The Definition of Maturity
Maturity is when you go from living by feelings to living for feelings.
A child (or an immature adult) lives by feelings. He has an impulse, and he acts on it. He feels like putting something in his mouth, so he puts it in his mouth. He doesn’t feel like doing a chore, so doesn’t do it.
Immature adults are no different. They get mistreated at church, so they stop going to church. They don’t feel affection for their spouse, so they don’t show affection. Behavior is driven by how they feel.
Maturity comes when they move from living by feelings to living for feelings. Instead of their behavior being driven by how they feel, it’s driven by how they want to feel.
They want the feelings that go along with good health and strength, so they say no to the cookies. They want the feelings that go along with having an ordered life, so they get up and do the chores they don’t feel like doing. They want intimacy with their spouse, so they show warmth and affection when they don’t feel like it.
That’s natural maturity. Spiritual maturity is when that same process happens in the spiritual realm. It’s when you behave the way you behave in an effort to feel the way God feels. You take whatever actions are most likely to result in loving righteousness more and hating sin more.
Some Christians see the problem of living by feelings and wrongly assume the solution is to ignore feelings and focus only on actions. This is the opposite of what Scripture calls us to. The highest goal in the whole Christian life is to love God more. We are called to take delight in him, desire him, rejoice in him, hope in him, and find satisfaction in him. Emotions are not the foundation, but they are final goal.
The mature Christian doesn’t read his Bible, prayer, or go to church just to follow Christian rules. He does it in an effort to move from feeling the way he currently feels about God to feeling the way he wants to feel. He wants to go from feeling dry and distant from God to enjoying fullness and intimacy with God. So he takes the actions necessary to bring him to that point.
Fake It ‘Till You Make It?
Is this “fake till you make it”? No. There is nothing fake about working toward a goal. If a weak person goes to the gym and works out hard every day, is he faking strength until he makes it? No. He’s not faking strength; he’s building strength. Acting the way you should act in an effort to feel the way you should feel is not faking the right affections; it’s building them.
At least, it should be. If you just force yourself to do the right thing without making it an effort to change your affections, then it is faking. It all depends on your goal—and attitude. We must never be content to simply do the right things while leaving our affections disordered. Doing the right things should be a tool for changing our feelings, not a substitute for right feelings.
For an in-depth study of what love for God is and how to increase it, see the Loving God with All Your Heart sermon series.