2 Peter 1:5-7: Spiritual Maturity Explained in Three Verses
In his second epistle, Peter encouraged Christians to grow in spiritual maturity by building eight character traits. How can you apply these traits?
As Simon Peter neared the end of his physical life, false teachers were attempting to draw Christians away from the faith by promoting false doctrines. So, Peter determined to remind believers of the genuineness of their calling and the doctrine they had come to understand (2 Peter 1:13-15).
Peter was a highly respected minister at the time he wrote this. He had a wealth of experience, having been personally taught by Jesus Christ and having been present at the seminal events in the early history of the Church of God. Undoubtedly, Peter’s credential-packed resume empowered him to speak authoritatively against false teachers.
Peter boldly called out these misguided men for their ungodly teaching and conduct. They were bringing in “destructive heresies” that permitted people to live “according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness” (2 Peter 2:1, 10).
This perversion of God’s grace was a widespread problem encroaching upon true Christianity toward the end of the first century. Jude also addressed this issue when he wrote of “ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness” (Jude 1:4). Sadly, this badly mistaken view of grace persists today. For further study, see “What Is the Grace of God?”
Spiritual maturity explained in three verses
But Peter didn’t just rail against these woefully misguided teachers. He also painted a picture of what a spiritually mature Christian should look like. In 2 Peter 1:5-7, he provided a list of characteristics that describe the mature Christian—something we should strive to become so we can be “partakers of the divine nature” (verse 4).
Here is what Peter wrote:
“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (verses 5-7).
A spiritually mature Christian will be growing in all of these traits.When we read this passage in Bible translations such as the New King James Version or the King James Version, which use the word add, we can mistakenly think that we must fully have one spiritual trait or characteristic before we can add the next one.
Bible translations such as the English Standard Version and the Bible in Basic English tell us that we must “supplement” or “join” one trait to the next trait. The correct meaning is that a spiritually mature Christian will be growing in all of these traits, not just adding the next one sequentially after having fully mastered the previous one. Otherwise, most people would spend most of their life working on only faith, the first virtue listed.
Now that we know the context of Peter’s epistle and understand his composite view of a spiritually mature Christian in 2 Peter 1:5-7, let’s briefly consider each of the characteristics he mentioned.
Spiritual maturity trait #1: Faith
When the Bible talks about faith, it can be referring to a set of doctrinal understandings (“the faith”) or to a trusting belief that God exists, is faithful to His Word and has expectations of us. Both components of faith are necessary.
We need knowledge and conviction.
People can come to have faith in God’s existence in different ways. As a teenager, I recall contrasting the results of living without God’s instructions with the results of following God’s teachings. The clear difference became a convicting factor for me. Others see fulfilled prophecy, answered prayer or the wonders of creation as the tipping point for why they have faith in God.
Our faith is thus a very personal component for each of us. We recall Christ healing people and telling them that their faith had made them well. We also recall Paul being encouraged by hearing of others’ faith and wanting to help people build and perfect their faith, even as their faith was tested via trials.
Spiritual maturity trait #2: Virtue
Complementing this foundation of faith, spiritually mature Christians will also have virtue. Other translations render this as “moral character” (International Standard Version), “worthiness” (Young’s Literal Translation) and “goodness” (New International Version).
This word can be very broad in the sense that there are many virtues, but commentator Albert Barnes suggests that “by the word here he [Peter] has reference to the common meaning of the Greek word, as referring to manliness, courage, vigor, energy; and the sense is, that he wished them to evince whatever firmness or courage might be necessary in maintaining the principles of their religion, and in enduring the trials to which their faith might be subjected. True ‘virtue’ is not a tame and passive thing. It requires great energy and boldness.”
The perfect example of moral virtue for Christians is Jesus Christ Himself. As a human, He always had the perfect balance of kindness toward humans who needed encouragement and strength to stand for what was right.
For more insight on being resolute in virtue, read “More Than Conquerors.”
Spiritual maturity trait #3: Knowledge
The knowledge we are to have is that of Jesus Christ and what pleases Him (2 Peter 1:3). Of course, we must also have knowledge of “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). We are also to be growing in this knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).
Many people today have knowledge of Jesus, but they don’t understand what He expects of them. Many mistakenly believe that it is okay for them to worship on Sunday instead of the seventh-day Sabbath and that it is okay to observe pagan holidays instead of God’s holy days.
The knowledge of God can only be built by studying God’s Word. There is a body of knowledge, unknown to many people, that comes with spiritual maturity. Having the true knowledge of God helps us identify and reject false teaching. As the proverb notes: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
Paul noted that helping people come to the proper knowledge of God was an important part of his ministry and a key component of salvation (Colossians 1:9-10). He also explained that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
When Jesus returns and establishes His Millennial reign, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:9).
The knowledge of God can only be built by studying God’s Word. We offer a free 11-lesson course that’s designed to help you develop stronger Bible study skills. If this interests you, please enroll in our Life, Hope & Truth Bible Study Course.
Spiritual maturity trait #4: Self-control
This word is translated “temperance” in the King James Version of the Bible. It refers to mastery over evil inclinations and desires. It means moderation and staying within the limits of God’s laws.
In his address to Felix about the faith of Christ, Paul listed not only righteousness but “self-control” (Acts 24:24-25). To be righteous (right with God), we must exercise self-control.
And to the Corinthians, who were familiar with the discipline required for athletics, Paul wrote: “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27).
What are the areas of life that require self-control and discipline today? Use of alcohol, faithfulness to one’s spouse, moral behavior at all times, choices of music and entertainment (because these influence us), honesty in business and in all relationships, and the list could go on and on.
Spiritual maturity trait #5: Perseverance
Perseverance (or “patience” in the King James Version of the Bible) means patiently persisting in the face of trials or difficulties. Some people give up when the going gets tough or when being a Christian becomes difficult.
But a spiritually mature Christian doesn’t give up.
There is an interesting comparison between self-control and perseverance. The former can often be moderation or restraint regarding good things, while the latter is the willingness to endure bad things in hope of good things in the future.
James wrote of our need to have patience in the face of trials (James 1:2-4). The reason is because spiritually persevering in the face of difficulty builds godly character, which is extremely precious to God.
Peter also made several references to the importance of Christians being willing to suffer if need be (1 Peter 1:7; 4:1; 5:10). The spiritually mature Christian will face trials during his or her life, but will grow spiritually and persevere through those trials.
For more insight on this topic, read “Run With Endurance.”
Spiritual maturity trait #6: Godliness
This word simply means being like God. It means imitating and taking on the character traits of God. It means being aware of God and wanting to live according to His commands.
Becoming like God means imitating Him, loving what God loves and hating what He hates.Earlier, in 2 Peter 1:3, Peter said that God has given us an understanding of what being like God looks like.
Writing to Timothy, Paul advised him to pursue godliness (1 Timothy 4:7-8; 6:11).
In simple terms, becoming like God means imitating Him, loving what God loves and hating what He hates. It means developing the same values that God has and appreciating what God appreciates.
One of the best ways to learn about God’s character is through the 10 Commandments. To learn why, read “The Law: A Reflection of God’s Character.”
Spiritual maturity trait #7: Brotherly kindness
The Greek word translated “brotherly kindness” is philadelphia. According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, this word means: “love of brothers (or sisters), brotherly love . . . the love which Christians cherish for each other as ‘brethren.’”
This same word is found in Hebrews 13:1, where we are admonished to “let brotherly love continue.” This same warm, close love that is a part of healthy physical families should also be extended to fellow Christians. In Mark 3:35 Jesus stated, “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” That’s why members of the Church of God refer to each other as brethren.
To learn more about this virtue, read “Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness.”
Spiritual maturity trait #8: Love
The Greek word here translated “love” is agape. According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, the word means: “affection, good-will, love, benevolence.”
Jesus used this word when He said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
As we can see, both philadelphia and agape are used to describe the relationships we are to have with our spiritual brethren. But agape expands it from love for brothers in Christ to love for all people.
This broader sense of loving the entire world is found in the use of agapao (the verb form of agape) when we read: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
The principle we can glean from Peter’s use of both of these Greek words for love is that we need to be growing in love for brethren and in love for all humanity. We should love people in the same way that God loves all people and desires the best for everyone. Of course, loving as God loves is a reiteration of the virtue of godliness.
Paul captured the concept of loving both the community at large and brethren when he wrote: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Summary of 2 Peter 1:5-7
“For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (verses 8, 10-11).
Let’s continually strive to grow in the characteristics of spiritual maturity Peter highlighted in 2 Peter 1:5-7!