“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 1:4)
of the divine nature [Part 1]
“Nature” means disposition. Our “nature” is a disposition or inborn quality that generates and produces power in us. This nature is not that quality that determines whether someone is a human being. In other words, our nature is not equivalent to our person. The sin nature is a change in capacity or disposition and not a metaphysical change in us (the transfer of God’s attributes to us). A nature is an inherent disposition that ultimately affects our conduct and character.
Before Adam’s fall, he had a human nature but not a sin nature. He possessed attributes unique to man. When Adam fell, he acquired a sin nature (Ro 5:12). Now he possessed two natures: human nature and a sin nature. A better term for “nature” in this context might be “capacity.” Adam, in the fall, acquired a capacity for sin. When a person becomes a Christian, he receives a capacity toward God.
The addition of Adam’s sin nature produced a drastic spiritual change but not a metaphysical change in him. He still was the same person he was before the fall. Therefore, his sin nature is a disposition rather than a change of attributes unique to human nature.
Hypothetically, if the sin nature did change the attributes of human nature, then man would have been different from the human being God created when He created Adam. The non-Christian possesses a human nature in the sense of the attributes unique to man plus a sin nature. He does not have the new nature in the sense of a new disposition toward God. All he has is a sin capacity toward God. That is why his disposition is dark toward God (Jn 3:19).
When a person becomes a Christian, a radical change in his disposition takes place. He receives a divine nature. He is not a new kind of human being, but he has a new orientation toward God. The Christian still possesses characteristics unique to man, but God introduces something new into him, a divine disposition. God reintroduces into the born again person the same orientation toward God that Adam had before the fall. Now that the Christian is favorably disposed toward God, God can do things to make us more like Christ.
The Christian, in his new nature, is legally just before God. Therefore, he has certain rights before God.
In conflict with the sin capacity, the Christian can claim his legal right to reject the sin nature’s mastery because of his identity with Christ’s death.
The sin nature or capacity is our inherent disposition toward sin. We received at our physical birth a disposition toward rebellion toward God. We call that disposition the sin nature (Je 17:9; Ro 6:16-20). The sin nature holds legal authority and experiential power over the lives of non-Christians. The sinful nature only holds experiential power over the Christian if the Christian does not apply his legal authority in Christ to its power.
The non-Christian only has the sin nature but not the divine nature. The sin nature is totally depraved. This means that by possessing the sin capacity, the non-Christian is depraved in reference to God. This does not mean that he cannot do the right morality according to human standards. It does mean that his morality is worthless to the absolute righteousness of God (Ro 8:7).
The non-Christian has inherent hostility toward God’s will (Ro 8:7). This does not mean that the old nature will always act as badly as it is capable. The non-Christian does many moral and humanitarian things, but he does them apart from God. He operates essentially apart from God, and his life revolves around himself. His orientation is man-centered rather than God-centered. His chief end is himself rather than God (Eph 2:3). This is why man must be born again because, in his own nature, he will not orient to God (Jn 3:19).
The Christian receives a divine nature (capacity) at the point of his salvation, but he still retains the sin capacity after salvation. The Christian, then, has two warring capacities within his bosom. However, in the Christian, Jesus forever legally defeated the sin nature by his death on the cross (Ro 6).
The Christian has legal rights over the sin nature, but he cannot defeat sin simply by possessing a divine nature. Simple possession of the divine nature does not provide the power necessary to overcome the sin nature. The Christian needs more than the divine nature for that. Christians can defeat sin by claiming their legal rights over the sin capacity in God’s eyes to their experience. The Christian lives by the promises of God in Christ.
If we rely on our own strength as the source of power to overcome the sin nature, the sinful disposition will defeat us every time. Neither keeping the commands of God nor self-will is enough to overcome the struggle with the sin nature.
No Christian needs to allow the sin nature to defeat him because we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who can fill us with power. At the point of our salvation, the Holy Spirit set us free from the controlling power of the sin nature in principle and made available His own power to us. If we give Him power over our lives, we will have victory over the sin capacity. The Holy Spirit can produce in us what we cannot produce in ourselves.
The divine nature plays a powerful role in transforming the regenerate man (“new man”) more and more into the image of Christ (Ro 8:29). This, again, is a process (2 Co 3:18). In eternity, God will make us morally perfect in our experience.
the divine nature [Part 2]
Remember that the word “divine” from the previous verse means that which is God’s, that which ensues from Him. In two verses running, we have “divine power” and “divine nature.” Peter uses the word “divine” both of God’s power (2 Pe 1:3) and God’s nature (here). In both places, nature is something that proceeds from God Himself.
People often teach that we have an old nature and a new nature. That is not entirely correct. The “divine nature” is not the same as the “new man” (Co 3:10). Our “old man” was our unregenerate disposition. The divine nature then is a new orientation to God.
A massive change toward God occurred in us when we became Christians. We do not get the divine nature through the reformation of the old nature. It is not something that grows or develops by a process. Rather, God imparts this new nature instantaneously and supernaturally to us the moment we become Christians. Therefore, only regenerate people possess this nature. It is God’s orientation planted within us. It is far more than inherent morality.
There also remains an old capacity in every believer after we accept Christ. That old nature is what produces sins in our lives. It is a disposition toward sin, and it also has an area of strength that produces human good apart from God.
The Christian cannot partake of God’s nature in the sense of sharing His deity. That would be heresy. Man can never become God or even deity. Man cannot share infinite attributes. Possessing infinite attributes would annihilate finite man. People who hold that we share God’s attributes as over against His disposition are Pantheistic in their thinking (everything is god and we are gods). This confounds the creature with the Creator and is blasphemy.
Partaking of God’s disposition is different than partaking of His essence. We can partake of His holiness in the sense of having the same disposition He has.
He 12:10, “For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.”
As we lay hold of the promises, we manifest the divine nature.
According to Romans six, the sinful disposition loses its mastery over Christians permanently by our identity with the death of Christ. We are no longer sin’s slaves. The sinful nature no longer has legal authority over us anymore. Although it no longer holds legal authority over us, it continues with us till we die. It will try to exercise an illegal control over us if we do not claim our legal rights. We can claim our legal ownership of Christ’s death for any sin we might commit as a Christian. If we try to operate in our own strength, the sin nature will defeat us.
The “divine nature” is not the “new man” of Colossians 3:9-10. The new man is the born again man (the regenerate person). God gives the new man freedom from the slavery of the sin nature by the newness of life. The divine nature is in the new man, but it is not the new man.
We received human nature when we were born physically. We received God’s nature when we were born spiritually. We cannot reverse that. Once born a human, we cannot revert to a horse. Once born spiritually, we cannot revert to a non-Christian. We cannot lose our sin capacity in time, nor can we lose our divine capacity. The same people who talk about losing their old capacity think that they can lose their new capacity. They are wrong on both accounts. We can lose neither except when we enter glory and then we lose the old capacity.
Everyone born again received a divine capacity at the point of salvation. So every Christian has two capacities, a human and a divine capacity. The human capacity can do nothing but sin, and the divine capacity cannot sin. Because we Christians still possess human nature, we still have the potential for any sin.
1 Jn 3:9, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.”