We live in the era of the religious supermarket. Almost without exception, people claim to have a sense of spiritual identity, a need to embrace more than this external, material world. And the shelves of the religious supermarket groan under the weight of the exciting, intriguing, enlightening products and services on offer, for a price.
But not every religion or spiritual path is true. They may all be false, or some may be false, but they cannot all be true. Some religious claims are mutually exclusive; some are inescapably illogical, impossible. And not all spiritual practices are healthy for body, mind and spirit. Some are dangerous.
The religious supermarket is not new. For thousands of years, women and men have made claims to ultimate truth, the secret of the universe, the path to enlightenment. Then along comes Jesus, claiming to be the personification of absolute truth, the one “true image of the infinite,” the exclusive path to God, the sole source of salvation, and the best pattern for an excellent ethical life.
And the rest is history. The New Testament writers show how the message of Jesus transformed people’s thinking, and behaviour, and turned the world upside down.
There are many biblical passages highlighting the uniqueness of Jesus, the audacity of his claims, and the benefits of following his way. But none is quite so audacious as what Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:2-4:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life 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, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
Wow! Think of all the promises, large and small, that God has made to us in the Bible! From the gift of the Holy Spirit and the new birth, to food on the table, and answers to prayer, and contentment in the midst of change.
Here’s another promise, in verse 3: God will give us everything we need, through the divine power of Jesus, activated by our knowledge of Jesus, made possible because God has called us into his kingdom.
But perhaps the most audacious of all the promises in the Bible is in a phrase in verse 4 that we may easily overlook: God promises us the prospect of participation in God’s own nature.
We are not gods, nor will we ever be. We are creatures among creatures, created by the One Living God (Gen 1:26). When our first parents fell into sin, it was not a fall from heaven to earth, or from divinity to humanity, but from full humanity – the kind that Jesus exemplified while in our world – into the sin-cursed state that is the common experience of everyone today.
But one day, through the redemption that Jesus brings, the people of God will more than reverse the consequences of the fall. Sin, disease, death and decay all defeated. More than that: we will rise, as Jesus rose from death, to share in the divine nature.
What does that mean? The writer is referring to immortality, life without end, a permanent existence on an entirely new plane, with a deep ethical dimension: by the power of God and the grace of Jesus Christ, we are granted the privilege of participating in the holiness, the purity, the goodness of Almighty God, and so to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
How is this possible? It is only possible when you and I respond to God’s gracious call and are united with Christ, and all that is signified by union with Christ, in terms of what theologians call the “order of salvation,” or what Paul describes as the experience of being predestined, called, justified, and one day glorified” (Rom 8:30).
Next time you feel anxious about what tomorrow might bring, or fearful of catching the corona virus, or you feel unappreciated or overlooked by those around you, remember that God is in ultimate control of all that happens to you, and through grace and faith you are destined to participate, forever, in the divine nature.
Look around. You and I were made for more than this.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, we ask you to enlarge our vision today, deepen our confidence in you and your purposes for us, and give us the wisdom and strength to do your will, and not our own, as we await the fulfillment of all your great and precious promises. In the strong name of our Lord Jesus we pray. Amen.
Image source: Detail from Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” part of a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, 1508-12, found at God is God.