Let’s pick up where we left off in the last chapter, moving on to maturity steps 5, 6, and 7.


5. Walking Out Our Unique Gifts & Calling (Philippians 3:10, Romans 12:6-8, Hebrews 6:2)

The next maturity step identified by all three passages is walking out our unique spiritual gifts and calling. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul exhorts every believer to “exercise” our spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ.  In Hebrews 6:2, the writer lists “laying on of hands”, which is frequently associated in scripture with being commissioned for ministry or bestowed with spiritual gifts (ex. 1 Tim 4:14, 5:22, 2 Tim 5:22). And Philippians 3:10 identifies “the power of His resurrection”, which is a reference to spiritual gifts since scripture repeatedly points to them as the evidence that Christ rose and ascended into heaven (Ephesians 4:8, 1 Corinthians 1:6-7, Luke 24:49).


How do gifts/calling relate to spiritual maturity? Let’s divide the answer to this question into four parts:


1)      Our Calling is Natural

2)      Our Calling is an Inheritance

3)      Our Calling is a Friendship

4)      Our Calling Takes Time


Our Calling is Natural

Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit.” When a branch becomes mature, it does not have to strive to bear fruit. Nor does it become anxious about whether it will produce enough. It simply abides in the vine and fruit comes naturally. In the same way, bearing eternal fruit is a natural consequence of becoming mature in Christ and living out the things He puts in our hearts to fulfill. 


Our calling is often connected to our dreams and passions. God does not ask us to be someone we’re not or exercise gifts we don’t have. He does not squeeze us into someone else’s mold. He helps us discover the unique purpose He created us for and live it out.


Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Notice the verse does not say God gives us what we desire; it says the desires themselves come from Him. As we mature, God shapes our desires to align with the purposes He created us for.


The things we dream about when we mature are often very different than the things we dreamed about when we were younger. The world and the flesh have a way of drawing us after things God never intended for us. They evoke dreams of people being impressed with us, recognizing us, and affirming us. However, godly dreams seek to serve others in humility, not draw attention to ourselves. Colossians 3:3-4 says our true life and the glory God ascribes to us is not actually recognizable in this age. It is hidden. It will only be fully revealed when Jesus is revealed at His second coming:


“For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”


Our Calling is an Inheritance

Paul said in Galatians 4:1, “… as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything…” If we are heirs, what is our inheritance? We normally think of our inheritance as salvation, eternal life, or a place in heaven. That is part of it, but it is also more than that. We are heirs of His Kingdom. This means our inheritance includes the spheres of influence we are called to impact, both in this age and in the age to come. When we get saved, as Paul said in Galatians 4:1, we become “owner of everything”. However, we don’t actually begin to exercise this ownership until we mature.


(I took Galatians 4:1 out of context. In context, it is speaking about a corporate maturity that was made available to the saints after Jesus’ first coming. However, I believe the individual application I extracted is valid and consistent with the rest of scripture. The kingdom of God has come to earth in this age only in part; in future ages it will come fully. Likewise, we can receive an initial deposit of our inheritance in this age, but won’t receive it fully until future ages. This is why Ephesians 1:14 says the Holy Spirit is given “as a pledge of our inheritance”. The Greek word for pledge means: a part of a payment, given in advance as a security that the whole will be paid afterwards. A role of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to be ambassadors of God’s kingdom. In other words, He empowers us to begin laying ahold of our inheritance.)


Sometimes, maturing in Christ can involve a gradual expansion of influence. First, we are given authority over our own hearts. The Lord begins showing us what He wants to do in that sphere and invites us to labor with Him. If we are faithful, He could expand our influence, for example, to family members, friends, and coworkers. If we are faithful there, He could entrust us with still more.


A person’s calling is multi-faceted. We can be called to get married and raise a family. We can be called to exercise certain spiritual gifts or lead a particular ministry. We can be called to a certain field or industry in the marketplace. We can be called to minister to a specific age group, ethnic group, city, or nation.


There is nothing more threatening to the enemy’s kingdom than mature Christians. Mature Christians change the world around them. Their prayers and acts of obedience help destroy demonic strongholds that enslave family members, friends, and coworkers.


The journey into spiritual maturity is the most valuable pursuit a human being can pursue, but Satan has many Christians convinced the pursuit of hobbies, money, comfort, or human affirmation is somehow more worthwhile. The truth is many Christians do not reach the maturity we are called to. Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 that some believers’ lives will bear no fruit and they will be judged for this, even though they are still saved. Likewise, Jesus said many who receive the gospel remain unfruitful because “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:19)


Our Calling is a Friendship

Would a father treat his ten-year-old son like a peer? Would he discuss in depth his marriage, his career goals, or his trials? Of course not; he would only share what is appropriate to the boy’s age. The fact that the boy is only ten years old does not cause the father to love him less, but it does affect how he relates to him. It affects how deep and mature of a friendship bond they can share. 


Jesus relates to us in the same way – in accordance with our maturity level. This is why it took three and half years of spending nearly every waking moment together before Jesus could say to the disciples:


“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)


The essence of friendship with Jesus is Him sharing what He is doing, or wants to do, around us. He lays his burdens, dreams, and desires on our hearts. This is also a foundation of our calling. Calling and friendship go together.


I have heard pastors quote this verse and say that Jesus has called everyone who is saved His friend. If that is true, why did it take so long before He could call the disciples His friends? In this context, being Jesus’ friend is more than just being saved. It is an indicator of spiritual maturity.


Notice how the previous two verses we looked at, Galatians 4:1 and John 15:15, both say being a “slave” comes before inheritance or friendship. A prerequisite to our calling is submitting our lives to the Lordship of Christ, which means we would do or surrender anything we knew with confidence He was asking of us, even if it involved pain or sacrifice. John 14:21 confirms this:


He who has My commandments and keeps them [Lordship] is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him [deepening friendship and maturity].”


If we spend our whole lives as spiritual children we can miss out on friendship with Jesus, forfeit our inheritance in this age, and greatly diminish it in the age to come. We can also set ourselves up for a difficult judgment when we appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. 


Our Calling Takes Time

God is very patient and careful about opening doors to our calling. Why? Because if there is anything we want more than closeness with Him, we are not yet mature enough to have it without turning it into an idol. Many Christians have found out the hard way that if we don’t learn to be content before stepping into our gifts/calling, we won’t be content afterward without feeding our flesh. We will start deriving our self-worth from the good things we are accomplishing and the human affirmation we are receiving (dead works). We will drift into pride and self-sufficiency, which Satan is immediately ready to exploit.


When Moses was about 40 years old, he considered himself “a man of power in words and deed”. He mistakenly thought it would be obvious to his brethren that “God was granting them deliverance through him” (Acts 7:22-25). However, from God’s perspective, Moses was a long way off from being ready for such a responsibility. At eighty years of age, God finally called Moses to do the thing he felt ready for at forty. Only this time Moses knew he was totally inadequate and had nothing but God’s presence to depend on (Exodus 3:11-12). He was finally ready by God’s standards.


Spiritual maturity, like physical maturity, is inseparable from one key ingredient – time.

While it is certainly possible for time to pass without maturing (Hebrews 5:12-13), the opposite is not true. It is impossible to mature without time passing. It does not matter how passionately we worship, how diligently we study scripture, how zealously we minister to others, or how consistently we fast or pray. All these things are a good investment of time, but they can never be a replacement for time.


Many Christians would say a believer who has walked with the Lord devoutly for 10 or 20 years could be mature, but how many 10 to 20-year-olds (physically) do you know that you would describe as being a mature adult? Probably none. It is true that if someone is saved or rededicates when they are older, God can redeem all their life experience and character formation up to that point. But there is still something irreplaceable and transformative about decades spent consistently walking with Him.


I am in my mid-thirties. I grew up in a Christian home and sincerely gave my life to the Lord when I was 4 years old. However, my spiritual maturity level, for lack of a better term, is more like that of a ten-year-old. The Lord has made this very clear to me. This may sound strange, but it feels 100% accurate in the right circumstances. For example, my initial response in my emotions feels exactly like a ten-year-old if someone insults me, if someone is impressed with me, or if I am debating someone and feel strongly that I am right. Or if I begin fantasizing about one of these things.


There is a lot of freedom in this self-assessment. I know there is nothing wrong with immaturity as long as I am earnestly pursuing growth. I long for Christlikeness, but I’m not in a hurry. My goals for spiritual growth are decades off in the distance.


6. The Fellowship of Christ’s Sufferings (Philippians 3:10)

The second to last maturity step Paul identified in Philippians 3 is “the fellowship of His sufferings”. Jesus’ identity as a sufferer is one of His most important characteristics. For example, consider Isaiah 53, arguably the most lucid description of Jesus in the Old Testament. Verse 3 says:


“He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”


Many Christians read this and immediately think of the crucifixion. That is certainly part of it. But does it also refer to something more enduring? Something, perhaps, He carried with Him His entire life?


To answer this question, consider another passage where men despise, forsake, and hide from Jesus – John 3:19-20. For clarity, I will replace “the Light” with “Jesus Christ” or “Him”. It says:


“Jesus Christ has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than Him, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates Him, and does not come to Him for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”


There it is. This is why Isaiah said Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” when men despised, forsook, and hid from Him. Jesus was grieved for their sakes, not His. He was concerned with what their rejection meant for them, not Him. They despised and rejected Him because they loved evil and feared exposure of their true condition. Jesus’ grief and sorrow were not results of the cross as much as they were motivators for it. Grief and sorrow, combined with love, are what caused Jesus to leave heaven and come to earth in the first place.


In fact, even throughout the crucifixion process, Jesus’ grief and concern were more for others than Himself. When women wept for Him as He carried His cross, He grieved over the horrors they and their children would experience in a few decades (Luke 23:28). When He saw His mother from the cross, His concern was that she be well taken care of when He was gone (John 19:26). When He saw the Pharisees taunting Him, His still longed for their forgiveness and salvation (Luke 23:34). The greatest sorrow He always felt was for others, not Himself. This is the same sorrow the Father felt in Genesis 6:6 when He saw how evil man became and watched countless souls being lost forever day after day: “He was grieved in His heart”.


What is the Fellowship of His Sufferings?

The Christian worldview is simultaneously more wonderful and more terrifying than anyone can fully imagine. To the same degree that God loves us (immeasurable), He is also severe toward sin. To the same degree that eternity for believers is wonderful, the second death is likewise horrible.


Our God is a grieving Father. We cannot possibly grasp the pain He feels over the souls that pour into hell day after day, hour after hour. Every single one was meant to be His son or daughter forever. Instead, they will spend eternity in tormented separation.


Several years ago, I felt an understanding of the reality of hell that shook me to the core. I had trouble eating, sleeping, or thinking about anything else for about two weeks. Now that I am a father, the idea of one of my children dying without Christ is more awful than I can bear to think about. Yet this is the pain God feels continuously, multiplied by infinity.


I hate thinking about hell. I hate that there are billions of people there right now and billions more will go there in the future. I hate that angels rebelled, I hate that mankind fell, and I hate all the terrible things that have precipitated as a result. I hate this war and can’t wait for it to be over. I don’t hesitate to use this language because I believe God feels the same way. He hates it too. He never wanted this, but the possibility of it was an inescapable byproduct of creating beings with free-wills, beings that could actually choose to love and worship and were not controlled like robots.


I said earlier that there is no higher calling, in a sense, than becoming a spiritual father or mother. It is also probably the most painful calling because it involves internalizing God’s fatherly love for people that, in some cases, will die without Him. This may be the most terrible suffering a Christian can experience. This is part of what Paul referred to when said he knew “the fellowship of His sufferings”.


Suffering For the Kingdom

Jesus was rejected by close friends and family members. He was constantly attacked by spiritual and political leaders. He endured heavy demonic opposition. He was ultimately imprisoned, tortured, and crucified. But He chose all these things willingly because He viewed them in light of the souls that would be saved as a result. The apostle Paul and many others also endured various kinds of suffering on behalf of God’s kingdom. Modern-day believers likewise can experience rejection or persecution from friends, family members, or even governments for their faith in Christ. This is another part of “the fellowship of His sufferings”.


The Compassion of Jesus

A final aspect of the “fellowship of His sufferings” is experiencing Christ’s compassion. “Compassionate” is the very first word God used when He declared His nature to Moses in Exodus 34:6. The word compassionate means to suffer with. Because He is compassionate, God experiences our suffering as if it is His own.


Many of the trials we experience are not directly on behalf of God’s kingdom, but are just part of living in a fallen world. For example, we may face health issues, a rocky marriage, a difficult boss or coworker, a broken friendship, or a rebellious child. All of these can mature us if we turn to Jesus in the midst of our pain and discover that He is suffering right there alongside us because He cares for us.


7. Being Conformed to Christ’s Death (Philippians 3:10, Romans 12:14-21)

Paul concluded the Philippians 3 passage with “being conformed to [Christ’s] death”. This refers to a lack of desire left to live for worldly or temporal things because only things of eternal value matter. This is likely how Paul felt when he said in Galatians 6:14, “…the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”


Perhaps this also coincides with the final step of Romans 12, which commands us to return love and a blessing to those who do us harm (echoing Jesus’ command to love our enemies in Matthew 5:44). Sincerely returning love in response to being intentionally, maliciously inflicted with pain or loss is miraculous because it defies temporal explanation.


Unconverted Jews tried to kill Paul several times, yet he was not only willing to die for their sakes, but even to trade his salvation for theirs if that were possible! He said in Romans 9:3:


“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”


Moses felt the same way toward people who repeatedly accused him and rebelled against his leadership. In Exodus 32:32, he said to God:


“But now, if You will, forgive their sin – and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!”


This kind of love is why Paul could authentically say in Galatians 2:20:


“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”


Jesus is Our Model

Spiritual maturity, in the sense that Paul and the writer of Hebrews describe it, is rare. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who is mature in all of the areas we have covered, although I’ve met some who are mature in some of them. But maybe this rarity is unsurprising. After all, people zealously pursue all kinds of lesser things such as wealth, fame, career accomplishments, advantageous relationships, physical fitness, etc., but relatively few people greatly excel at any of them, much less all them. How much more then could we expect the far greater pursuit of spiritual maturity, in its many facets, to be lacking plentiful examples in such a fallen world? Truth be told, there are a very limited number of examples even in the pages of scripture.


Let us conclude our discussion by considering Ephesian 4:13, which defines spiritual maturity simply as having “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” It is true that Jesus is distinct from the rest of humanity in that He rightly received worship (John 20:28, Matthew 2:2, Matthew 14:33, Matthew 28:9), He claimed to be God (John 5:18, John 8:24, John 8:58), He forgave sins (Matthew 9:2, Mark 2:5), and He committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22). However, there is also a sense in which Jesus was fully human and experienced life exactly as we do.


When Jesus walked the earth, He was not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. Hebrews 2:17 says, “He had to be made like His brethren in all things”. Philippians 2:6-7 says He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men”. This is why He could be “tempted” like us (Hebrews 2:18) even though “God cannot be tempted” (James 1:13). Jesus was also totally dependent on grace from the Father; He could not accomplish anything on His own. He began life as a child dependent on “the grace of God” (Luke 2:40) and He concluded His life at the cross “by the grace of God” (see Hebrews 2:9).


Jesus also went through a maturation process. Luke 2:40 says He was “increasing in wisdom”. Hebrews 2:10 says the Father endeavored to “perfect… [Him] through sufferings”. Philippians 2:8 says, He humbled Himself by becoming [i.e. growing, developing] obedient to the point of death…” Jesus not only modeled the destination of spiritual maturity; He modeled the process.


This is why Jesus can be our “mirror”. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says we see Him “in a mirror”. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says we behold Him “as in a mirror”. James 1:23-25 says when we look intently at the perfect law, which Jesus embodies, we are looking “in a mirror”. Jesus is the image of what a human being is like, as God created us to be. God was not giving us an impossible standard in commanding us to become like Jesus. He was commanding us to become who we truly are. We just don’t complete the process during this life.



The job of a spiritual parent is to form Christ in his or her children, just as Paul said in Galatians 4:19: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you.” The reason Paul could say this is because God “was pleased to reveal His Son in [him].” (Galatians 1:15-16) First, we pursue maturity ourselves; then we can model it to our children.


However, every parent should remember this: It is more important that we are growing than where we are in the journey. We don’t need to have arrived at a particular milestone to be an effective model. When our children see changes taking place in us, it can actually be more impactful than if we didn’t need those changes to begin with because it demonstrates the transforming power of God and His word. This is why Paul told Timothy to obey his instructions “so that your progress will be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:15). Timothy was younger and less experienced than many of those he was leading, but he could still serve as an example because of the direction he was headed in, not because of how far he had gotten.



Spiritual fathers and mothers are America’s last hope. They must arise if America is going to alter its course. In the next chapter, we’ll discuss where America has been and where it is headed.