Sunday, July 26, 2015
Did you catch the end of verse 4 in 2nd Peter chapter 1?
By grace, God gives all that we need for life. This grace comes through knowledge of God which is itself grace given by the Holy Spirit. That grace continues as we grow in through Bible study, prayer, and participation in church life.
Then we come to verse 4 where we learn that in Christ we escape the corruption of the world around us. Sin degrades this good world God created. We lack the power the stop the destruction humanity’s sin brings. But God promises that in Christ we escape the death and destruction, says 2 Peter 1:4. The good news is we are freed from death’s clutches.
But what is that statement in the last part of that verse? We escape death so that we may become participants of the divine nature. What does that mean?
Do we become gods? That is what I think is Mormons believe. It doesn’t mean that. Our friends in Orthodox Christianity have a concept called theosis whereby they believe we become so materially united with God it is as if we become gods. I don’t understand orthodox theology enough to try to discuss theosis.
I can’t say we become God, but, I have 2nd Peter 1:4 before me. Through knowledge of God, which is given freely by God and not something we earn – through that knowledge we have all need to participate in the life of God. We are called to the divine life.
The Christian life does not strive for moral improvement. That’s not our goal. I had lunch with the campus rabbi at Duke University and I asked him, a 21st Reformed Jew, what is the mission of Judaism? He said it is to “be a good person.” That was his answer to the question, what is your mission?
That is not our answer. The destination for Christ-followers is not to become good persons. Neither is our goal to get to heaven when we die. If you became a Christian because you wanted to be assured of an eternity in Heaven, I am happy to disappoint you. That’s not our goal.
As followers of Jesus we do things that contemporary culture would attribute to “good persons,” and when we are in Christ, our eternal destiny is secured. But neither moral purity nor eternity in Heaven are goals for us. Those things are byproducts of following Jesus in everything. Those things come with giving our lives to Him and living with Him as our absolute Lord. Our aim is life in Christ. As Peter says it, “we become participants of the divine nature.”
Every person is called to this. In a moment I’ll talk a more about the special call to elder ministry, but it is important for the entire church to hear the call to life with God. The phrase in 2 Peter 1:4, “participants of the divine nature,” shows this involves major change for us.
Recall John chapter 3 where Jesus explains to Nicodemus that one must be born again. The change from life without God to life in Christ is as radical as moving from the womb to the open air.
It is seen in baptism; one dies in sin and is raised to new life, eternal life, free from the corruption of sin. We step toward this life in our baptism and fully realize at the second coming of Christ when we join him in resurrection. Between baptism and second coming, we live the divine life as we are still in the fallen world.
This life is lived out as the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in us. God enters our hearts and live there.
We live this life our relationships. The list of virtues beginning in 2 Peter 1:5 gives shape to life in Christ. It starts with faith, which is supported by goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and it continues on, each virtue expanding the previous one; self-control, endurance, godliness, and mutual affection (or brotherly love).
The ultimate expression life in Christ as we see it in our relationships is love; self-giving, altruistic, agape love. When it says we participate in God, it means we live in this kind of love. God fills us with it. We share it with all around us, friend and enemy alike.
We are all called to the divine life. Throughout that life individual discovers new ways to answer the call. Today, Emily, Tiffany, and Heather answer by accepting the invitation into ordained ministry within the church.
They are set apart as those who will have spiritual insight in terms of prayer, pastoral care, spiritual vision, and worship in the life of the church. In simple terms, elders pray for the church, visit the sick, oversee the care for those entrusted to them, and, come alongside the pastors as the pastors set the vision for the church. Elders also help the pastors lead the church to the throne of grace by serving communion and assisting when we have baptisms. In all these ways, elders answer the call to fellowship with God and live the divine life.
In a few moments, we as a congregation will gather round and lay hands on Emily, Tiffany, and Heather to affirm that we believe God has called them to this ministry. As we do that we are, in one small way, ourselves answering the call because we are participating in the life of the church.
What other ways do we live this glorious fellowship, this divine life? Worship, prayer, missions, fellowship in the church family; these are obvious. At a deeper level, when you and I seek out our vocation and our identity in Christ, we are doing what is described in 2 Peter 1. The power to do this is in us – God has given it. When we choose to live the new life we’ve been given and leave the old life, the one bound for death, behind, we are living into eternity and divinity.
For sure, such a life is all-consuming. Christianity is an intense thing, an extreme life. We are determined to show the world agape love. We insist that God, not the world around us, is who defines us. We are his. We live – every facet of our lives – in Christ.
Upon leaving church today and re-entering the world, think deeply upon your identity in Christ and your vocation in Christ. Let that pondering be something that overwhelms you this week. Be consumed with the longing to grow into who you are in Christ.
This obsession to answer the call to divine life leads us to all we could hope for and infinitely more. As Second Peter 1:10-11 says,
10 Therefore, brothers and sisters,[g] be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.