Maturity is a Matter of Attitude

Dr. Brian Allison

Do you think that the word discriminate is a bad word? Do you discriminate? One definition of 'discriminate' is 'to show partiality or prejudice'; and, in this sense, discriminate may often be a bad word. For instance, there are women in the work force performing certain jobs, fulfilling the same responsibilities as men, and yet are not receiving equal pay. That is to discriminate wrongly. But 'discriminate' can also mean 'to distinguish, to make distinctions concerning'; and, in this sense, discriminate can be a good word. For instance, we have world-class athletes preparing to go to Nagano, Japan, to participate in the Winter Olympics. We also may have the 'pastoral fraternity of athletes'. The former group may be in superior condition, while the latter group may be in pitiable condition. We can thus rightly and acceptably discriminate between the world-class athletes and the 'pastoral fraternity of athletes' in reference to athletic conditioning, and that would be very much appropriate.

Now, we typically do not like to use the word discriminate. It often carries negative connotations; and there is the false belief that we are all the same and no one is better than another. And, of course, in some sense, that is true – none, personally and intrinsically, is superior to another. One does not have more personal value and worth than another; and so, in a certain sense, one is not better than another, one is not superior to another. But, on the other hand, one may be better than or superior to another with respect to skills, abilities, status, development, etc. The professor of mathematics is superior in knowledge to the fourth grader. The genteel woman of etiquette is superior in social maturity and manners to the hostile sociopath. And such is the case with respect to the Christian faith. Some believers in the Christian faith are more spiritually mature than others; and, in this sense, we can discriminate, and should discriminate – there is a difference that demands note.

In saying that there are mature believers and immature ones, I do not mean to sound arrogant or unkind; it is just a fact, and the Scriptures acknowledge this fact. And we should make a distinction, not for the purpose of segregating, or judging, much less for gloating; but in doing so, it can serve to promote progression, change, and growth because we are to move from a state of immaturity to one of maturity. Philippians 3:15,16 reads, "Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude [this particular way of thinking that he has been outlining and rehearsing in the previous verses]; and if in anything you have a different attitude [a different way of thinking], God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained."

The mature have a certain attitude

Again, there are two kinds of Christians. There are the immature Christians and there are (what I prefer to say) the maturing Christians, for no matter where you are at spiritually, you should be growing. Now, the phrase "as many as are perfect" is not referring to sinless or moral perfection. Verse 12 of this chapter does refer to sinless or moral perfection – "Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect." But the term here in verse 15 simply refers to those who are spiritually mature, or are spiritually maturing, those who are endeavouring and striving to conform their behaviour and conduct to the image of Christ.

Now, the question is this: Who are the mature? Who are the ones spiritually maturing? We read again, "Let us therefore, as many as are mature, have this attitude." Do you see the connection? If you are one of the mature, then you will evidence a particular attitude. Whoever is mature has adopted this attitude. And what is that attitude? It is what the apostle Paul had been rehearsing in the previous verses. He is logically referring back to what he has just written. What has the apostle been saying up to this point? He has been talking about spiritually gaining Christ, spiritually knowing Christ, in a deeper, fuller way. He has been talking about pursuing Christ, the prize. He has been talking about leaving behind the past and pressing on toward the spiritual goal. Notice, the verses immediately before the one we are considering, "Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Php. 3:12-14). And then the apostle states, "Let us therefore, as many as are mature, have this attitude." Do you see what he was saying? Paul was willing to give up everything in order to pursue and secure Christ. He was preoccupied with Him, focused on Him, and he says, "Everyone who is spiritually mature [or maturing], let him have this same way of thinking."

The importance of attitude

Attitude is absolutely critical, isn't it? It is foundational for determining and directing our behaviour and actions. A good or proper attitude is half the battle in achieving our behavioural goals. For instance, let us consider doing devotions. If you think that doing devotions is good and necessary, if that is your attitude, then you will most likely do your devotions willingly. Whereas, if you view doing devotions as a burden, as drudgery, as your duty, then most likely you will have a tremendous struggle with them.

So, attitude is foundational. I used to work with a woman at a Christian high school. We worked in the Guidance department together, and she was very expressive and direct at times. I remember one thing that she would typically say to an obnoxious or difficult student – "You know what? Your attitude stinks." Sometimes our attitude stinks; it is rotten, and it smells up the place. Maybe your attitude towards a family member, or your attitude towards your husband, or your attitude toward your wife stinks. Or maybe your attitude towards your employer, or your attitude towards a friend, or your attitude towards a fellow Christian stinks, and it is smelling up the place. So, attitude is critical. It determines how we live, how we act, how we behave; and if we get our attitude right, most likely everything else will fall nicely into place.

Those who have this attitude of seeing Christ as all in all, and being focused on Him, Who is the prize, are the mature or maturing ones. This particular attitude is key to spiritual success, and unless you have this attitude in reference to Christ, you are going nowhere fast. To believe and accept what Paul has been writing about, is to be on the way to actually securing it. What I am saying is this: In great measure, spiritual growth and maturity is a matter of attitude. Attitude effects change. Merely giving a good effort, or merely being more disciplined, may be good and helpful, but you are not going to secure much if the attitude is poor or wrong. Behaviour then becomes merely mechanical, empty, and lifeless.

Do you have this attitude that the apostle Paul is talking about? Be honest now. Do you see and feel the necessity of pursuing after Christ, doing what it takes, willing to give up everything to get the prize? If you do, God makes a distinction. He says that you are one of the mature. If you do not have this attitude (as I have already said), you will not know the deeper life, you will not experience the fuller life. Sheer effort and discipline will not do it. These things will make you a good, moral Christian, but they won't make you a deep Christian. You must have the right attitude. It is foundational.

So, do you want a test for spiritual maturity (and we can point to a number of things). Here is a test for spiritual maturity; it is very simple: Do you have this spiritual attitude? I am not asking you how long you have been in the Church. I am not asking you how much you read your Bible every week. We can be self-deceived when we put stock in these external practices, even though they are important and necessary. Do you have this spiritual attitude – the attitude that says, "I want Christ and His fullness. I am pursuing hard after Him. He must increase and I must decrease. I am willing to give up everything for Him. He is my all and all. I am focused on Him"? That is the test. Do you pass? Spiritual maturity is not measured by church attendance, or church involvement, or church ministry, or personal devotions, etc., but it is basically a spiritual attitude defined in terms of sincere love and surrender to Christ.

If you do not have this attitude (and again, I am not trying to be arrogant or unkind), you are immature, regardless of how long you have been a Christian. Brothers and sisters, that is just the way it is. Now, you can have this attitude and still spiritually struggle. Those who have this attitude are often struggling. They may be heard to say, at times, "Lord, I am going down for the third time. I want Christ, and the more I want Him, it seems the more difficult life becomes." Exactly! Suffering and struggle are the means God has ordained for gaining Christ, because therein it is determined how badly we want Him. God knows what He is doing. Some of you are struggling. You continue to wrestle, and sometimes you feel discouraged. But let me encourage you, my brothers and sisters, by saying that it is okay to have your struggles. Just press on. Do not evaluate the struggles as indicating that something is wrong or that you must be spiritually off track. When you have the struggles, often everything is just right. God is working out His purposes. Through the struggles, you grow, you develop, though it be painful.

God exposes immature attitudes

Now, even if you do not have this particular spiritual attitude that characterizes the mature believers, do not get discouraged, and do not despair, for there is hope. And the hope is this: God is in charge and He is at work – "Let us therefore, as many as are mature, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude [and he is suggesting that there can be a different attitude; not that you are being heretical; but perhaps you are being a bit resistant, having a wrong understanding of what constitutes vital Christianity; or maybe you are thinking that it is simply a matter of reading your Bible, praying, and attending the odd service], God will reveal that also to you." If you are not thinking as Paul has outlined, there is still hope.

If you really belong to Jesus Christ, then there will come a time and a day when God will reveal the need and importance of having this attitude of desiring and pursuing after Christ. This is also somewhat of a frightening statement, is it not? Paul states that God Himself will reveal it to you. He alone can. Has He revealed it to you yet? If He has not, my friend, you had better pray that He does, because He will reveal it to His own. God wants you to have this attitude. That is why He will spiritually reveal it. So, if you do not have this attitude, and you belong to Him, He will most definitely reveal the truth to you. You see, it is not simply the pastor's desire that you have this attitude; it is not simply the pastor's agenda. Some may complain, "The pastor is harping on this deeper life, this fuller life, this life of surrender, giving up all. He is being a bit fanatical, somewhat extreme. What does he expect? We need to have our lives in balance. I am trying to be somewhat faithful. I give my offering every week. I attend the odd service. What is he so excited about? Why does he want more? He is talking about some high flown Christianity." Is he? Jac J. Müller, in his commentary The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, writes (quoting M. Vincent), "It was entirely possible that many of [Paul's] readers, although having a genuine faith in Christ, and fully accepting the doctrine of justification by faith, might not have apprehended his profound views of mystical union [with Christ], or have had the same clear ideas as himself concerning certain applications of doctrine; even that they might not have felt the impulse to higher spiritual attainment in its full stringency, and might have been inclined to regard his conduct and sentiments in certain particulars as exaggerated. Such facts are familiar to every Christian pastor" (p. 126). It only seems reasonable and logical, even from a human point of view, that if God has given you His Spirit, Who has come to glorify His Son, and has apportioned for you grace for sanctification, and is Himself working in you both to will and to do His good pleasure, then He will certainly make you spiritually thirsty for Christ so that you will follow hard after Him. He will show you the rightness and the necessity of this attitude. He will directly teach you; that is what this text is saying – "If in anything, you have a different attitude, He will reveal that to you."

Do you believe God's Word? We cannot deny that the Scriptures here teach that there is a direct, personal teaching which God Himself performs. God enlightens. This truth underscores the reality of mystical union, being in spiritual fellowship with God. God actually moves in our hearts, making Himself known to us. He speaks. Christ taught, "My sheep hear My voice" (Jn. 10:27). This past week, I was meditating in 1 Thessalonians and God 'spoke' again, by the pressure of His Spirit, which underscores this truth of the direct encounter by God. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 reads, "Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus Christ our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints." Paul recognized the source of grace and spiritual blessing, the fact that we are absolutely and totally dependent upon God for any spiritual progress. He recognized that we cannot love, in and of ourselves; it is beyond us. That is, we cannot love as God loves, apart from God Himself being the motivation and the agency. We naturally have a selfish love. We are out for ourselves and can become very manipulative. So Paul, in an attitude of dependency, says, "May God cause you to increase and abound in love." He has to do it. Now, notice what He goes on to say in 4:9,10, "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren to excel still more [yes, God must cause you to love, God teaches you to love but you are responsible to love]."

God reveals the proper attitude

Do you understand what it is like to be taught by God? Are you able to discern His Spirit, His voice? Can you make the distinction between His voice and your own voice? God will reveal to you the proper spiritual attitude to have. You may be in prayer, for instance, and suddenly you may be convicted. Or, He may reveal Himself to you when you are in a Bible Study, and some insight may come, a verse may grip you, changing something deep down inside. Or, you may awake from sleep and realize that you have a different attitude. Or, He may reveal the fact that you need more of Christ when you have fallen into sin, when you have displeased Him, and a great weight of guilt and shame have rolled over you. The sin may break your pride and arrogance, and humble and crush you, and through this experience God may enlighten you, and say, "Now are you going to pursue me? Now am I going to be your all in all? Does it hurt enough, my child, or do you need more severe mercy?"

But, again, God Himself must reveal to you your deficient attitude and promote the mature one. It does not matter how long you hear teaching and preaching on this. It does not matter how many spiritual retreats you go on. Unless God reveals it, you are lost. You are sunk; and that is His decision. Yes, we need to seek Him, we need to cry out to Him, but unless He reveals it, we are sunk. You see, it is God who makes the discrimination, isn't it? It is God who determines who is going to get grace and who is not. It is God who determines who is going to receive His fullness and who is not. It is God who determines who is going to have the attitude and who is not. And yet, we still have a responsibility to press on. Ultimately it is a mystery, but let us be concerned about what we are responsible for and leave the results to God. We are to press on toward the goal; we are to follow hard after Christ. You say, "Well, I can't unless God moves in me." I know that, but we still must hear the exhortations to which we have an obligation to respond. Listen, on that Day you will not be able to point the finger at God and blame Him.

The need to maintain the proper attitude

The attitude which serves to guide and motivate maturing believers must continue to guide and motivate them. This attitude relates to the spiritual rule for maturing believers – "However, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained." As I mentioned earlier, we are all at different points on the spiritual journey, and that is okay. The question is: Are you journeying? Are you moving? Are you traveling the path, regardless of where you are? We need to be growing and maturing, and we need to do so by the means by which we have progressed so far.

The assumption of this exhortation is that we should be moving ahead. And the apostle instructs, "Keep it up." I think that is a good assumption: that if you are a child of God, you are spiritually moving ahead. Sometimes you may not be moving too fast, but you should be moving. Paul says, "Let what brought you this far, continue to carry you on, steadily forward." Forward is the watchword; and it does not matter how old you are. Keep pressing on. Whether you are a new convert, or whether you are a long-standing saint, your spiritual progress can be built upon. We all can grow more.

And what essentially is that "same standard" by which we are to continue to live, the standard or rule that has brought maturing Christians to their present level? Well, there is only one; it is being a new creation in Christ. Galatians 6:15,16 reads, "For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule [standard], peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." The rule or standard is Christ and new life in Him. Life, which by the nature of the case, must be ever flowing, expanding, and growing.

Where are you at spiritually, my brothers and sisters? Are you on the way? Are you even interested that you are on the way? Here is my confidence, and yours: as a believer you will be interested, and you will press on. Do you know why? Because if you really belong to the Lord, He will reveal the truth to you; He will have His way with you. He will complete His work in you; He is God. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Php. 1:6). None of God's works are failures. Do you believe that? I do. Are you a work of God? I trust that you are.