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If you’ve been a Christian for any time at all, you’ve likely heard some teaching (in church, at a retreat) about God’s loving character. But when the service ends or when we come back down the mountain from the retreat center into what we colloquially call “real life,” sometimes it can be hard to hang onto those truths about God that seemed so very clear to us just a few hours or days before.
For me, at least, moments like those have begged this important question: What does it look like to experience God’s loving character in my “real life,” day in and day out? Years ago, I stumbled providentially across a somewhat obscure passage at the beginning of Peter’s second letter that addresses this very question.
Peter writes, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:3-8, ESV).
Now, I’ve heard a few sermons through the years on the list of character qualities that Peter spells out here. But what really got my attention when I first noticed this passage was the emphasis Peter places on God’s promises. Specifically, he says that they are an important key to becoming “partakers in the divine nature.” The NIV, which I was using at that point years ago, translates the same phrase by saying those who cling to God’s promises “participate in the divine nature.”
Wow, I thought. What does that mean? And why are God’s promises so important when it comes to being a participant in or a partaker of His nature? Those were questions that I kept returning to over and over again, especially early on in my Christian journey, because the idea of experiencing God’s nature — not just trying harder to do better — was very appealing to me.
After a lot of years reflecting on this passage, here’s what I believe is going on with Peter’s emphasis on God’s promises. I’ve increasingly come to see God’s promises as statements about His character, statements that reflect His heart of grace and truth toward His children. These are statements that He invites us to embrace by faith. And when we do so, I believe it gives God a chance to reveal His good character to us in action, in a moment of real need.
Let me give you a concrete example. Let’ say we’ve just blown it badly — and knowingly — in some area of sin that we struggle with. The temptation is to begin beating ourselves up for falling — again — instead of appropriating the grace and forgiveness Christ offers. One familiar promise that deals with this tendency is Romans 8:1, in which Paul says of the totality of Jesus’ forgiving work on our behalf, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Through Paul’s words, God has promised us that we don’t have to live in that place of ongoing guilt and shame. And when we choose to take God at His word in this case, to “claim” this truth in faith in our moment of need, it gives God a chance to reveal himself and His character to us in ways we might not have experienced otherwise. Thus, when we confess and pray something like, “Father, I know I’ve sinned, but I choose in faith to believe that that you’ve forgiven me in Christ and that I no longer have to stay stuck in my guilt and shame and condemnation,” we’ve become participants in and partakers of His divine nature, just as Peter wrote, by receiving the love and grace He offers us in that particular promise.
For me, Peter's exhortation about the power of God’s promises has been a significant cornerstone in my spiritual life. God wants me — and you — to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). He longs for us to eagerly seize on the many hundreds of promises He’s made to us in His holy Word, that we might know and partake of His heart and character first-hand.
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"when we come back down the mountain...into what we colloquially call 'real life,' sometimes it can be hard to hang onto those truths about God that seemed so very clear to us just a few hours or days before." Yes, that's so true. God's promises have held me through enormously difficult situations, and he carried through on those promises. He miraculously healed me of a brain injury. He enabled me to (truly, not superficially) forgive a very serious offense that I never thought I could forgive, and through that he healed me of PTSD. Both of those healings were promised months in advance. He promised to provide for me. Now I have a temporary job at a childcare center, the first job I've had in a very long time due to my health.
Yet, after all those exhilarating experiences of God fulfilling his promises, it is the daily small things that distract me from his joy and goodness. The daily waking up and rushing to go to work. The daily struggles with constantly hearing unkind words and actions directed toward each other and me from the children I serve while at work. The daily feelings of inadequacy as I have no idea how to handle difficult situations at work. The daily exhaustion as I'm not used to having every minute of my time filled, the dishes sitting unwashed until I have none left because I just go straight to bed. The lack of time to simply go for a walk, or let prayer come rather than sitting still for 5 minutes by the door before I go somewhere because I know I need something of him, but I don't have an hour. The loneliness of family and friends contacting me or praying with me in person less frequently because I'm not sick and don't "need" anything anymore or because I'm too tired to interact with anyone by the time I come home from work.
In these daily things, I forget to be thankful for many things. For the friends who are still there for me. For the neighbor who gave me a boatload of Indian food so I haven't had to cook all week. For the bully who in a rare moment of genuine rather than staged regret apologized, which I had forgotten about because the next day she resumed previous behaviors. For having an income for the next couple months that can pay most of my expenses. For that 5 minutes of calm that I did have in the morning. For the ability to separate out the toy animals from the Legos when I washed them at work, which is a cognitive task I couldn't have done several months ago.
It is in the little things that I let God's promises be buried, but in the little things that I need them most. Promises, like: "Never will I leave you" (Heb. 13). Or, "there is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear" (1 John). Or, "those who trust in the Lord are like a tree planted by the waters" (Psalms or Proverbs?). Or, "we are more than conquerors through him who loves us" (Rom. 8). Or, a less pleasant but equally true promise: "discipline produces the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Heb. 12). Or, as Adam Holz reminds us here, we really can "taste and see that the Lord is good." Believing during those little steps leads to the big victories we can look back on and the realization that he is with us along the way.
This comment is waxing long, but what I mean to say is, I can see how this blog applies to my life, and I'm thankful for the reminder that indeed God is good and that he makes and keeps good promises, not only extraordinarily but also in the middle of the ordinary tedium of life. Even when I don't feel that way, or can't remember goodness, or purposely and rebelliously avoid goodness. He is still good.
By the way, I really appreciate that there are other topics besides relationships on here. I've learned a lot from the relationship articles and blogs and am thankful for them, but I have a lot of other experiences in my life that have nothing to do with "romance." So, thank you.
Do you feel like you are partaking in the divine nature, or noted any substantial change in your life? I've confessed countless sins and prayed and over again, and I sure don't feel that way, not one bit.
(By the way, this is the old whining freddie whose account seems to have been deleted somehow)
Thank you for this, Adam! I am encouraged to remember and take hold of God's words as they pertain to the daily happenings of my life.
Morey Sol, thank you for sharing a bit of your story. I see more how Adam's point applies to life because of your examples. (And I second the thanks for a "non-romantic" post :)
Freddie, I can relate to your question. My own experience up to about a year ago echoed your frustration. It seemed to me that I was doing all the work in my Christian life with no supernatural help or result. I think I can honestly say that I have experienced a substantial change in my life now, though. Coming to internalize the truth that God loved me before I ever loved Him ("This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.") has given me hope for the future and courage to relate to others in a healthier way. Security in God's love helps me be honest and risk rejection--because even if others reject me, I know God won't. While my life still contains plenty of room for improvement, for an inveterate people-pleaser, this new perspective and accompanying actions are a significant change.
"It seemed to me that I was doing all the work in my Christian life with no supernatural help or result. "
This is just how it seems to me. I've been going through really tough spiritual times, the culmination of doubts that started as a teenager (I'm just inheriting my parents' faith, this is just ME going through the motions, I must not really have God's spirit in me, etc.). But I think that is what saving faith is all about--as this article says, "tasting and seeing that the Lord is good" and then trusting that He will make good on His promises. I'm reading John Piper's book Future Grace these days, and it's really thought-provoking. It points out that many evangelists look at redemption and grace from a "past tense" perspective--i.e., God did this *in the past* for you, so you should do something for Him! But we don't ever see that kind of reasoning in Scripture. What we see is promises, promises, promises that God is with us and working in us *now* in the present, and will continue to sustain us in the future, to bring us spotless into His kingdom. There are conditions to the promises: God works all things for the good "of those who believe and are called according to His purpose." but they aren't about US and what we can do for God--as if He needed anything from us. They're all about the grace He promises to work for us.
It is something I want to cling to in my own life. I long to taste and see that the Lord is good, beyond mere intellectual assent that comes from being raised in a Christian home.
The Bible is the most practical book on Earth. If there seems to be a disconnect between Christian teaching and real life it's probably because the preacher has minced the Word. Probably not intentionally but all teachers have some degree of cultural bias.
Bible verses are like diamonds - only another diamond is strong enough to cut and polish a diamond. At my men's Bible study we learn by comparing scriptures to other scripture and suddenly everything has been making sense to me. In the last 6 months I've never been happy even though life hasn't worked how I planned it.
Sure life is hard - I'm not working with what I studied for, I married much older than I thought I would, and my wife has had three miscarriages. But because of the solid Bible study I know in my daily life that God is good, that he redeems sinners, and that He has a plan to bless us.
Obviously we cannot see everything in our future but if we sincerely take the time to study HIs word we know that He gives us hope and something to life for.
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