You have to know what your target is if you are going to hit it. Have you ever considered what spiritual maturity looks like? If you are a Christian, I’m sure you have at least a vague sense that maturity is where you want to be, but what does the target look like?
One way to think about the end of spiritual maturity is to consider its beginning. In Mark 8, Jesus cried out to crowds of people. He described what it meant to follow him.
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’” (Mark 8:34-38).
The first requirement that jumps out is the need to deny yourself. To say Yes to Jesus, you have to say No to yourself. It is not enough to add Jesus to your busy life. You are actually trading your whole life to receive him. Later he talks about saving and losing your life. If you try to hang on to you, you will lose out. If you lose you, you win him.
Your whole life is oriented around yourself. You feed yourself. You clothe yourself. You buy things for yourself. You do all kinds of things to make yourself happy. And now Jesus comes and says: “Deny all of that.” In every way it is worth it, of course. Your sin and selfishness keep you from God. If you die in your sins, you will face God’s wrath for eternity. As the Lord asked, how great is it to be the king of the world if you lose your soul for eternity? Entrusting your eternal soul to Jesus is worth everything.
If coming to Jesus includes repenting from your pride and living without reference to him, what must maturity look like? The Christian life is like starting out as a spiritual baby. You are in the game, but you are completely immature. Then you start growing. The Holy Spirit steps into a fixer-upper house and brings a very bright flashlight. You knew you were somewhat proud, but as his searchlight spins around arrogance appears all over the place. As you see more, you repent more. Humility is a virtue that creates space for more virtues.
Taking up your cross is an interesting requirement. We are used to thinking about the cross as a happy symbol of the Christian faith. In the first century, however, it had one purpose. The cross was an instrument of torturous death. It was so disgusting that the word cross was considered profanity. No matter how wicked a Roman citizen was, he could not be crucified, because it was too terrible.
What was Jesus calling for when he said that you must take up your cross? You must be willing to die, even by means of crucifixion. A follower is not above his master. That was what would happen to Jesus. His followers should expect it, too.
There are many things we might want to try if the cost isn’t too high. Following Jesus has the highest cost of all—total commitment. Again, this isn’t something a new Christian fully appreciates. There may be some obvious lifestyle choices that will need to change, like if you were in a relationship that the Bible considers sinful, but as you grow towards spiritual maturity, you will discover other pockets of resistance that will need to be surrendered to Christ. Day by day choices will be made that work out that whole life commitment.
Jesus went on to mention being publicly ashamed of him and his words, which is an example of death to self in real life. Standing up for Jesus when the world tells you to sit down and shut up can be extremely hard. Social costs must be paid. If you tally up what you can see, following Jesus might seem to be a bad bargain. Jesus lifts your eyes to eternity, though. If you are not ashamed now, he will not be ashamed when he returns with his Father’s glory surrounded by holy angels. Never forget to factor in all of eternity when you calculate the costs/rewards of following Jesus.
The final requirement is actually following Jesus. While disciples in the first century literally followed Jesus around, you follow Jesus now through the Bible. The Bible reveals who Jesus was, what he did, and all that he commanded. As you imitate and obey Jesus step by step in your world, you are following him.
If you think about it, that is different than just making a spiritual decision for Jesus or praying a prayer and then living however you want to live. Following Jesus is a lifestyle change. Of course, you can never work your way into a right relationship with God, but putting your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a higher commitment than a mental choice.
Like the other requirements that initiate becoming a believer in Jesus, following Jesus is a requirement that develops all through your life. If you are married, you could have never imagined all of the ways your wedding vows would be tested throughout the years. In the same way, the commitment to follow Jesus will affect your choices in ten-thousand ways. You will fail. You will confess your sins and return to the Lord’s path again. You will grow in Christian maturity. The path on which you launch sets your direction. Your direction brings you closer to your destination.
By John Crotts