I recently asked a group of women how their spiritual life was going.

They each frowned and began to recount to me all that they had not been doing. They were each concerned about not praying long enough, not reading the Bible consistently enough, and not doing enough in their overall efforts to please God. I'm sure they all thought they were getting a "C" from God for simply being average...if not an "F" for failing.

I probably should have asked the question a different way. Like, "How is your relationship with God these days?" or "What are you learning about God and how are you being inspired to love him more?"

But their responses proved to me that we still tend to think our spiritual life is about what we do, rather than what's already been done for us. And that can load us up with guilt when God never intended for us to carry that load.

We live in a performance-based society so we can easily get into the mode, now and then, of thinking we must try harder and do more to make the grade with God. I remember going through a season of life when I felt that way, too. But I was reminded, through Scripture, that performance-based thinking when it comes to God's approval of us is a lie. My eyes were opened to the truth the day I really let Romans 5:8 sink in: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." That verse tells me that God's decision to send his Son to die for me and you was not contingent upon anything we did; It was all about his unconditional love and grace. So, if there was nothing we could do to earn God's love in the first place, there is nothing we can do to lose that love. Simply stated, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more than he does already. 

And so we serve God out of our love for him for what he already did for us...not out of obligation or a performance-based anxiety or an attempt to earn our way to his heart. We read his Word and talk to him in prayer (as well as listen to what he wants to say to us, through prayer) because we love him and want to grow in our relationship with him.

So how can you know if you are truly growing and maturing spiritually? By asking yourself these questions:

1. Is my love for God increasing? When a man asked Jesus "Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" he was basically asking "What is most important to God? How can I earn his favor? How can I live at the 'top level?'" Jesus' answer was this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38). Are you loving God more every day? That should be our goal.

2. Is my love for others increasing? Jesus said the second greatest commandment was like the first: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Are you loving people more every day? It's easy sometimes to just love God. Loving others as much as we love ourselves is where the real test comes in. Yet Scripture is clear that loving others is a tell-tale sign to show not only that we love God, but that we are growing in our love for God as well.

3. Am I being obedient? Jesus said in John 15 that as we abide in him, we will bear much fruit. That implies character change and growth. Scripture also says "whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6). Jesus emphasized that our obedience would be evidence that we love him and are growing in our surrender toward him (John 14:15).