Gaining True Spiritual Maturity

Neil Girrard

Scriptures Referenced in This Article:
          (Follow the Scripture links if you want to study the Scriptures for yourself.)
Gen. 2:16-17 π Gen. 4:8 π Jdgs. 21:25 π Mt. 4:4 π Mt. 7:14 π Mt. 10:28 π Mt. 18:20 π Mt. 24:4 π Mt. 24:5 π Mt. 24:12 π Jn. 7:17 π Jn . 8:11 π Jn. 10:27 π Jn. 12:32 π Jn. 16:13 π Jn. 17:20-23 π Rom. 8:1 π Rom. 16:17 π 1 Cor. 5:11 π 2 Cor. 6:14 π 2 Cor. 7:1 π 2 Cor. 11:13-15 π Gal. 5:19-21 π Eph. 4:3 π Eph. 4:13 π Eph. 4:17 π Phlp. 3:10-11 π Phlp. 3:12-14 π 2 Tim. 4:3-4 π Heb. 8:10-11 π Jas. 1:27 π Jas. 3:14-17 π Jas. 4:7-8 π Jas. 4:8 π 1 Pet. 5:8-9 π 2 Pet. 1:3 π 2 Pet. 1:5-8 π 2 Pet. 2:1 π 1 Jn. 2:20 π 1 Jn. 2:27 π 1 Jn. 3:12 π Rev. 2:6 π Rev. 2:15 π Rev. 3:17 π Rev. 18:4
Greek Words Mentioned in This Article
Heresies, sectshairesis – [139] π Lawlessness, “Iniquity” (KJV) anomia – [458] π Divisions, Dissensionsdichostasia – [1370]

Michael Clark wrote, “When we try to gain spiritual maturity by our own efforts, we usually make things worse, not better. Believe it or not, even after we have received Christ, we can be deceived, and most often we deceive ourselves. Before we set a foot on the kingdom path, our enemy does all he can to get us to either settle down in ‘Christian City’ singing, ‘I Shall Not Be Moved,’ as God continues to call us forward. Sometimes he uses our zeal to get us to take a spiritual detour, such as joining Christian cults, where we end up in delusion.” ( “Pulling Out the Stops in Our Pursuit of God – Why the Wilderness?”? )

John Bunyan pained a similar picture of Satan’s strategy against us:

So when Christian was stepping in [the Wicket or Strait Gate], the other [Good Will the Gatekeeper] gave him a pull: Then said Christian, “What means that?” The other told him, “A little distance from this Gate, there is erected a strong castle, of which Beelzebub is the captain: from thence both he and them that are with him, shoot arrows at those that come up to this Gate, if happily they may die before they can enter in.” (The Pilgrim’s Progress, Penguin Books, pp. 56-57)

Though Bunyan, writing in the 1600s, never explains this picture (just as he chooses not to do with almost all of his pictures), this “strong castle” captained by a prince of the demons represents the “church.” In Bunyan’s day, there were the Roman and Anglican “churches” that systematically oppressed and persecuted those whose spiritual light exceeded that of the “church” leaders. Bunyan himself wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison for preaching without “ordination.” Let us note well that Bunyan saw the same thing – that the devil will do all he can to keep us from the path that leads to everlasting life, that narrow road that only the few will find. ( Mt. 7:14; top )

We must ask ourselves, therefore, if we have ever set foot on the kingdom path, have we ever truly entered the strait gate (which does not represent the beginnings of salvation – the departure from the City of Destruction represents that) whereby we begin the spiritual journey Christ has proscribed for us. Then we must ask God this same question about ourselves. Be prepared – His answer may be very different than ours!

Many people find themselves parked in a “church” (victims of the arrows from Bunyan’s “strong castle) when they begin to hear the Lord’s call to “Come out from among the ‘Christian’ idolaters and spiritual fornicators and be separate to God and clean from the filth of this world!” ( 2 Cor. 7:1 , 1 Cor. 5:11 , Jas. 1:27 , Rev. 18:4 , etc.; top) Many indeed begin to exit the “church” at this stage but because they are trained to sit at the feet of men and deceived into believing they need to be “fed” from the hand of some men, quite a number of these exit the “church” only to present themselves to a more subtle form of “church,” yet another “Christian” cult.

The current apostolic and prophetic movement has presented just such an experience for many (especially for those who first experienced the spirit-numbing effects of “non-denominationalism” and the mega-“church”) as “apostles” and “prophets” all over the world rose up to scratch the ears of those who no longer thought it right and proper to have a hypocritical “pastor” scratch their ears from behind his box inside that expensive real estate pit called a “church” building (a position which now many so-called “prophets” and “apostles” have now taken up!) Many people have turned from the mega-“church” only to find themselves in a miniature version of the “church” called a house “church.” Others turned to Messianic Judaism and never realized that a synagogue is still just a “church” – even the first century Jewish believers quickly opted to stop attending synagogues as a way of following Christ! Still others have returned to small “church” and attempted to “build on the Rock” in that venue. All this is merely amplification of what Michael Clark is describing.


Why do we return to these “Christian” cults? The first answer is found in the fact that because we were never pointed to the real “steps” that lead to true spiritual maturity, we have assumed that at least something of the basic underlying pattern of the “church” is valid. But this is not so. Jesus never intended for us to park ourselves at the feet of some man who could then realize all his own personal ambitions (to lead and wield power) and fulfill all his childhood vows and dreams (to be important and significant to others). This is only one of the arrows issued forth from Beelzebub’s “strong castle” that kills and cripples many believers as they approach the gate that would take them on to true spiritual maturity.

Man was created to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. ( Mt. 4:4; top ) When man chooses to “feed” from some other man’s words, he is forsaking the most basic source of life and partaking of a polluted source. It is not just that the information he receives is wrong or false – indeed many of the words he hears were once God’s words and some nutrition may perhaps still be gleaned there – but is the action of turning from God to man that is the first step in derailing one’s progress toward spiritual maturity. It is not a question of truth – it is a question of personal responsibility.

“My sheep hear My voice,” Jesus said. ( Jn. 10:27 ) One inference we can make is that those who do not hear His voice may well not be His sheep! God has said, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put My laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be My people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest.” ( Heb. 8:10-11 ) John speaks of the same thing when he writes, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all you know the truth… As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in Him.” ( 1 Jn. 2:20 , 27; top )

Thus we see our personal responsibility to directly obey God is the aspect of growth to true spiritual maturity that suffers most when we sit at the feet of a man and expect him to feed us what we are supposed to get from the mouth and hand of God for ourselves! In contrast to God’s way of personal responsibility, the “church” has its heaped-up teachers ( 2 Tim. 4:3-4 ) who claim that they are the ones who have God’s special sacred anointing ( Mt. 24:5; top ) by which they are able to regurgitate God’s word for the uneducated masses they alone are gifted to teach and lead (when they truly do neither but rather perpetuate that symbiotic abomination where the crowds are held in passive limbo and the speakers revel and wallow in the limelight and adoration that belongs to God alone). These speakers, teachers and leaders (known by various titles such as “pastors,” “apostles,” “prophets,” etc.) believe themselves to be recipients of authority delegated to them from God to act as superior spiritual guides to their flocks.

The New Testament knows nothing of this authority except to call it Nicolaitan ( “over the people” – Rev. 2:6 , 15; top ) and to warn that it is something Jesus hates, in part because it is the basic pattern that teaches the newborn young to forsake the invisible spiritual tit and latch onto a counterfeit visible, physical tit that contains processed and imbalanced nutrients and, at times, even poison. The teachings of the “church” are much like the baby formula that science and medicine have created to draw the new mother away from breastfeeding as God created her to do. The formula man has created is vastly inferior for the baby but provides a convenience for the mother. The baby will likely survive but no one will ever be able to calculate the damage done to the emotional bond between the infant and the mother. So too, a man can find God through the teachings of even the most apostate “Christian” fraud and huckster but the nutrient level is minimal and the poison level is high indeed.

God is still calling all who will hear to come away from the feeding troughs and baby bottles of mere men and calling them to return to the Source of life – Himself. The apostate “church” will fight this truth to their death (or ours!) but it remains a truth nonetheless.


Why do we return to “Christian” cults? A second arrow that issues forth from Beelzebub’s “strong castle” is the stratagem of placing before the new believer various “theologies” and “worship styles” from which he can choose which one best fits and suits his own tastes and preferences. The act of choosing such beliefs is called hairesis [ 139 ] in the Greek – we know it as the English word “heresy,” though the New Testament knows only a little of the presence of error as the basis of the division. This is why Peter warned, “The false teachers among you…will stealthily introduce destructive heresies [choices, divisions], even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them…” ( 2 Pet. 2:1 ) These false teachers deny the Lordship of Christ by taking away His Headship and running their own “churches” based on their own choice of “theology” and “worship style” (high “church,” low “church,” non-conformist, congregationalist, etc.) Those who don’t like the ideas and practices at a particular place are free, even encouraged, to exit the “church” doors and go find (or start) their own sect according to their own tastes and preferences. In the Greek, this double standard of “agree with us or leave” is dichostasia [ 1370 ] and is often rendered “dissensions.” We find all three of these terms – heresies, sects and dissensions – in Paul’s list of the works of the flesh that prevent us from attaining to or inheriting the kingdom of God. ( Gal. 5:19-21; top ) “Curious,” isn’t it, that these works of the flesh that prevent us from experiencing the kingdom of God are some of the main pillars of modern “Christianity”?

The aspect of the flesh that is tapped into by this second arrow is that of lawlessness. In the Greek, this is anomia [ 458 ], literally, “without law.” It was said of the people of Israel shortly after Joshua’s time that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” ( Jdgs. 21:25 ) This is the quintessential element of what the better New Testament translations call “lawlessness,” the failure to submit to the rule and reign of the one true King, the Lord Jesus Christ. This sin, known in secular philosophy as “relativism,” is a primary characteristic of the end of the age ( Mt. 24:12 ) and is completely unlike righteousness which can be readily defined as that which is right in God’s eyes. ( 2 Cor. 6:14 ) The source is what makes the difference – God or self – the very same choice Adam faced in the garden when he was commanded, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…” ( Gen. 2:16-17 ) Adam opted for independent choice and the result was death, death which manifested almost immediately with violent, brutal “religious” persecution in Adam’s son, Cain. ( Gen. 4:8 , 1 Jn. 3:12; top ) Cain was so angered and stirred up with hatred because God would not accept his self efforts, preferences and choices that he killed Abel. This is the pattern of all man-made religions, including “Christianity” and especially its variant churchianity, that those who don’t conform to our own form of lawlessness must be ignored, silenced, oppressed, persecuted, even executed to keep them from exposing the emptiness and darkness we call light.

Again it is not a question of truth so much as a question of personal responsibility. After we have been lured away from the whole truth, we take great comfort in having others of like-mindedness around us. The approval of others makes great fig leaves while we congratulate one another for attaining wealth and having no needs. Jesus still says, however, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” ( Rev. 3:17 ) To strike out in the direction of the whole truth, the whole counsel of God, is not something most lone individuals desire to do. Yet we must still resist the deceptive snares of the devil, avoid the timid reactions of the flesh and draw near to God if we would have Him – and not the devil – draw near to us. ( Jas. 4:7-8 ) This is precisely why Jesus instructed His followers, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” ( Mt. 10:28; top )

True Spiritual Maturity

There are other kinds of arrows used by the denizens of Beelzebub’s “strong castle” but recognizing these two kinds will suffice for those who are intent upon recovering from their wounds and pressing on to true spiritual maturity. Michael Clark is right when he says, “When we try to gain spiritual maturity by our own efforts, we usually make things worse, not better.” But this is not because there is no effort required on our part to attain to spiritual maturity but rather we usually make things worse because our efforts are misdirected. Our zeal is without true knowledge. We draw near to men and then wonder why God does not draw near to us. (see Jas. 4:8 ) We look up to some man and then wonder why Christ does not draw us to Himself. (see Jn. 12:32; top )

Peter left us the detailed “steps” to spiritual maturity when he wrote, “For this very reason [because God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness – v. 3 ], make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( 2 Pet. 1:5-8; top )

“Ineffective and unproductive in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ is precisely the description that we must apply to the vast hordes of “church”-ites who trample in and out of their “Christian” temple every week, believing themselves to have fulfilled their duty and obligations to God (when little is further from the truth!) And because when we as trampled with that horde we were never exposed by the “church” leadership to the necessity of personally pursuing these “steps” in the order given, our lives have been diverted from the path that leads to true spiritual maturity.

“Curiously,” the “church” diverts most people off the path at the very first step. “Add to your faith knowledge” is the effect of what they say and do. Whether one is encouraged to attend weekly lectures (routine “sermons” or to attend a more intensive “New Believers” class (none of which can be found in the New Testament as routinely practiced in modern churchianity), the result is the same. We have failed to add to our faith goodness and then to our goodness knowledge. Any growth that occurs will always reflect this imbalance and neglect on our part. And there are other instances further along the process, more involved and complicated to explain, where the “church” does similar disservices to the believer wanting to press on to spiritual maturity. Some of the knowledge one gets at “church” is literally designed to destroy your faith! But the one who truly desires God’s will first and foremost will be enabled to discern which ideas come from God and which comes from mere men or even demons. ( Jn. 7:17 , Jas. 3:14-17; top )

The journey to spiritual maturity is not an effortless ride though it is not our own strength we rely on. The journey to spiritual maturity requires much effort – effort to avoid being deceived and destroyed, ( 1 Pet. 5:8-9 , Mt. 24:4 , etc.) and effort to attain to the price of God’s call in Christ Jesus. ( Phlp. 3:12-14 ) The journey to spiritual maturity will take us through places we would not in ourselves choose to go and it will involve some form of suffering as we are conformed into Christ’s death so that we might attain to His resurrection. ( Phlp. 3:10-11; top )

The true believer whose life has been deformed by his “church” attendance and participation will, by the aid and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, be able to take Peter’s list of the “steps” to spiritual maturity and see both where Christ was leading him into these things even as the “church” presented its obstacles that derailed him from these things. Nor should the genuine believer go beyond godly sorrow and remorse for his failure to walk in these things previously. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” ( Rom. 8:1 ) and Jesus’ instruction – “Go and sin no more” ( Jn. 8:11; top ) - is as applicable to the physical fornicator as to the spiritual one.

Start wherever you are at – at the beginning of the steps is actually recommended. Set everything you think you know about Christ and God and the ways of following Him and present all that to God. Then attentively wait for Him to sort and sift it as He sees fit. Some of what you know from time in churchianity (of whatever type) will be confirmed as truth even as He deepens your understanding of it. Some of what you know will need to be rejected outright and repented of. Some of what you know will need to be modified and changed to one degree or another. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to lead us into all truth ( Jn. 16:13 ) – to do that He must lead you out of all lies. It is not enough, if we are to gain true spiritual maturity, to forsake all forms of darkness ( Eph. 4:17 , etc.) but we must also take care to forsake all forms of false light. ( 2 Cor. 11:13-15 , etc.; top)

Not Alone

The biggest mistake that one who hears the call to “Come out!” can make is to remain in the situation from which God calls him. The second biggest mistake is to trade the first situation for something, albeit smaller or more subtle, is only a similar situation to the first one that we’ve left! The third mistake is to come out of the first situation and then proceed to walk alone as if God has never before called anyone else to do this.

It is true that God must mature an individual believer to hear God for himself and to walk in that way though none go with him at this time. But we must never forget that the end goal of the spiritual maturation process is that all true followers of Christ should become one in Spirit and even in the faith. ( Jn. 17:20-23 , Eph. 4:3 , 13 , etc.; top) It is nothing if we can find no true fellowship with spiritual believers at a “church” – it is not likely to find the living in the place of the dead – but if we are not coming into unity with those who are obviously pressing on with Christ in the spiritual maturation process, we should be concerned. We should seek the Lord of light and truth to see if we haven’t allowed ourself to be diverted yet again from the path that leads to life and liberty from the schemes and devices of death and darkness.

Though we are required to stand alone in this world from time to time, we must always remember that we are never alone. He is always within us and we must not mistake “small” numbers (like two and three! – Mt. 18:20 ) as a sign that we have gotten off track. It is the “church” and all those who practice its deviations who equate “big” numbers with spiritual success (though little is further from the truth). And we must always be slow to separate ourselves from those who claim to be our brothers in Christ. Even if they are currently embroiled in some “church” or “Christian” cult (as once were we), they too may be on their way out. We must allow them sufficient time to demonstrate their intentions toward Christ and God. If what these really want to do is start their own “church” (sect, dissension, heresy, etc.), then we are right to avoid them. ( Rom. 16:17; top ) If these “brothers” are only mad at the “church” because they couldn’t be “top dog,” these have much to learn and we may not be the instrument God will use to correct them of their ignorance and arrogance! Yet even where we must close the doors between us, we need not slam them shut and then nail them closed forever. If God can lead hard-headed and hard-hearted people such as ourselves to repentance, surely there must be some hope for this other brother! Rather than condemn (even when we must separate), let us admonish and then pray, trusting that God is always able to keep those who are truly His own.

Anything else will simply be another form of “church.”

Let he who has ears hear.

I’d love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!

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