Friday, May 2, 2014

Spiritual Growth and the Divine Nature

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Partaking of the divine nature is not instantaneous but a process that takes place over time. Peter clearly has spiritual growth in mind, as we can see from the verses that follow, about adding to our faith. By this he indicates the progressive and ongoing nature of salvation, the outworking of the salvation we initially entered into through faith in Christ. One day we will experience the fullness of salvation when our bodies are glorified and raised immortal just as Jesus’ body has been. So we can say, as Paul did, that we have been saved, we are being saved and we will be saved.

But it is also true that the progressive spiritual growth aspect (as well as our final glorification) are inherent in the salvation we entered into when we first came to know the Lord Jesus. From the beginning of our salvation, we have the ability to partake of the divine nature. It is there for us all along the way, and sums up all we need for life and godliness. But learning how to walk in (or live out) the reality of that is what our spiritual growth is about. And that is what Peter encourages us to in verses 5-9:
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. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Because access to the divine nature is inherent in salvation from the beginning, it is part of the atonement — what the work of Christ in the cross and resurrection secured for us. In verse 9, Peter speaks of being “cleansed” of our old sins. That certainly is an atonement reality and an important aspect of our salvation — Jesus washed our sins away. But in verse 4, Peter takes it a step farther when he speaks of escaping the “corruption that is in the world through lust.” In that, we can see that the power of sin has broken so that we no longer have to be corrupted by it. Through the cross, Christ offers us escape from corruption and lust , an escape we can learn to appropriate and live by. This present escape from corruption is also part of the atoning work of Christ.

We appropriate this escape by faith (which is more than mere mental assent to the propositions posed by the atonement), and that is where Peter begins in verse 5: “add to your faith.” What then follows in verses 5-8 (knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love) are not meritorious works but the outworking of faith and the outworking of salvation. It is ultimately expressed as love (last in Peter’s list, but certainly not least). As Paul shows us in Galatians 5:6, faith “works” through love. Again, this not a meritorious work by which we earn anything from God but is the expression of faith. It is love that fulfills the commandments and manifests the divine nature, and by it we really do partake of the divine nature — for God is love.

In Galatians 5, Paul talks about “walking in the Spirit,” and the “fruit of the Spirit.” The “fruit” listed in Galatians 5:22-23 is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Love heads the list, and all the rest can be described in terms of love. This sounds very like the things listed in 2 Peter 1:5-8, which all seem to lead up to love. These things portray for us the character of Christ, and they come forth in us through the Spirit of Christ.

The way Paul speaks about the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5, then, is very like what is described in 2 Peter as being a “partaker of the divine nature.” For how can we bear the fruit of the Spirit of God without being a partaker of the divine nature? Walking in the Spirit of God, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, partaking of the divine nature — this is salvation, central and profound and dynamic.

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