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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
What does it mean to “become participants of the divine nature”?
This phrase is found only in 2 Peter 1:4. Probably the best approach in answering your question is to examine the passage and explore its theological significance. The text reads: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3, 4, NIV). Let’s break it down into sections.
1. “His divine power has given. . .” Satisfying our deepest needs is not the result of our power, but of divine power “given/bestowed upon us.” The word translated “divine” (Greek, theios) is the same word used in the phrase “divine nature.” The human need is defined as “life and godliness.” The term “life” seems to refer to eternal life, which humans forfeited through sin. “Godliness” emphasizes likeness to God in the daily experience of believers living a pious life. Christ has provided for our future relationship with Him through eternal life, and for our present walk with Him through a sanctified life (cf. 2 Peter 3:11).
2. “Through our knowledge of him. . .” The gift reached us through our knowledge of Christ. This is not simply factual information but a deep personal commitment, an experiential knowledge of Christ’s saving power. Here again it was Christ who took the initiative by calling us into that relationship. He called us through the revelation of “his own glory and goodness.” The text presupposes the role of the Holy Spirit as the revealer of the glory or majesty of Christ (His deity) and of His goodness (the excellence of His life).
3. “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises. ..” The glory and goodness of Christ are the means by which we receive God’s promises. These “exceedingly great and precious/valuable” promises are priceless because they are based on the priceless sacrifice of Christ (1 Peter 1:18, 19). They include not only “everything we need for life and godliness,” but also what follows.
4. “That through them you may participate in the divine nature. . .” When we by faith appropriate those promises we immediately become participants of the divine nature. They are accompanied by the privilege of participating in the divine nature. Obviously, Peter is not saying that we become gods, but that we participate in that which is not ours by nature or right. He describes a privilege given to us through Christ’s saving work: the privilege of being in union with God and participating in His “divine power” (verse 3). To become participants of the divine nature means to be enabled, through God’s power, to become like God spiritually and morally in our daily experience.
5. “Escape the corruption in the world. . .” Our participation in the divine nature makes it possible for us to live godly lives, escaping the corruption of the world caused by human sinful desires. The grammatical construction suggests that the participation in the divine nature follows our escape from the corruption of the world—”Having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires we have become participants of the divine nature.” In that case our escape from corruption took place at the moment of our conversion. And now, through our participation in the divine nature, we are preserved in a world of sin from that corrupting influence.
6. Conclusion: This passage emphasizes several ideas. First, Peter indicates that salvation is the result of God’s work from beginning to end. It’s a divine gift bestowed on us through Christ.
Second, salvation is ours only in union with God through Christ, who is not only human but also divine. When we are connected to Christ we participate in His divine nature; we are “in Christ” (cf. 1 Peter 3:16; 5:10,14).
Third, to become participants in the divine nature is to receive divine power from Christ through the Spirit to resist evil and grow in God’s likeness (1 Peter 1:15; 2 Peter 1:5-9).
Fourth, this experience presupposes that human nature is spiritually weakened and in constant need of divine power. In the resolution of the human predicament God granted us the privilege of a real union with Him in Christ.