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Partakers of the Divine Nature

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Do you know who you are?

I asked the question earlier, but it’s time to raise it again. Yes, we are in the world but not of it. True, we have been saved by grace through faith in what Jesus did on the cross (Eph. 2:8–9). But that’s just the beginning of understanding what God has been up to.
God’s original intention in Eden was to merge his human family with his divine family, the heavenly sons of God who were here before creation (Job 38:7–8). He didn’t abandon that plan at the fall. Christian, you will be made divine, like one of God’s elohim children, like Jesus himself (1 John 3:1–3).
Theologians refer to the idea by many labels. The most common is glorification. Peter referred to it as becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). John put it this way: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, emphasis added). In this chapter we’ll take a look at how the Bible conveys that message.

Sons of God, Seed of Abraham

When God turned the nations of the world over to lesser gods at Babel, he did so knowing he would start over with a new human family of his own. God called Abraham (Gen. 12:1–8) right after Babel (Gen. 11:1–9). Through Abraham and his wife Sarah, God would return to his original Edenic plan.
God’s people, the children of Abraham, the Israelites, ultimately failed to restore God’s good rule on earth. But one of those children would succeed. God would become man in Jesus, a descendant of David, Abraham, and Adam. And it was through Jesus that God’s promise to one day bless the nations he had punished at Babel was fulfilled. Paul wrote about that in several places. Here are two:
According to revelation the mystery was made known to me, just as I wrote beforehand in brief, so that you may be able when you read to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ: … that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, and fellow members of the body, and fellow sharers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph. 3:3–6 leb)
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are descendants of Abraham, heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:26–29 leb)
As I explained in earlier chapters: Throughout the Old Testament, those people who were not Israelites lived in territory that had come under the dominion of the lesser gods to whom God had assigned those nations at Babel. At Babel, the nations other than Israel had been disinherited from a relationship with the true God. Israel and only Israel was God’s “portion” (Deut. 32:9) of humanity. Israelites referred to the people of the disinherited nations by many terms. There were geographical or ethnic labels (e.g., Egyptians, Moabites, Amalekites), but the comprehensive description in New Testament times was Gentile, a label that comes from the Latin word for “nations” (gens). If you aren’t Jewish, you’re a Gentile.
The story of the New Testament is that a descendant of Abraham—Jesus—died and rose again to redeem not only Abraham’s ethnic descendants (Israelites/Jews) but also all the people among the nations who had formerly been disinherited from the true God. In the verses quoted just above, Paul called the inclusion of Gentiles in the family of God a mystery. It astonished him that people from the nations God had cast off, and which were under the control of other gods, could inherit the promises given to Abraham.
In Christ, all who embrace the gospel are children of Yahweh, the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26; Rom. 8:14). This is why the New Testament talks about believers using family terms (sons, children, heir) and the language of being “adopted” by God (Rom. 8:15, 23; Eph. 1:5; Gal. 4:4). The language of inheritance is crystal clear and deliberate. It tells us who we are: the new divine-human family of God. The believer’s destiny is to become what Adam and Eve originally were: immortal, glorified imagers of God, living in God’s presence.
But even that doesn’t fully express who we are. The most amazing part is how Jesus sees us.

A Family Reunion

The first two chapters of the book of Hebrews give us a dramatic picture of God’s blended family—divine and human. For me, it’s one of the most stirring passages in the Bible.
Hebrews 1 makes the point that Jesus is “so much better than the angels” (v. 4 leb). No one is higher in God’s heavenly council than Jesus. After all, he’s God. In fact, the writer makes the point that since no angel was fit to become man and inherit the kingdom, angels need to worship Jesus (vv. 5–6 leb). Jesus is king.
Remarkably, when Jesus became a man, he was for a short time lower than the angels. He became one of us. Humans are lesser creatures than divine beings like angels. The writer of Hebrews asks:
What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet.… But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb. 2:6–9).
What’s the result of what Jesus did? We might say salvation. That would be right, but it misses what the writer of Hebrews wanted us to know. Because God became man in Jesus Christ, his mortal followers will become divine—and members of the same family.
Someday, whether at our death or at his return to earth in the final form of the kingdom on earth, the new Eden, Jesus will introduce us to the rest of the divine council, and the council to us. He became as we are so we might become as he is:
For it was fitting for him for whom are all things and through whom are all things in bringing many sons to glory to perfect the originator of their salvation through sufferings. For both the one who sanctifies and the ones who are sanctified are all from one, for which reason he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the assembly I will sing in praise of you.…
Behold, I and the children God has given me.”
(Heb. 2:10–13 leb)
Instead of being embarrassed before the elohim of God’s council at becoming human—becoming lower than they are—Jesus revels in it. It was all part of a grand strategy. Standing in the council (“in the assembly”) he presents us: Behold—look at me, and the children God has given me. We are all together now—forever. And that had been the plan from the beginning.
Our entrance into God’s divine, glorified family is our destiny. Paul puts in beautifully in Romans 8:18–23:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.… And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Paul encouraged believers with the same message. He told the Roman believers they were “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he should be the firstborn among many brothers” (Rom. 8:29 leb). He told the Corinthian church, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18), and that our humanity would be transformed, “for this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53). For Peter, joining God’s family council meant becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). John said it most simply: “We shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

Why This Matters

As Christians, we’ve probably heard many times that we need to be like Jesus. We certainly do. But when we hear that, we tend to process it only in terms of being good, or maybe “less bad.” We turn what’s actually a nearly inconceivable idea—that we will one day be as Jesus is—into a performance obligation.
Rather than feel guilty about how much we aren’t like Jesus, and pledge in our hearts to “do better,” we need to let the blessing of what he did, and will do, rewire the way we think about being like him. We can turn Christlikeness into a task we must perform lest God be angry with us, but that’s bad theology. It turns grace into duty. Or we can be grateful that one day we will be what God is thrilled to make us—what he predestined us to be (Rom. 8:29)—and live in such a way that people enslaved to dark powers will want to join us in God’s family. One perspective looks inward; the other looks heavenward.
The Christian life now is not about the fear that we will fail to keep happy the One who loved us while we were still enslaved to darkness. The Christian life is really about grasping two concepts: our adoption into God’s family—which means Jesus is our brother, and that God loves us like he loves Jesus—and our purpose in God’s plan to restore his kingdom on earth. We are, and will be, God’s new divine council. He is our Father. We are his children, destined to live where he lives forever. We are his coworkers, tasked with helping him release those still owned by the lord of the dead and held captive by unseen powers of darkness.
That is what the Bible is about, from Eden to Eden. That is your destiny. Your life now is not about earning your place in God’s family. That cannot be earned. It’s a gift. Your life now is showing appreciation for your adoption, enjoying it, and getting others to share it with you.[1]
[1] Heiser, M. S. (2015). Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters. (D. Lambert, Ed.) (pp. 147–154). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
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