Partakers of the Divine Nature (I)
The apostle Peter wrote, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Pet. 1:4). This is a profound statement and one which we need, indeed must, understand if we are to rise to the heights of achievement which God intended for His people. Herein we discuss the meaning of Peter's statement, from which we propose to make several specific applications. We will discover one of the keys, if not the key, to success as Christians. This constitutes the foundation upon which we build in the area commonly known as "Practical Christianity." With the proper understanding, and through the exercise of diligence, we will launch ourselves toward the excellence which should characterize us as the Redeemed.
Peter affirms that God has given unto us promises that are "exceeding great and precious," that we, having escaped the worldly corruptions, might partake of the divine nature. These promises are precious because of what they mean to the soul of man. They are great because they grant unto us forgiveness, peace and the hope of eternal life. They are ours if we succeed in escaping the ravages of that corruption working in the world through the agency of our own lust. To facilitate in the accomplishment of this goal and to lay hold on the promises, we need only to partake of the divine nature. I intend no over-simplification; we are dealing with the sum of our commitment to the Lord. The fulfillment of that covenant is the arduous task of every Christian. It touches his life in the intricate area of what he thinks, says and does during each fleeting moment of the day. If, then, we come to partake of the divine nature, we will live in harmony with God's purpose in and for us. Otherwise, we are doomed to disappointment and failure.
A Cherished Privilege
Specifically, partakers of the divine nature are those who share or participate in the holy character of God. These demonstrate in their lives the attributes of one possessing the nature of Deity. This is the role and intent of Christians. An appreciation of this objective might seem to the unenlightened and worldly as mere fanaticism. However, neither does the world acknowledge simple faith. Thus, the Christian cherishes the opportunity to share in the nature of his God. The pursuit of that nature prompts a change in his life. This is not merely a sentimental, mystical or transcendental change. It is an actual, discernible and progressive change through which God, as its author, is glorified. It is such as to enable the discerning Christian, through self-examination, to identify its presence.
Being Like God
This seems so lofty a state as to be beyond our reach. It seems so great, in fact, that we cannot lift up our hearts to conceive it. Yet, we have the assurance of the apostles and the experience of myriad saints who have proven in their lives, the reality of this gift or state. Ours is to believe the testimony, trust in Him who bids us, and actuate efforts toward attainment of that high and holy calling.
Do not mistake what I am saying. We do not partake in the natural attributes of Deity, such as omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience. These are incommunicable; it is in the very nature of the case impossible. There must be forever an essential difference between a created and an uncreated being. And, this distinction shall prevail, even in eternity, for the uncreated shall be forever worshiped by the created (Rev. 4:10). What, then, is the divine nature in which we share? We partake in the moral attributes of Deity, i.e., we share in the same views, feelings, purposes, thoughts and principles of action as God. Facets of that divine moral nature are grace, love, forgiveness, etc.
Men have a passion for the natural attributes of Deity (which cannot be had), while being manifestly indifferent toward the moral excellence of God (which can be attained). Man only, of all the dwellers on the earth, is capable of rising to such excellence. All other orders of creatures are incapable of this transformation. Man can understand, admire and aspire to them. He can resolve and endeavor to participate in and acquire them.
However, it is not to be supposed that by merely aspiring to share the moral nature of God, that it will be possessed. One might aspire to fly, but the aspiration alone will not enable him to raise himself into the air and remain as though he had wings. The aspiration to be morally as God is noble, but it must express itself in a transformed life to become a reality. Practically, this means that we must live in grace, love, forgiveness, holiness, justice, etc. Then, and only then, can we confidently affirm that we are partakers of the divine nature.
Divine Nature: Grace
The changed life, which is Christianity, promotes a brilliance in character that is, as I said, discernible in the elect. Their conduct is consistent with the principles of conduct inherent in God. Such is clearly evident when considering the attribute of grace. The Greek word translated grace is charis and it appears in the New Testament 128 times. The common usage depicts an action or an attitude of God. Thayer, in defining charis, says it is used "pre-eminently of that kindness by which God bestows favors even upon the ill-deserving, and grants to sinners the pardon of their offenses, and bids them accept of eternal salvation through Christ" (Lexicon, p. 666). Thus, the commonly cited definition, that grace is "unmerited favor," is a correct one.
Usually, when we refer to grace, we assign the exercise of it to the Lord. Most frequently, this is the biblical use of the term. We are told that the grace of God hath appeared to all men (Tit. 2:11). The Lord is referred to as the God of grace (1 Pet. 5:10). We are saved by His grace (Eph. 2:5,8), justified freely by His grace (Rom. 3:24), and called according to His grace (2 Tim. 1:9). His grace was bestowed on apostolic churches (2 Cor. 8:1). And, God gives grace to the humble (Jas. 4:6). Grace, therefore, is unquestionably one of the expressions of divine nature. The God of all glory is a fountain from whence flows a never-ending stream of unearned favor in which humanity continues to bathe itself. To give primacy to Jehovah in the exercise of grace is both fitting and proper. However, is Deity the only realm in which grace manifests itself? Is this aspect of the divine nature restricted only to the Lord? The answer is a resounding "No."
Christians are commanded to exercise grace after the similitude of God. Peter wrote, "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18). What is meant when we are told to grow in grace? Are we to build a storehouse and fill it with God's favor? When we sin, He metes out grace to us. But, Paul asks, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (Rom. 6:1). He says, "God forbid." Under no circumstance are we to sin in order that we can continue the acquisition of God's grace. Peter is instructing us to grow in the ability to dispense grace in the same way that God grants the same unto man. In this, it can be said that we are partakers of, or sharers in, the divine nature. It is worthy of note that we, in discussion of 2 Pet. 3:18, have made a strong and valid point regarding growth in knowledge. However, we seldom say anything about growth in grace. It is not my intention to diminish from the importance of acquiring knowledge. To the contrary, I would stress the essentiality of such. It is my intention to stress the significance of growing in grace.
Basically, Peter enjoins upon us the practice of showing grace, favor or kindness, even to those whom we consider to be undeserving of such. Growth in grace requires an ever-increasing capacity to act like God acts. This is most difficult for we are disposed to mete out retribution to one another. Suppose, for instance, that someone assigns an impure motive to some deed we have done. Our disposition is likely to be one of leaping upon him in such a fashion as to "set him straight about that!" We are hardly inclined to show favor in a way that would exemplify the divine nature within us. Or, suppose someone leaps upon us and gives a good tongue-lashing. The human response is to lash back! Telling him off would bring some momentary satisfaction. But, partakers of the divine nature speak with grace (Col. 4:6), regardless of the fact that such a response is undeserved. Or, suppose he harms us in something he does. We want to rise up and fight back. Such is not God's purpose for us. He wants us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matt. 7:21). How difficult such is! But, such is the expression of grace.
Hence, the divine nature is one which is full of grace. That grace is the basis of the hope we have in Christ. The author and source of that nature requires that we be like Him. This necessitates the enormous task of controlling the normal human impulses of the moment, so that we might climb to the higher plane where He resides. May God help us in the exercise of grace. "Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:1). In an article to follow, I shall be looking at two additional attributes of the divine nature in which Christians share.
Truth Magazine XXI: 34, pp. 540-541