumble?

You can be full of Bible knowledge and still be grumpy while under pressure. A mature Jesus-follower can be under stress and still be joyful.

2. A mature person is sensitive to people. “It is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (James 2:8 NLT).

When children are immature, they are completely self-focused. But mature people don’t just see their needs; they see the needs of others.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells us that the one thing we’ll be judged for is how we treat others—not how many Bible verses we know or how often we attend church.

3. A mature person has mastered his mouth. “All of us make a lot of mistakes. If someone doesn’t make any mistakes when he speaks, he would be perfect. He would be able to control everything he does” (James 3:2 GW).

One thing doctors often say when you go for a checkup is, “Stick out your tongue.” The doctor uses your tongue to check your health. God does that spiritually, too. 

James 3 gives us several illustrations regarding the tongue. The chapter calls it a bridle to a horse (3:3), an udder to a ship (3:4), and a spark to a fire (3:5-6). James 3:8 says, “No one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil filled with deadly poison” (GW).

Earlier in the book, James writes: “If a person thinks that he is religious but can’t control his tongue, he is fooling himself. That person’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26 GW). Gossip, spreading rumors, and constant negative talk is a sign you’re immature in the faith.

4. A mature person is a peacemaker, not a troublemaker. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1 NIV).

We all know Christians who make trouble more than they make peace. Conflict isn’t a Christian virtue. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s a sign of immaturity.

James tells us selfishness and judgmentalism are the two biggest sources of conflict in our lives. Both prevent us from the Christ-like maturity Jesus asks us to pursue. Pride keeps us from admitting we’re wrong. Judgmentalism puts us in the place of God.

Christian maturity means learning to say no to a selfish, judgmental attitude that regularly causes conflict.

5. A mature person is patient and prayerful. “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:7-8 NIV).

Patience and prayerfulness go together. They both express an attitude of dependence upon God that marks a mature believer. As James 5 notes, it’s a posture that farmers understand. Farmers do a lot of waiting. You won’t find any overnight crops. We have to wait for God to work in our lives. If you can’t wait, you can’t be patient. Patience is a key element of maturity.

As you’re trying to help people grow spiritually, don’t fall victim to the trap of thinking the people in your church who know the most Scripture are the most mature. Instead, look at how God is changing their character. Ask yourself:

  • How does this person handle problems?
  • Is this person sensitive to other people?
  • Does this person manage his or her mouth?
  • Is this person a troublemaker or a peacemaker?
  • Does this person pray without giving up?

That’s the kind of person who is mature and growing in Christ-likeness.