Friday, October 3, 2008

Partaking of the Divine Nature (Part 2)

[Part 1]

Believers also partake of divine ability. Peter’s discussion of charismata (grace gifts) is found in 1 Peter 4:10-11 and is very succinct:
As each one has received a gift [charisma], minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Where Paul gives a more extensive list in his discussion of the gifts in Romans 12:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:14, including gifts of utterance (e.g., prophecy, exhortation, tongues and interpretation of tongues) and gifts of action (e.g., showing mercy, helps, administrations, gifts of healings, working of miracles), Peter has two categories: speaking and ministering. These are not to be done in our own natural wisdom, ability and strength, but in that which God supplies.

Edwin A. Blum sees a connection between spiritual gifts and the immediate context of 1 Peter 1:4. Commenting on verse 3, he says,
God has called believers “by his own glory [doxa] and goodness [aretē]” — that is, God in salvation reveals his splendor (doxa) and his moral excellence (aretē), and these are means he uses to effect conversions. In bringing people to the knowledge of himself, God’s divine power supplies them with everything they need for life and godliness. Probably what is in view is the work of the Spirit of God in believers, providing them with gifts and enabling them to use these gifts. [The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. 12:267-68.]
What does it mean to partake of the divine nature? James Starr asks,
Does 2 Peter mean deification? The answer to that is it depends on what is meant by deification. If the term means equality with God or elevation to divine status or absorption into God’s essence, the answer is no. If it means the participation in and enjoyment of specific divine attributes and qualities, in part now and fully at Christ’s return, then the answer is — most certainly — yes. [James Starr, “Does 2 Peter 1:4 Speak of Deification?” In Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Traditions, ed. Michael J. Christensen and Jeffrey A. Wittung (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), 90.]
Robert M. Bowman draws these conclusions:
The point is that the phrase “partakers of the divine nature” need not, on the assumption that “divine nature” refers to God’s essence, mean that Christians are to possess God’s essence in themselves ... Rather, God’s essence will dwell in them (through the Holy Spirit) and in so doing will transform their lives. [Robert M. Bowman, The Word-Faith Controversy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 192.]

Lastly, some comment on the meaning of “nature” (physeōs) is needed. The word is used quite rarely in the New Testament (eighteen times, counting adjectival and adverbial forms) and always with the simple meaning of what is intrinsic or essential or “natural” ... Peter, then, is speaking of God’s essence and is saying that Christians are to experience the benefits of having the essence of God dwelling in them. This is a reality that has already begun, but its full realization will come when we have fully “escaped the corruption in the world by lust,” that is, when we are made incorruptible and immortal. It is a marvelous truth that the actual essence of God dwells in the believer. [Ibid.]
Contrasting how the early Eastern Church differed from the Hellenistic viewpoint on divinization, James Payton notes this important distinction,
The leaders of the ancient church in the East seized on this familiar concept but filled it with new content. Whereas the usual notion entailed being absorbed into God like a drop in an ocean — losing consciousness and individuality forever — Eastern church leaders insisted that in deification we are made like God yet remain distinct from him. The way they put it is that we experience his “energies” but do not share his “essence.” This distinction is crucial, because it clarifies that for the Orthodox, becoming like god is not the same as becoming identical with God. We can never become the same as our Creator (the Uncreated), though we can take on crucial aspects of his character and being. [James R. Payton Jr. “Keeping the End in View: How the Strange yet Familiar Doctrine of Theosis Can Invigorate the Christian Life.” Christianity Today, October 2008, 68.]
Partaking of the divine nature is more than a matter of moral likeness to God. Believers in Jesus Christ are born of a divine word, with the anticipation of sharing in the divine immortality of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have the capacity to experience and manifest divine power and glory. We partake of the divine Spirit who has gifted us with divine abilities. Just as Paul taught both the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14), Peter likewise demonstrates an awareness of both. We should not think that our participation in the divine nature is limited to one or the other.

It is also important to recognize that partaking of the divine nature does not mean that we lose our identity and distinctiveness. We become like God, just as Adam was created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27), but we do not become identical with God. That is, we do not become God Himself. The Creator/creature distinction always applies.

God is infinite; we are finite. Though we may partake of divine knowledge, wisdom and power through the gifts of the Spirit (e.g., word of knowledge, word of wisdom and working of miracles in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10), that does not make us all-knowing, all-wise and all-powerful.

If the divine nature is God in His essence, we may partake of it only in the sense that He indwells us, but not in the sense that we actually become Him. The distinction between the “energies” and the “essence” of God is helpful. We may actively share in His energies, the communicable attributes of God (e.g., the fruits and gifts of the Spirit), but we can never fully comprehend who He is in Himself. We are vessels and reflectors of His glory, but the essence of it is His alone.