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.