Thursday, May 14, 2009

Barna: "Most Christians equate spiritual maturity with following the rules."

In addition to the various Performance-Based Acceptance stories that were shared the other day, I came across a couple of other things that sadly put the emphasis on outward performance when it comes to "growing spiritually" or "spiritual maturity" (or really, life in Christ in general).

The other day I was listening to a Christian talk show that a good grace-man like me really shouldn't be listening to... hahaha... pardon the sarcastic irony. :) No need to mention the program itself, but the call was about a woman who had a 'roadblock' in her marriage. Her "problem" was that she was "growing spiritually" but her husband wasn't. Now I'm not oblivious at all to the desire of having our loved ones alongside us on our journey, and us with them on their journey. But I don't think that's what was being conveyed in this woman's story.

I got the impression that she was becoming more involved in the traditional outward aspects of "doing" the Christian life (" spiritual disciplines?") and he was not "growing" (so-called) at the same pace. Perhaps she was reading her Bible more, going to church more, praying more, being involved in activities more, showing more interest in the things of God, etc, etc. And gee golly, for some reason the husband was simply not as interested.

I then read a blog post called Spiritual Maturity, that links to these findings from the Barna Group. Highlighted on this blog post is this disturbing quote from Barna's findings: "Most Christians equate spiritual maturity with following the rules."

In the various Performance-Based Acceptance stories that were shared the other day, this seemed to be touched on quite a bit as well, in one form or another, including a quote from In Christ Alone's story. Speaking of the various denominations that she'd been a part of, she said, "It was just always about rules and ways to act and be and becoming holy somehow by doing this and that."

I'm sure you have thoughts on all this. What do you think? What I believe is that growing in maturity means that a person has truly understood the love and grace of God - not just in the mind but in the heart - and is "growing" in basking in it and appropriating it and in having Christ's life in them naturally expressing itself through love and grace towards others. How's that for a nutshell definition? :) So if a person is truly maturing in the Christ-life, would the stale lives of their loved ones be a "problem," or would it be an opportunity to share the love and grace of God all the more as Christ manifests His life all the more?


  1. Ohhhhh, JOEL!

    Let's get this ball ROLLING! GREAT TOPIC!

    I will post on this but I'll throw it out here ,too, just for some feedback.

    Recently, I found myself socializing, in a hot tub with alcohol being consumed NO LESS, with a lesbian couple and a gay man. Guess what we discussed at one point??? OF COURSE! GRACE!! How could we not? It was such a beautiful God thing. Totally God ordained that I be able to love and accept these friends and share with them. In fact, the young man has expressed an interest in talking with me again because he wants to believe something other than the "you're going to burn in hell" message the church is peddling.

    That scenario doesn't fit in with churchianity's view of sharing the Gospel but you know what? I think Jesus would have been right there with us! In fact, HE WAS!!!! :D

    I felt blessed to be able to share and love these people. And PERFORMANCE or RULES were not discussed. LIFE WAS!!

    THOUGHTS, anyone??

  2. Like, totally, dude! Yep, that's a great example of simply relating to others in the name of love and grace and not in the name of rules. Just meeting people right where they're at and talking "life" with them and living life with them! How often have we (Christians in general) turned people away from the very LIFE that God gives them freely, by adding rules and conditions to it.

  3. Uh, oh...we scared 'em, Breeze! :D

  4. That'll show 'em. They're all legalists anyway. ALL of them!!! hooo hooo haaa haaa haaaaaaaaaaa!!!

  5. You know, I know that I have been transformed because this does not phase me ... for too long we (the collected we) have looked down our religious noses at those who don't fit into the box of what a "Christian" is and what they should do and who they should associate with. Get out there people! Jesus didn't hide in the comfort of only like-minded believers....yep, there is a time for that and we need that but get out there and let Jesus touch someone who is looking for authenticity and realness and dare I say it.....Love (which He is), and Grace (which He is). Nothing should phase us about any person on this planet. We all have come from the same place. It may look different in your life or mine....but it is the same place.

    In Him,


  6. I was just thinking along those same lines this morning. If I consider that someone else with lifestyle 'a' isn't worth hanging out with and loving, then why is my lifestyle 'b' any more worthy of someone sharing love and grace with?

    I, a person who is the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus no matter what I ever do, still do things that don't represent who I am in Christ. What's so different about me than any other person who does things that don't represent who they are in Christ... no matter what those things may be?

    And if I don't want others to make my behavior the issue, since I know it's only by grace, and not by my behavior, that I am who I am, then why should I make the behavior of others my focus.

    Obviously if I'm beating my wife and I don't see it (extreme example of being blind to how actions could hurt people), then I think it can be a matter of love and grace when someone shares their heart with me on the matter. I think Paul was presented with a few such occasions. But most of the time I don't need anyone pointing anything out to me... and most of the time others don't need someone going on about their behavior. In fact a focus on behavior can really turn people away and can give them a wrong perception that God is all about our behavior.

  7. I know you're right Jamie, but I am still wondering how we get them to stop living that sort of lifestyle.

    I'm not disagreeing with you at all, I just struggle with those thoughts. I know the theology. I know they need LIFE and Jesus IN them will give them freedom from sin, but in my mind I still struggle with those questions of how to change their behavior.

  8. That's not our change behavior. That is why the church doesn't get it.

  9. Yep, Matthew. Why would "we" want to change their behaviour? We could turn them into little mini-mes I guess...but wouldn't that be a shame. I don't know why "we" and "OREC" are so concerned about changing behaviour...nothing anyone said or did for me changed anything about was the One and Only, the Lover of my soul, the Way and He Who is Love and Grace that changed me...and He is the only Catalyst in the equation. Maybe we need to focus on why behaviour and such is a big issue to those Who claim to live for Him and not from Him? I think we need to just be out there in every aspect of our life that of course is His Life and not be afraid to just live that out in us, in every situation. Let Him be seen. What are we afraid of and who made us judge and jury.
    I am just starting a book called "Worldliness" and I think it is going to have a different point of view on this, but I love to be challenged in my thinking so that I can be assured by Him that He is the One controlling my steps and not me and the way some of my flesh tends to think. Just Love and Grace those who cross your path. It goes a long way in allowing the Creator do His thing in them and for us to stay the heck out of the way until He move us in the right direction.

    Don't be hesitant to be real and authentic with those who haven't "seen the True Light" even allowing some of our ....Hmmm, I don't know the answer to that one" to show, because that is how they come to see the Perfection of Christ in us...nothing we do but only what He does in and through us to others. And maybe we should remember not to get arrogant in our understanding and revelation.....we are not the God gestapo....we have a long way to journey to realize the finished work that was done in us and how that looks to those outside looking in.

    In Love,


  10. Ohhhhh, Vanessa!!!


    Thank you!

  11. Don't you think that it is somehow much easier to extend grace to those who don't yet know Christ?

    I think that sometimes people in the Church get muddled - they think it is their job to correct one another.

    The difficulty is that, when the Holy Spirit leads to do so, it is - but not otherwise.
    And when it happens independently of Him, you get this kind of judgemental stuff going on.

    The question you ask: "What is spiritual maturity?" is a big one.
    Hard to answer.
    But here's one thing I might add to the discussion: it may look like following the rules but if it flows out of love for God and knowledge of Him, the attitude towards others will be very different from that of the people you mentioned.
    (The "I'm more spiritual than him" atitude)
    Don't you think?

  12. Well a big heck yes to that Allie. I get far more of the frustration and judgement and unforgiveness from my flesh life lashing out at "Christians" because I have such unrealistic expectations of them. I forget that His Grace and His Love extends to them as well even though they are perfect in Him....hee hee....but forget that sometimes they don't know this or forget this wonderful fact and therefore act imperfectly at times....oh...just like me! I can forgive unbelievers because they just don't know any better (ouch) but He is the One and if He chooses to speak to His own through me....I better let that be happening and allowing them to see Him in me as well.
    Comparing never is a good is all about the flesh at that point....Love on 'em, Grace on 'em until they can't see you for That Wondrous Light.

    In Him,


  13. Allie,

    Great points indeed! I, too, have found it easier (in the flesh life, as Vanessa says) to extend grace to nonbelievers, and indeed it's because I think 'they should know better.' But really that's pride on my part (again, fleshly), as if I have it all together and I'm the one who's supposed to set everyone straight (no pun intended, to go along with Jamie's first comment). ;)

    Even if I did have it all together, it still wouldn't be my job to go around correcting those who don't. That's not why Jesus came. I think there can genuinely be a legitimate part of relationships with others in which we address certain issues. Paul dealt with both legalism and with certain behaviors of the saints. But overall I don't picture him going around with that being his predisposition as a Christian.

    On the subject of what spiritual maturity is, I think it may truly look like following the rules, but yet comes from a totally different place. For example, if someone asks me if I commit adultery, I say "no," and so they say, "well, you're keeping the law (rules) then." I say, "no, I simply love my wife!"

    So as this post said, unfortunately many people think spiritual maturity means following the rules, but really I think it means that we've chucked the rules aside and are living from an entirely different paradigm, the law of love.

    Which, of course, leads to how we want to share life with other people. If we're not growing through keeping laws and rules, then why would be want to put those conditions on others?

  14. 13 comments! WOW!

    JK ;)

    My former pastor said as recently as last year, and I QUOTE, "Christianity is about behavior".

    But, isn't that just about the only way to GAUGE our (the individual believer, that is) growth? I'm being facetious, of course, but that is how the IC judges it.

    Jesus says we will be judged by our fruit - well, Paul says that "fruit" is Love, Joy, Peace...

    Whatyya think?

  15. John... hehehe... yep, man looks on the OUTSIDE, God looks on the heart. :)

    And of course, God has given us a new heart and in fact has taken up residence there! But man still judges according to outward appearances.

    Actually, didn't Jesus say a tree is known by its fruit (not judged). I'm not nitpicking, I just find it interesting that Christians really do tend to judge each other, again by what they see outwardly.

    But yeah, really, if other people are to truly know Whose we are, then it's got to be through the fruit of Christ in us, which is love, joy, peace, etc, as you say.

    It just seems that many take this concept of "fruit" and make it all about keeping rules and being accountable and all that other fleshly stuff that really only produces unreal, plastic fruit. If 81% of self-identified Christians agree with the statement that spiritual health is about "trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible" (see the link in the blog post), that's an awful lot of people who are living from the wrong tree! (And therefore producing the wrong fruit).