“. . . that we should no longer be children . . . but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ” (Ephesians 4:14,15).
THERE’S NO DOUBT THAT WE NEED TO SET OUR HOPES ON HEAVEN, BUT WE ALSO NEED TO SET GOALS FOR OUR GROWTH IN THIS LIFE. Eternity with God is a worthy objective, to be sure, but that destiny is not an arbitrary reward handed out to some few who were lucky enough to be selected. Rather, it is the end of a road that has to be traveled by conscious choice. When the time comes, heaven will be a state of spiritual maturity for those who made the choice to grow in that direction while they lived in this world.
As far as our character is concerned, there’s a considerable gap between what we are now and what we need to be. With our present attitudes and values, we wouldn’t enjoy living in a realm where God is the only pleasure, even if we were allowed to give it a try. Plainly, we need to grow in the virtue of spiritual-mindedness. But growth in godly character does not take place by accident. Without setting deliberate goals, we simply drift — occasionally stumbling forward perhaps, but more often than not falling backward into further neglect and worldliness.
For one thing, our goals for spiritual growth need to be higher. We should aspire to greater growth in God than we’ve dared to dream about before. God is greater than our “modest” personal goals sometimes make Him out to be, and we should not under-estimate the quality of character that He can help us — yes, even us! — to partake of (2 Peter 1:2-4). But also, our goals need to be more specific. It doesn’t do much good to simply say, “I know I need to be a better person.” Instead, we need to take an honest inventory of our personal traits on a regular basis and then make definite commitments, God being our Helper, to change our character.
Most importantly, however, we need to study the character of Jesus Christ and let Him define our concept of spiritual maturity. What we’re aiming to do is “grow up in all things into Him who is the head.” Doing that will often take us (as it did Him) in a different direction than the popular picture of “spiritual maturity.”
“Our first step in rediscovering an authentic Christian spirituality is to gain a clear picture of a mature Christian. If we ignore this question, spiritual growth will become an accidental occurrence” (Gary L. Thomas).