Partakers of the Divine Nature

The Bible tells us truly amazing things about the future God plans for people who follow Him. These include descriptions of us actually being like God Himself as part of His family. Here are just a few of the scriptures that make this wonderful, bold claim about who we are are in the present and who God means for us to be in the future:

you are gods (Psalm 82:6; John 10:34-36)

we are children of God (Rom. 8:16, WEB)

you may become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4, NET)

we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. (1 John 3:2, WEB)

To many Christians, the idea of being part of God’s family and sharing in His nature is such a familiar teaching that it might seem more obvious than awe-inspiring. The Orthodox church calls it “Theosis: Partaking of the Divine Nature.” The non-denominational Protestant evangelical site GotQuestions.org says, “As partakers of the divine nature, believers are made part of the family of God.” The 7th-day sabbath-keeping group that I attend with, United Church of God, writes in one of their booklets that we’ll be “spirit-born divine beings who are part of Elohim, the universe-ruling family of God!”

For a wide variety of Christians, the idea that we’ll be part of God’s family is a well-established doctrine. To others, though, it might seem a bit blasphemous to claim such a thing is even possible (much like the Jewish people reacted with horror to Jesus saying in John 10:34-36 that He is the Son of God). Though sonship for believers is a scriptural claim, it’s one that ought to boggle our minds a little.

We’re intimately familiar with our flaws and all the reasons that we’re not particularly well-qualified to become gods. And yet God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, still wants you, me, and as many human beings as possible to literally become part of His family. He actually plans to entrust us with His divine nature, making us “like him” and able to “see him just as he is.”

Image of an open Bible with light shining on the pages, with text from Philippians 3:20-21 WEB version: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself.”

In the Image of the Heavenly

I used to get nervous about the idea of living forever with God. Eternity is a really long time. What if I get bored? What if it’s an endless stream of awkwardly feeling as if I don’t belong here and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing? Do I want to be stuck with myself for literally the rest of eternity? I wasn’t sure I liked myself enough for that.

It turns out we don’t need to worry about any of those sorts of worries. We’re not going to be living forever in the exact same way that we’re living now. Part of the reason for this change is that human beings can’t live forever as we are–God “alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see” (1 Tim. 6:16, NET). Something needs to change dramatically before we’ll be able to live forever with God. That “something” includes our nature (from flesh to spirit) and our character (from human nature to divine nature) (1 Cor 2:10-16; 15:12-58).

And just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, let us also bear the image of the man of heaven. Now this is what I am saying, brothers and sisters: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. …

So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:49-53, 58 NET

God created humankind in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). We didn’t do so well at imitating Him, though, and both Adam and Eve sinned, starting a long history of people failing to live up to God’s righteous standard. God had a plan for dealing with that, though, and it culminates in what Paul describes here. Jesus, “the man of heaven,” makes it possible for us to fully take on God’s nature. We’ll go through a change much like He did after dying as a human being, when the Father raised Him with a spiritual body. Our new future bodies will follow the same spiritual pattern. We don’t know what all that will mean yet (our human minds can’t fully wrap around what it means to be spirit beings) but it’s going to be a lot different and better than how things are now.

Living as His Children Today

Image of an open Bible with light shining on the pages, with the blog's title text and the words "How does the Bible describe the incredible future God plans for us? and what does that mean for His children today?"

So far in this post, I’ve mostly focused on what taking on God’s divine nature will mean in the future. That’s when this change will fully go into effect. It starts now, though.

Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure.

1 John 3:2-3, NET

This is one of the verses we started with put into fuller context. In this letter, John is writing to a broad Christian audience. Before getting to this point in the letter, he’s talked about us having fellowship with God, walking in His light, repenting of our sins, and keeping God’s commandments. Everyone walking in covenant with God (even though we don’t do so perfectly and need to keep repenting and asking forgiveness) is God’s children right now. We aren’t spirit yet, but we do have God’s spirit in us changing the way we live our lives today as God actively remakes us into His image.

For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit. For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. …

So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God … and if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ).

Romans 8:5-9, 12-14, 17 NET

This is just part of Paul’s discussion in Romans that covers how our lives ought to change since God invites us into His family, and I highly recommend reading all of Romans 8 now, if you have time. The incredible transformation that God promises us is already in progress. The more all-in we are with God by following Him and asking Him to make us more and more like Him, the more dramatic this change will be. Our lights will shine in the world. People will look at us and see Jesus’s character as we grow more and more like Him.

May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.

1 Peter 1:2-4, NET

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The Beginning of Being Like God

As we draw closer to the Passover and continue examining ourselves (as I talked about in last week’s post) I keep thinking about how vital our understanding of God is to understanding ourselves. Paul tells us to examine, evaluate, and discern ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28-32), but in order to do that we need the help of God’s spirit, as Paul talks about earlier in 1 Corinthians. To see ourselves clearly and know what needs to change (and how to make that change), we need a wisdom that we can only get by understanding God.

Understanding, Wisdom, and Fear

I like to study 1 Corinthians at this time of year because (as I wrote about in more detail a couple years ago), this epistle references the Exodus story, Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread over and over. Before Paul begins talking directly about Passover, he expands on the idea that the wisdom of God is very different than what human beings speak of as wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-31, quoting Jer. 9:23-24). Knowing and understanding the Lord is far more important than having wealth, power, or worldly wisdom. Echoing a sentiment expressed throughout scripture, Paul tells us a proper perspective on God is where true wisdom begins.

The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord,
and acknowledging the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10, NET

The idea that we ought to fear a God of love seems odd to many of us, mostly because we think of fear in the sense of being terrified of something scary, dangerous, or bad. But I think the more we learn about God, the more we realize that our love for Him must also be mixed with awe, reverence, and even fear. A devotional book that I’ve been reading puts it this way:

when we approach the Holy One with casual familiarity, we do not take Him as seriously as we ought, and we do not take our sin as seriously as we ought. Fear–not of punishment but of the overwhelming greatness of God–sees Him correctly. When this fear grips us, we begin to understand the enormity of the gospel and of our God. That understanding begins to rearrange our lives. And that is what wisdom is all about.

CHRIS TIEGREEN, 365 POCKET DEVOTIONS, DAY 40

Understanding God leads to wisdom, which leads to us changing our lives. The more we know Him, the more we’ll want to be like Him, and the more clearly we’ll see what we need to keep working on in order to move closer to that goal. Wisdom begins with fearing the Lord, and change happens as we start to become wise.

Knowing God through His Spirit

After Paul explains that God’s people don’t often seem wise in the world’s eyes (and if they do, they’re not supposed to glory/boast about it), he starts to talk about “the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery.” God has decided to share with us deep, wonderful things that other people haven’t even imagined, and he has “revealed these to us by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:7-10, NET).

For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. … we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:11-13, 16, NET

This is where we get wisdom–from God’s spirit working inside us and making our minds like Christ’s mind. The closer we draw to God the more we understand Him, and the more we understand Him the more in awe we are. And the more all of that comes together as we grow and change and learn, the more we become like God.

Wisdom Can Change Us

Real, godly wisdom is an incredible thing. Last year, I spent months studying and writing about wisdom in a series of 10 posts. We could write whole books about Godly wisdom, but a quick summary of the things God reveals about His wisdom can be found in James’s epistle.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings. … the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace.

James 3:13, 16-18, NET

A proper perspective on God is the starting place for this kind of wisdom. And much like fear is the beginning of wisdom, I think we can also say that wisdom is a beginning to being like God. Notice how much of this description of godly wisdom involves character traits we can develop and/or actions that we can take. If we want to examine ourselves, this is an excellent place to start. As we consider God’s goodness and greatness, learning more and more about who He is and how we can be like Him, we ought to meditate on the characteristics of His wisdom. Every aspect of “the wisdom from above” is a part of God; are they also a part of us?

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Examining Ourselves by Examining God

Every year before Passover, Christian and Messianic Jewish believers who follow Jesus’s instruction to keep this day “in remembrance of me” also follow Paul’s instruction to examine ourselves. Before we eat the unleavened bread and drink the wine as Jesus did “on the night in which he was betrayed,” we must examine ourselves. It’s a serious matter, for “the one who eats and drinks in an unworthy way eats and drinks judgment to himself if he doesn’t discern the Lord’s body” (1 Cor. 11:23-31. WEB).

As I ponder the question of self-examination today, about 4 weeks before Passover, I’m struck by something Job says near the end of the book bearing his name. After all his trials, all the discussions with his friends, and all of God’s replies, Job says,

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I despise myself,
and I repent in dust and ashes!”

Job 42:5-6, NET

It’s easy to look at ourselves and think we’re doing okay unless something comes along to shake up that self-perception. Job thought he was a righteous man. He was even right about that, as God points out when He describes Job as “a blameless and upright man” at the beginning of the story (Job 1:8, NET). But Job still had room for improvement, and the more he learned about God the more fully he realized how much he still had to learn. The better we can see God, the less impressive we are to ourselves.

Heading Toward His Perfection

It is important to regularly “put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Cor. 13:5, NET). We can’t accurately evaluate ourselves, though, unless we understand the standard we’re measuring ourselves by. In other words, if we don’t have some idea of what we are supposed to be we don’t know how well we’re doing.

See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called God’s children—and indeed we are! For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure.

1 John 3:1-3, NET

God is calling us into His family and we are His children right now. We’re also growing and changing, becoming more and more like Him. At least, that’s what should be happening. And if we’re going to examine ourselves to see how much progress we’re making on becoming like God, we need to know what it means to be like Him. We won’t achieve perfection in this life, but we should be heading there. And if we want to know what perfection looks like, we just need to look to God for an example of how we’re supposed to be.

Glimpsing His Unsearchable Riches

I keep talking about the need to see and understand God as if that’s something we could actually do as human beings. While we are invited to know Him in an increasingly familiar way, part of knowing Him involves realizing that our minds can’t warp themselves around His fullness. His thoughts are not like our thoughts (Is. 55:8-9) and “the riches both of wisdom and the knowledge of God” are so deep we’ll never plumb them all (Rom. 11:33).

I find this an encouraging realization. We’re never going to hit a point where there’s nothing left to work on, no way to grow, or nothing more to learn. The more we follow God, the more we get to engage with Him in a dynamic, growing relationship.

But just as it is written, “Things that no eye has seen, or ear heard, or mind imagined, are the things God has prepared for those who love him.” God has revealed these to us by the Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

1 Corinthians 2:9-10, NET

By God’s spirit inside us, we get an increasingly clear picture of what it means to be like God. We even get to put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:6-16). The better we know Him, the better we understand who we are meant to be and what we are supposed to do on the way toward being that person. That’s why I say that if we want to examine ourselves, we need to “examine” God. Self-examination is vital, but that process isn’t all about us even though the word “self” is in there. It’s about becoming like God.

To Fix Ourselves or to Be Like God

Putting on God’s nature often goes against our ingrained impulses. We are so used to reacting in certain ways (like anger if someone shouts at us, or spite if we’re ill treated) that trying to fix our human nature might seem impossible. And it is if we try to do that on our own. Thankfully, we’re not on our own and we don’t have to start from scratch.

“We have two options: we can try to reform the sinful human nature, or we can ask God for His nature. The former approach has never in history proven successful. Our only remaining option is to ask God.”

Chris Tiegreen, 365 Pocket Devotions, Day 78

Trying to make ourselves like God without putting on His nature is a futile endeavor. We need a more drastic change than just trying to be good or nice people. It reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote, where he talks about the need to transform rather than just improve. Using the sort of agricultural analogy Jesus was so fond of in His parables, Lewis says,

“If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book IV chapter 8

Returning to the topic of self-examination, the goal of that is not to fix ourselves by our own efforts. It’s to look for evidence of Jesus Christ in us (2 Cor. 13:5). It’s to identify areas where we’re not yet like God and ask Him to change us. The focus should be on God–who He is and who He wants us to be in Him–as much (or even more) than on ourselves.

The more we learn about God and seek to know Him, the more clearly we see ourselves. When we turn away from the Lord, our minds can deceive us into thinking we’re something different than we are. But when we turn to the Lord, who can “probe into people’s minds” and “examine people’s hearts,” we can then see ourselves as He sees us (Jer. 17:5-10, NET). We may, like Job, abhor what we see and need to repent, but there are blessings that follow something like that because God responds so positively to sincere repentance. When we look at ourselves in light of God’s goodness and realize we still aren’t perfect, it leads to humility. And when we take that humble attitude to God and ask Him to share His mind and nature with us, He will respond to our self-examination by transforming us.

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Talking with God: What (And Who) Makes Prayer Possible?

Prayer is such an integral part of the Christian life that I rarely stop and think about how it works. Even in studies on how and why to pray, I haven’t focused much on what (and who) makes prayers possible.

Of course, it’s obvious that God Himself makes prayer possible. If He wasn’t listening we’d have no reason to pray. He also gives instructions about how we’re to approach Him, which is why most people I know end their prayers with some variation on the phrase “In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Jesus said, “ask in my name,” and so that is what we do. His instruction to pray in His name would be enough of a reason to do so, but I also think this aspect of prayer can teach us important things about how the God-family operates and how They relate to us. So today, I want to take a closer look at why we pray in Jesus’ name.

Ask in His Name

The passages where Jesus instructed His disciples to pray in His name are found in John’s gospel. Before sharing these instructions, though, Jesus makes an important foundational statement.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7, all scriptures from WEB translation)

As the Word, Jesus was always the member of the God-family that human beings had the most direct access to. Before Jesus came as a human being, people knew there were two Lords but they didn’t have access to the Father directly (the scriptures to back this point up would double the size of today’s post, so I’ll direct to my post “Who Was ‘God’ in the Old Testament?”). Read more

What Does It Mean For Each of Us That God Is A Family?

“See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God!” You can feel the excitement and awe about this fact in John’s words. It’s an incredible thing to realize that “now we are the children of God” and in the future “we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:1-2, WEB).

One of the greatest truths we can realize about the nature of God and the Christian faith is that God is a family and He is inviting us to become part of that family. God’s most-used analogies for how He relates to us are family-based, focusing on marriage and children. Both the Father and Son deeply desire a relationship with us and to make us part of Their family. In fact, as far as we can tell, that’s the main reason They created people in the first place.

Unity and Oneness

People ask me on this blog and also in-person why I don’t use the word “Trinity” to describe the nature of God. It’s not a description God uses for Himself and I think “God-family” is a more scripture-based phrase, so that’s why. I think we should stick as close as possible to using the analogies and descriptions that God uses to reveal Himself when we’re talking about who He is and how He relates to us. Read more

Who Was “God” In The Old Testament?

Almost four years ago, I wrote a post addressing the phrase “the God of the Old Testament.” Little did I know then that it was going to explode from being an interesting point of doctrinal dispute into a contention that could split churches. I know of at least one group that has already divided over the question, “Who was the God of the Old Testament?” And now the related issue of whether Jesus was created by the Father or existed before His human birth is starting to tear apart one of my local churches.

In the post from four years ago, I described the phrase “God of the Old Testament” as coming under the category of “stupid things we say in the church.” I still believe that. The wording is misleading and confusing, often causing inaccurate statements and doctrinal fallacies. In reality, the God we worship today is the exact same God (two beings in one) that has always existed. Scripture is quite clear on this point. And trying to argue that either the Word who became Jesus OR the Being we now know as the Father was the only “God of the Old Testament” is an exercise in futility (and quite possibly blasphemy as well).

The arguments on both sides are no longer just an intriguing discussion about scripture. They’re becoming a stumbling block . I’ve heard that some people in the group I mentioned which has already split are so confused they don’t even know who to pray to anymore. And studies into this topic, which may have started out with good-hearted Christians seeking to understand the word of God more fully, are turning into schisms, contentions, and heresies that cannot be pleasing to God. He does not look kindly on those who generate endless debates (Tit. 3:9), fracture His body (1 Cor. 1:10; 12:25), or lead His little ones into error (Matt. 18:6). This has to stop.Who Was "God" In The Old Testament? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Why Is This So Contentious?

I think part of the issue with resolving questions like this is that we often fail to look at the Bible as a whole. We get so focused on digging out the slightest variations in meaning for a specific scripture that we don’t look up from analyzing a single sentence long enough to see there’s a whole narrative that clears things up. That’s something I talked about in my post titled, “Why Does It Matter If Jesus Existed Before He Was Human?

Another way we fall prey to deception in this area is what I call the two ditches problem. Human beings aren’t good at finding balance in our ideas. We tend to avoid the middle of the road. So if we discover that we’ve been taught an extreme view in one direction (for example, that Jesus is the only “God of the Old Testament”), there’s a temptation to head straight for the opposite ditch (e.g. that Jesus wasn’t around at all in the Old Testament). In trying to avoid one error we come up with a new one.

Something else that might be playing a role for certain people is the temptation to come up with their own doctrine. If you’ve been lied to by church leaders in the past (and far too many of us have), we might want to question everything we’ve been taught. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. In fact, following blindly is a great way to end up in errors that could be avoided if we were studying the Bible for ourselves. But if you start feeling like you have to come up with a new or alternative way of seeing scripture that is “your own,” then you can run into problems. Chances are, you’re not the only person God is revealing “new truth” to. And if you have to argue your point out of obscure commentaries or a possible mistranslation when the people who believe something else have myriads of clear scriptures and the bulk of Biblical scholarship to back them up, then there’s a good chance you’re the one who’s wrong.

“God” Has Always Been Two

Let’s dive into the scriptures now. Some of this is going to be a repeat of the post I wrote four years ago, but I doubt most of you have read that and it’s good for context. We’ll begin in Genesis. Read more