What Is Christian Maturity?

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
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Dip into verse 3 of Titus 2, where Paul’s instructions regarding older women begin, and you’ll notice almost immediately a word that causes us to pause before moving on.

“Older women,” the verse begins, “likewise . . .”


This word leads me to believe that what Paul wrote to older men in the previous verse was meant to apply to an older woman’s character as well. So we need to step back to verse 2 to see what kind of character qualities are in accord with sound doctrine—for both men and women:

Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2)

These are not cafeteria-style qualities we can pick and choose. No, these are trademarks of all spiritually mature believers. None of them is optional if we are to become Titus 2 models. So let’s take time to unpack them briefly.


The most literal application that comes to mind when we hear this term is being free from the intoxicating influence of alcohol. But being sober-minded in a biblical sense has broader implications. It involves not becoming drunk on any of the various excesses that are available to us in the world.

It could be a gluttonous appetite for food, medicating your emotions with mindless munching on your favorite snacks, living for the hour when you can go out for dinner and indulge your craving.

It could be a fever for spending money, even if you justify it as a grandma’s right to spoil her grandkids with toys and trinkets.

It could be a habit of mindlessly scanning the Internet or binge-watching the newest television series.

From this distance, we can easily see activities like these (and others) as being extravagant, wasteful, self-absorbed, senseless. And yet in a tempting moment, under circumstances that lend themselves toward seeking escape or emotional relief, any of us can fall into overindulgence and excess, stuffing ourselves on short-lived, empty-calorie pursuits that never give us quite enough and always draw us back for more.

A sober-minded woman, by contrast, has learned the soul-satisfying difference between temporary pleasures and eternal pleasures. She recognizes she’ll never be entirely immune to the demanding cry of unmet needs and the tug toward fleshly appetites, whether they take the form of extravagant purchases or highly addictive computer games. But maturity has taught her what really matters in life.

And so through a pattern of practiced obedience and surrender to the Spirit, she’s experienced the freedom of saying no to indulgences that could eventually leave her defeated, discouraged, and demoralized. And younger women who crave this kind of discernment and strength for themselves will find her example of temperance and moderation— her sober-mindedness—to be appealing and worthy of imitation.


The NIV translates this term as “worthy of respect.” It’s the quality of being honorable, reverent, and appropriately serious about life.

Our lives include plenty of opportunities for appropriate fun and laughter, moments that lend themselves to lightheartedness. But not all moments are like that. In fact, I’d say most of them are not. Life is to be taken seriously—not gloomily, not unhappily, not devoid of joy and cheer, and yet not flippantly or carelessly either.

That’s why Paul urged all believers to “walk properly” (Rom.13:13),“making the best use of the time” (Col. 4:5). We are called to live in a way that is fitting for those who belong to our God, “who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isa. 57:15).

One of the benefits of getting older is (or should be) a rising awareness of eternity, which ought to color everything about our daily life. Things look different when we adopt that long view. We have reason for being less ruffled, less hurried, less dramatic, less inclined to call everything an emergency. We can be more at peace and settled, better able to determine how to handle a given dilemma or dynamic or disagreement. Heaven is near and nearer—enabling us to carry ourselves with quiet confidence and grace and to walk in awe of the One in whose presence we live. And far from making us morose or prudish, this way of thinking and living leads to the highest, purest joy.

Older women are in the best position to model this kind of dignity and poise to younger women, who regularly encounter situations that feel too big for them to handle and who need the calming influence of wisdom and maturity.

Dignity is a beautiful thing to watch.


Let’s take a brief look at this important word.

“Self-controlled” comes from the Greek word sophron, which derives from two words, one meaning “saved” or “sound,” and the other meaning “mind.” To be self-controlled is to operate from a “saved mind,” a sound mind—to be living in one’s right mind.

Interestingly, the last portion of the word—phron—is related to the modern Greek word for car brakes. The self-controlled person knows when to stop, when to say no. She knows how to curb her desires and impulses. She is self-restrained under the control of the Holy Spirit. She governs herself and disciplines her mind, her passions, her affections, her behavior.

Dignity is a beautiful thing to watch.

There are no shortcuts to acquiring this trait. Each of us knows from hard experience how insistent and resistant our human wills can be. We naturally resist not only others’ attempts to manage and direct us, but our own efforts as well. That’s why younger women need older models who have experienced the challenge of becoming sophron, but who can also show by their lives what this quality looks like and how it’s cultivated.

“Sound in faith”

Paul ends this list of character qualities in verse 2 with three traits that demonstrate the fruit of sound doctrine in an older believer’s character: sound in faith . . . sound in love . . . sound in steadfastness.

The word translated “sound” implies health and wholesomeness, which makes it all the more encouraging when directed to believers in their later years, when health issues tend to worsen. Even while the body may be slowing and sputtering and sagging in various places, spiritually speaking we should be in the best shape of our lives.

“Sound in faith” means to be sound in the faith—grounded in the truth of God’s Word. And able to affirm from experience the trustworthiness of God’s promises.

I think of Joshua, standing before the people of Israel near the end of his life, declaring, “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you” (Josh. 23:14).

These are not the words of a man whose faith was merely intellectual. They reveal a seasoned faith, a faith that’s been tested and proven, an unshakable confidence in God and His Word. Even in old age—in fact, because of his old age—Joshua could declare his faith with confidence.

Having experienced God’s reliable track record over many years and in countless desperate situations, he wasn’t merely speaking of something he’d heard, but testifying to something he knew firsthand.

How inspiring such a testimony can be to those who are still running the first laps of their race.

And yet you may be an older woman who doesn’t feel “sound in faith.” You may not feel qualified to inspire the generation coming behind you. The fact is, we’re all still learning. Still growing. Still in need of daily grace. Soundness of faith is not a mountaintop, a finish line. It is a journey. And we each travel imperfectly.

But I promise you, what you have gleaned of God’s nature and ways throughout the course of your life, however inadequate you may feel, is worth passing on to others, particularly to those following behind you. Wherever you’ve seen God prove Himself faithful, wherever His Word has sustained you in weakness and provided needed direction, and yes, even wherever you have experienced the consequences of failing to walk according to His Word—there’s your story to share.

The soundness of your faith is based on the soundness of the One in whom you’ve placed it, not on your perfect record in walking out that faith.

“Sound . . . in love”

While sound biblical doctrine is crucial, it can also be complex or even overwhelming. And in the process of trying to get it all straight in our heads, we can miss the heart.

The heart of Christian love.

Increasing age for the believer is to be marked by an ever-increasing capacity for love. Genuine love. Sacrificial love. Patient love. God’s kind of love.

I have attended many funerals of people who were well-known for their professional accomplishments or their courageous stand on moral issues or their remarkable public ministry. And I always find it touching to hear these “greats” remembered more for their personal, often unseen demonstrations of love and concern for others.

This character quality can show itself in countless ways, but nowhere does it radiate more beautifully through a person’s life or more clearly adorn the doctrine of God than when it is expressed through genuine forgiveness.

How many families and family histories and once-close relationships have been destroyed through years of unresolved anger, bitterness, deafening silence, and misunderstanding? A colleague was experiencing this when she wrote and asked me to pray for her mother, who had terminal cancer:

While I continue to hope that God will do a miracle in her physical body, my main prayer is that He will work in her heart and that she will forgive my father’s sister, who has deeply hurt her and my father. She knows she needs to forgive, but she feels like she just can’t do it.

Oh, what scars can be left by betrayal and broken trust. But love can help heal those wounds, even years after they were inflicted. Forgiveness in the heart of an older person is among the most compelling modeling performances of all. A person who is sound in love will be familiar with the words, “I forgive you” and “I was wrong, will you forgive me?”

Forgiveness is just one example of the kind of love Paul calls us to model as we grow older. Here are some good questions to ask ourselves periodically:

  • Is my love growing—abounding “more and more” (Phil. 1:9)?
  • Am I more focused on the needs of others than on my own needs?
  • Is my love deeper, richer, healthier than it was a year ago, a decade ago?

“Sound . . . in steadfastness”

Two elderly, godly believers told me recently they are in the midst of the most difficult circumstances they’ve ever faced. I’ve been pondering their words, reminded of the sobering biblical observation that the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble. (Ps. 90:10)

That’s not the cynical opinion of a depressed pessimist; it’s simply the truth. Life in this fallen world is hard, and it often gets harder as we age. No matter what difficulties we may have encountered already, the worst (in this life) may still be ahead of us.

The soundness of your faith is based on the soundness of the One in whom you’ve placed it.

As older women, we know this. Our own experience confirms it, as does the testimony of others we know. So what kind of people do we want to be for the rest of our lives, realizing that hardship is inevitable and life may get even more difficult?

If our future is to be shaped by the Scripture, then we know what our answer should be: to become sound (healthy and strong) in “steadfastness.”

This Greek word is a compound of two shorter words that could be translated literally “abiding under.” The idea is that of bearing up under a heavy load—not caving in under the pressure, not being flattened by it, but keeping on despite its weight. And not just surviving, but facing life’s circumstances triumphantly, allowing God to use them to mold and shape us, bearing up in a way that glorifies the God we trust.

I love the way one of my heroines of the faith, Dr. Helen Roseveare, put it. In that eloquent British accent of hers, she explained why she preferred the word perseverance to endurance: “The word endurance has a sort of connotation of gritting your teeth, stiff upper lip, getting through somehow. The word perseverance refers to steadily going on, refusing to give up, no matter what comes.”

This kind of character is found in those who recognize and submit to God’s providences. They view even their trials as coming from His hand, which enables them to press on with courage and faith.

That’s the kind of woman I want to be.

People who are hurting and those facing trouble ahead need models like that. Younger women with their lives still before them need models like that.

Models of sober-mindedness. Of dignity. Of self-control. Of faith, love, and steadfastness.

And yes, this can be you. It should be you. According to the Bible, God expects it to be you. And me.

The more we age, the more we can allow God to mold and shape us, to beautify and refine us, to exfoliate the dead, dry skin of impurity and self-centeredness, and to radiate through us with the glow of His workmanship.

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by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Known for her wisdom, warmth, and knowledge of Scripture, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has encouraged millions through her books, radio programs, and...

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