Over the last few years as a pastor, I developed a running hypothesis relating to the true mark of maturity in Christ. This hypothesis emerged after witnessing and interacting with many people who appeared mature in Jesus but when it came down to it, didn’t necessarily reflect a Jesus-like character.
My hypothesis? Christian maturity ultimately presents itself in kindness.
Where these leaders appeared mature in Christ because of great theological aptitude, a gifted ability for oration, large influence within their church or within Christian culture at large, they lacked biblical kindness.
Maturity in Mirroring God
There are many marks of a mature believer, and I don’t want to minimize this complexity but rather harmonize them by focusing on kindness, which I believe links many, if not all of these marks. I hold to this hypothesis because:
God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance. – Romans 2:4 (CSB)
Paul’s argument in Romans 2 is clear that blatant ignorance and rejection of God’s character will lead to destructive hardening of our hearts against God’s abundant patience, restraint, and kindness (Rom 2:2-5). Opposing the kindness of God does not lead to life and fullness.
As God’s redeemed people who are transformed one degree at a time into the image of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18), it stands to reason that as we become more mature in Christ, we take on the non-divine characteristics of our God. By nature of being created in God’s image, we reflect some of what God is like. Once we receive redemption through Jesus, we are promised to be re-made by God’s grace, ultimately, into the perfect reflection of God in his world (Col 3:10).
Maturity in Character
But, why is kindness the truest reflection of maturity? Why not knowledge, or giftedness, or influence, or power?
Even if we had all knowledge, every gift, ultimate influence, and overflowing power, these attributes are secondary to character — they don’t need to flow from the inner man, and they can be wielded in ways that are contrary to God’s character.
Kindness, on the other hand, reflects the heart of God and is intrinsically tied in with who he is. It is the loving-kindness of God that sent his only son to suffer and die in the place of sinners to be reconciled to him through faith (John 3:16-17). A faith that is granted to us, not because of our merit, but because of God’s loving-kindness to lead us to repentance. I think it is impossible to grasp the story of redemption outside of God’s nature which is in large part, one of kindness.
Maturity in Kindness to Others
If we reflect the very heart of God, we grow in kindness as we mature in Christlikeness. This is a simple and powerful truth as we assess our maturity in Jesus. We might be super effective in leading, teaching, preaching or any other ministry duty, but are we growing in kindness towards the image-bearers with whom we live and interact?
Jesus, the perfect image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) was kind:
Kind to those broken by sin – Luke 19:1-10
Kind to those who did not understand – Mark 4:13
Kind to those who were suffering – Mark 5:25-34
Kind to those in need – Matt 14:16-20
There are countless more examples of Jesus’ kindness to sinners, and as we who trust in him become more like him, we too should become kinder.
Maturity is Ongoing
God’s kindness leads to our repentance and changes how we mirror the heart of God for others through whom he might like to reach, save, change, and grow. God’s work in our lives is an ongoing kindness that keeps reaching, pursuing, convicting, and leading to repentance.
Sadly, I fear that even if we walk many years with the Lord, but have not grown in kindness, we haven’t truly matured in our relationship with Jesus. If we are theologically precise, if we are powerful preachers, if we are insightfully influential, or if we are practically powerful, but have not loving-kindness, do we show off the radical love of our Savior and our God who saves and changes sinners, not by worldly logic, but by the kindness of his character in the foolishness of the cross.
Ask yourself and those around you if you are kind. Are you growing in kindness? This insight may be the key to your increasing maturity in Jesus. Let God’s kindness lead you to repentance and kindness.