By Lewis Willis
In a preceding article, I sought to establish that Christians are partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). However, they do not share in the natural attributes of God (omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience). They participate in the moral excellence of their God. Their conduct is consistent with the principles of conduct inherent in God. The changed life, which is Christianity, promotes a brilliance in character that is discernible in the elect. Therefore, inasmuch as we are expected to emulate the divine nature, we must understand the demands under which this places us. This is “Practical Christianity;” Christianity at work.
Divine Nature: Love
One of the unquestionable aspects of God’s nature is the consistent manifestation of love. Understand, this does not negate the reality of divine wrath. However, God metes out wrath only after man has patently refused the blessings of His love. To God, the world, particularly mankind, has been a heartbreak. The disobedience, rebellion and lack of response to His will have brought Him continual grief. It is man’s transgression that lays up in store for him the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). If man would only respond to His love, his destiny would be different.
When one speaks of any admirable trait, he must trace it to its source or beginning. Be it truth, justice, grace or love, it has a source. And, the author and source of love is God! Its very first expression came from Him. The apostle John wrote, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). The fall of man from the divine favor left him in a hopeless circumstance. And, it would have remained so had God not loved the man whom He had created, and made provision for his redemption in Christ. The first dim glimpse of that redemption is seen in that hour when man was driven from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15). The motive for that redemption is said to be love (Jn. 3:16). It must be affirmed that the expression of love seen in sending Christ was not reciprocal. It was not because man loved God that Christ came. God, the source or fountain from whence springs the attribute of love, demonstrated love unto undeserving and ungrateful men (1 Jn. 4:19). If we remain untouched by such a measure of love, we are to be pitied. The poet wrote:
How Thou canst think so well of us,
And be the God Thou art,
As darkness to my Intellect,
But sunshine to my heart.
(The Letters of John, Wm. Barclay, p. 116)
Like so many other virtues, love is not a feeling that can be concealed. It simply must find expression. If a man loves his wife and children, it will be evident. It is neat something that he must spend hours in affirming. If it is there, it will be seen. So also with the love of God. His love expressed itself unto men. His was more than a warm, tender feeling toward us. His love expressed itself in the extreme measure of sending Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8). It continues to express itself in the care and concern He feels for us (1 Pet. 5:7). And, most importantly, if we have love within our hearts toward God, then that love must express itself in some fashion! To that end, let us strive.
If a person partakes of the divine nature, he, as Clement of Alexandria said, “practices being God” (Ibid., p. 115). He lives a life in the likeness or image of God. As God loves, therefore, so ought men to love. Furthermore, as with God, an attitude of love will find expression.
A Christian’s love has God as its primary object. Whatever manifestations of love he may show, he must love God in order to please the Great Author of Love. And, that love will have to find some avenue of expression. Specifically, he has more than a tender affection for God. His love for God is evident in his implicit obedience to His commandments. John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments . . .” (1 Jn. 5:3). Self-willed conduct in rebellion against the commands of God is the negation of love to Him. No amount of self-justification can succeed in delivering us from obedience to God’s Law. We cannot rationalize our way out of fulfilling the law of the Lord and at the same time affirm that we love God. Love for the Lord and obedience are inseparable, in the same way that faith and works are inseparable (Jas. 2:26).
Additionally, love will be channeled toward our brethren in the Lord. The love of the Christian toward his brethern is not always consistent with natural inclinations. Nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom we feel some special affinity. Peter said, “. . . Love the brotherhood . . .” (1 Pet. 2:17). He did not say love only those that you especially like! We are to let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). Paul wrote, “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love . . . ” (Rom. 12:10). Thus, we love the brethren in the same manner as God loves them. Otherwise, we are not partakers of the divine nature. Ours is a hypocritical love (1 Jn. 4:20).
Finally, love after the order of the divine nature, will express itself toward those outside the brotherhood. Paul said that the love the Christian has toward his neighbor is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8-10). Jesus, after commanding that we love God with all the heart, soul and mind, identified the “second commandment as, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:37-39). The love that the Christian has is best expressed in his efforts to share with his lost neighbor the blessings of Christianity. If he is unmoved by the lost condition of that neighbor, his love is suspect.
Accordingly, let us resolve to show our love for God by keeping His commandments. Let us demonstrate our love for the brethren by being as kind and helpful to them as we possibly can, doing them as little harm as possible. And, let us make our love for those who are lost mainfest by our continuing efforts to lead them to the Lamb of God that taketh away sin. Then, we will know that regarding love, we are partakers of the divine nature.
Divine Nature: Forgiveness
Man is a sinner (Rom. 3:23). He is chargeable with guilt for he has transgressed the law (1 Jn. 3:4). The consequence of these violations is death (Rom. 6:23). The essence of his hope is that God will forgive him these sins. If he must take the guilt with him to the Judgment, he can anticipate nothing short of eternal damnation. He will be utterly incapable of explaining away his sin; he will be unable to persuade God that he has not sinned (Matt. 7:22). Being thus separated from the goodnesses of God because of his iniquity (Isa. 59:12), his is in a hopeless and tragic state. He should clothe himself in sack cloth and take a seat in ashes, bemoaning his plight before his Maker.
When men sin, they are guilty before God. They do not appeal to civil entities for remission. Since it is the Lord’s will which has been violated, it is the Lord who must forgive the transgression. No man, not even Catholicism’s priesthood, can act in God’s behalf in this. However, have you ever stopped to consider the pitiable condition of man if he appeals to Heaven’s Throne for forgiveness, but finds there is none? The supreme expression of God’s mercy is His willingness to forgive us when we do not deserve such. During the days when the law of Moses was in effect, God had the prophet Jeremiah say that the days would come when He would offer complete forgiveness to men for the sins they commit. He said, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer. 31:34). Forgiveness is an indisputable trait of our God. Let us be thankful! This is the essence of our hope for a happy eternity.
The forgiveness of God is not ours by natural processes. Simply because we are sinful men, with a forgiving God, does not guarantee forgiveness. God forgives men but that forgiveness is predicated upon man’s obedience to God’s law of forgiveness (Acts 2:38; 22:16): All of this has been said to establish this facet of God’s divine nature. Additionally, since Christians are to partake of the divine nature, it naturally follows that Christians are to be forgiving after the likeness of God.
No one can successfully dispute the necessity of this exercise by men. Paul wrote, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Human forgiveness (man to man) is to be strictly analogous to divine forgiveness. When men obey the law of the Lord, He forgives without reservation! Men who partake of His nature will forgive in the same manner and to the same degree. If the forgiveness we grant is less than that, it might be variously identified, but it cannot be described as reflective of the divine nature! Furthermore, it is to our personal benefit to forgive as God forgives. This is the specific application I seek to make.
Men have a unique capacity to expect the impossible. In the instance herein under consideration, we sometimes seem to expect everything to be fine with us while we patently refuse to do as we should. Such expectation is futility! Remission of our sins is in direct proportion to our willingness to remit sins of others. Often the sins we commit are against God and men. No man, against whom another has sinned, can refuse to forgive him when asked. He is expecting the impossible if he expects God’s forgiveness when he refuses to forgive others. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said they should pray, “. . . And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). He further said, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Lk. 6:37). Inasmuch as we are inclined to disregard the law of the Lord, it can be safely asserted that some of us will arrive at the Judgment Bar on high expecting the mercies of God, but those mercies will be withheld simply because we failed to forgive those who have sinned against us.
Essential to partaking of the divine nature is forgetting those sins which have been forgiven. Upon forgiving sin, God said, “their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:12). If God forgives a trespass, it is forgotten! Too frequently, with men, this is not so. Someone will occasionally do something that is wrong, and another will say, “It is not surprising to me. He has been doing the same thing for 15 years!” It is not that a record of the old sins has been kept. It is simply the inclination of men not to forget it. We need to learn to act like God and forget the matter once it has been repented of and forgiven. If we could ever develop our faculties to forget in the same way as we have them developed to remember, we would be imminently better off. Something is fundamentally wrong when we can remember a sin committed by a brother 10 years ago, but we forget the loaf of bread we went to the store to buy! It is time that we examine our conduct in this regard.
Though it sounds like arrogancy gone to seed, it is nonetheless scriptural and required that we conduct ourselves like the God we serve. In regard to forgiving sin, the same responsibility obtains,. as in the case of His grace and His love. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:13). “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive . . .” (Psa. 86:5). Are we ready to forgive as He forgives? Or, are we partakers of the divine nature?
For too many years we have heard or read of our responsibilities before God, only to cast them aside with a “Yes, but . . . .” reply. Ultimately, if we want to go to heaven, we must stop evading these duties and put forth necessary efforts to comply with God’s will. In these two articles, we have only discussed three of the attributes of God’s nature which we are to practically imitate. Every part of His moral character is exemplary, and we should be working to partake in it. Someone might say, “Well, brother, I’ve known that for years.” Bless your heart, that is great! However, many may not know it. Furthermore, if we all know these things, how can we account for the persistent violations of these principles in the churches across the world?”. It is time that we both know and do these things!
Truth Magazine XXI: 35, pp. 550-551
September 8, 1977