I was able to give the message at King’s Grant and the topic of the day was, “What are the marks of a mature Christian?” Since Paul encourages believers to examine themselves to see if they are of the faith (1 Corinthians 11:28), I found at least twelve “marks” or “tests” to see whether one is a true follower of Christ. My prayer is that as you read this list, allow God to bring you to a proper understanding of where you stand with Christ.
1. Fellowship with God and Christians – 1 John 1:3-4
Immaturity says that belief is all one needs; just believe the right stuff about Jesus, accept Him, pray a prayer, come to church only when it’s convenient, and when you do, don’t get involved with a small group. A small group is where fellowship really happens. The Greek word, koinonia, means sharing a common life.
Maturity says that fellowship with God and other believers is important. How? What does this mean? Practically… we gather together for worship and in small groups; we don’t have fellowship by staring at the back of another person’s head! Fellowship allows us to get involved, get to know each other, bear one another’s burdens, and help each other to grow into the likeness of Christ.
Remedy: Like a log on a bonfire, the log that rolled away needs to be thrown back into the pile in order to be on fire. Otherwise the lone log will gradually dim and grow cold. Get back into a local church and get involved in a small group. Christianity was not meant to be lived in isolation; real life change comes in community, not a cocoon.
2. Sensitivity to sin – 1 John 1:5-10, 3:8, 5:18
Immaturity says that sin is not really a big deal, everybody does it, nobody’s perfect, I can stop if I want to, I’m not hurting anybody; but sin is missing the mark, hamartia, falling short of the target that God has set for us. Lack of sensitivity to sin is like cultivating a calloused heart, layers of excuses, apathy, failure, all lead to a hardened heart where sin does not bother you any more.
Maturity says that sin is a serious matter, and I need to deal with it as God tells me to. Sin brings death; the Son brings life (John 3:36).
Remedy: Confession of sin is not telling God something He doesn’t already know, but agreeing with God about the seriousness of my sin. Sin separates us from God like an umbrella shields us from the rain; God’s blessing and fellowship cannot get through when we are holding up our umbrella of sin. Recognize sin, confess sin, get serious with the removal of sin from your life. We need God for this, if we could clean up our own lives on our own, we wouldn’t need Christ.
3. Obedience to His Word – 1 John 2:3-5, 3:24, 5:2
Immaturity says that all I have to do in order to be saved is believe the stories of Jesus. I don’t have to be a fanatic of this Christianity stuff, like keep all those rules in the Bible.
Maturity says that if I truly have faith, I will want to demonstrate that faith in meaningful and practical ways. A child who tells his father that he loves him yet lives in total rebellion to the father’s will does not really love his father. Jesus said, “He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” (John 14:24)
Remedy: Discover what the Lord requires (Micah 6:8), follow His commands (1 Samuel 15:11, Matthew 5:19, John 14:15, 15:10, 1 Timothy 6:14), act in a manner worthy of the salvation that has been so freely given (Ephesians 4:1, 2 Thessalonians 1:11). God’s grace is free because it cost you nothing, but it is costly because it cost God the sacrifice of His only Son (Romans 5:8, John 3:16). How do we discover God’s commands? Read His word, discuss His word in a small group, and hide His word in your Heart so that you may not sin against God (Psalm 119:105).
4. Attitude toward the world – 1 John 2:15
Immaturity says that I need to be just like the world in order to identify with others, keep up with the Jones’, acquire more stuff, build debt in order to live beyond my means. If you want to be a winner, you have to drive like a winner. I serve a first class God and He expects me to live a first class life. I must live for today, get all I can, can all I get and just live for now.
Maturity says that this world is temporary and things do not last nor do they bring ultimate satisfaction. Everything on Earth will all pass away, except the Word of God (Isaiah 40:8) and people (Revelation 22:5), both will last forever.
Remedy: Have a proper perspective on possessions, power and popularity. You can be a follower of Christ and have all of these but the pursuit of them at the wrong time, in the wrong way for the wrong reason often leads to worldliness.
5. Persecution because of Christ – 1 John 2:18-19
Immaturity says that since I am a believer, God will shield me from trials, troubles and temptation. Life is much easier as a believer; if times are tough, it’s because I’ve done something wrong or am living in sin, or have forgotten to confess something.
Maturity says that since the world hated and persecuted Christ and the early church, why should I expect to be treated any differently (John 15:18-19)? Here, John says it’s the last hour, and in the last quarter, the enemy wants to tear down all that Christ has established. Many enemies of Christ have arisen; they started out with them, but have not remained faithful. They turned to the dark side, going against Christ (anti Christ).
Remedy: Stand strong with the body of Christ, the church; remain in solid fellowship with sound doctrinal belief. Understand that there are many who have tasted from the River of Life but have turned back to their former ways (Hebrews 6:4, 5, 6, Matthew 13:20, 21), and have fanned into flame a critical spirit of Christianity. Many former believers will ridicule the faith and those who hold dear the truths of the Bible. They are not apathetic about Christ, they have become anti-Christ. Their goal is for Christianity to be removed from every corner of society. Expect persecution; Paul tells us that all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).
6. Anticipation of the second coming – 1 John 3:2-3
Immaturity says that I have plenty of time before Jesus returns; I want to travel, get married, earn a million, run for office, complete a marathon, experience the pleasures of the world, get my degree… I’m in no hurry to get my life straightened out.
Maturity says that this life is but a vapor and will quickly pass away (James 4:14). When He finally comes back at the Father’s command (Mark 13:32), John tells us that we shall be like Him and will see Him as He is; perfect and sinless (1 John 2:2). John mentions having this hope, fixed on Christ. Hope looks to the future, and we as believers ought to be ready (Matthew 24:42, 2 Timothy 4:2, 1 Peter 3:15, Revelation 21:2).
Remedy: Allow God to convict us of sin (John 16:8) and let His cleansing make us ready to see Christ. When He comes, we do not want to be caught off guard and ashamed (Luke 9:26, Romans 1:16, 2 Timothy 1:8, 2:15). If we live with the anticipation of His coming, our behavior will change. We begin to live as a bride getting ready for her wedding day; keeping herself pure and spotless, waiting for her Groom and the big celebration (Revelation 21:2, 9).
7. Lifestyle of godliness – 1 John 3:5-6
Immaturity says that my lifestyle does not need to be in line with my beliefs. I’m saved and it doesn’t matter how I live, I’m secure and on my way to heaven. Once saved, always saved.
Maturity says that because of my beliefs, I will bring my life in line with the commands of Christ. The one who has his hope in Christ will purify himself; as an act of the will. We are to be holy because He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). We must conform to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) and since He is pure, we are to be pure. Don’t live like the world.
Remedy: We will never be sinless, but hopefully we will sin less next week than we did last week. The will of God is your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), meaning we must become more and more like Christ every day.
8. Love for each other – 1 John 3:11, 14, 16-18
Immaturity says that I don’t have to forgive or love those whom I don’t like. It’s my right to hold a grudge for what they did to me.
Maturity says that we love each other, and even our enemies (Matthew 5:44), because love is from God. God IS love (1 John 4:7). Love is active and not passive. God so loved us that He acted (John 3:16, Romans 5:8).
Remedy: Notice the parallel between John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16. The Father loved, and gave, and laid down His only Son; we are to love others and lay down our lives for the brethren. First John 3:18 tells us to not love in word only, but with actions. James writes similarly (James 2:17, 26). Think of practical ways that you can love and serve others out of the abundance of gratitude we have for what God has done for us.
9. Discernment between good and evil – 1 John 4:1-6, 5:20
Immaturity says that knowing right from wrong or truth from error is something the pastor determines; or some other authority figure in my life.
Maturity says that since I have the Holy Spirit in my life, I am able to recognize spiritual error when I see it. I will not fall to faddish false teaching that leads people away from the truth found in the Bible.
Remedy: To be mature we need to grow up in all aspects pertaining to God (Ephesians 4:15). Someone may come to you with some new teaching that is called a “revelation from God” so we must be able to recognize such error. We may not be able to quote the Scripture, but the witness of the Spirit tells us that something is just not right. A lot of this preparation comes from Christian education that we find in the body of Christ. Just why is Sunday School so important? Not only is it our most effective strategy to reach lost people with the gospel, but it helps prepare believers for the times when the enemy will throw error our way to see if we can be led astray. A mature Christian is one who is continually learning God’s Word.
10. Witness of the Spirit – 1 John 4:13, 3:24
Immaturity says that we cannot really know that we are saved; therefore we live in doubt and fear about our eternal security.
Maturity says that God intends for us to be confident in our salvation and our future, because He has given us His Spirit to live inside of us.
Remedy: Allow God to take up residence in your heart. The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). The Spirit will become our Helper (John 16:7) and our Guide who will disclose the truth to us (John 16:13). The more we know the Bible, the more the truth is implanted in our hearts, and the inner witness of the Spirit will give us confidence that we belong to Him.
11. Settled doctrinal belief – 1 John 5:1-2, 4:14-15
Immaturity says that God may not be finished in revealing His plan to mankind; that new revelation happens today that can change our spiritual understanding. Who is to say that we have it right? What if God should reveal something new? Aren’t all religions equally true? Isn’t is narrow minded to claim Jesus is the only way to salvation or heaven?
Maturity says that the Bible is our only source of faith and practice. Peter tells us that God has given us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). John tells us that no one is to add or take away from this book (Revelation 22:18, 19 – whether this is just the book of the Revelation prophecy or on a larger scale to include the entire Bible).
Remedy: Have a settled doctrinal belief. Be convinced that only those who love the Child born of God are really lovers of the Father. No one knocking on the door claiming the existence of modern apostles and new revelation are going to bring doubt in your mind. No one telling you that there are other ways of getting into a right relationship with God will cause you to rethink your theology. You will take no consideration to anyone claiming that Jesus is not God incarnate, the God-Man, deity in a manger and the risen Savior who is alive today, who invites you into an everlasting relationship with Him, and who is right here present with us today, knocking on the door of your heart.
These are the marks of a mature Christian, and I trust that you can examine yourself this day, to see whether you are in the faith, or if you need to get started on the greatest journey of all.
12. Answered prayer – 1 John 5:14-15
Immaturity says that prayer is an archaic practice that borders on superstition; why pray when it appears God does not answer?
Maturity says that prayer is worthwhile, not because of how God answers, but because prayer helps develop our relationship with God. Prayer is communication with the one who loves us and saves us. We spend time with those whom we love, and we communicate by talking and listening. Prayer is not a magical incantation that gets us the desires of our heart; name it and claim it.
Remedy: Answered prayer is not just getting what you ask for, but it is the confidence we have that He hears us (Condition alert – IF we ask according to His will). How do we know He hears us, answered prayer; but according to His will is the key. When we lose self, embrace Christ, and literally go “through the pit” with Christ (in order to get the mind of Christ), what we ask for will change. When we ask in accordance to God’s will, he hears and answers.