Partaking of the Divine Nature – What Does All That Mean Anyway?

Photo Credit: Pixabay

[ Author: Kathy Petersen ]

A dog can be like a cat in many ways, but no matter how many likenesses we can draw between cats and dogs, a dog will never purr. When we talk about likenesses, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that there may be limitations to the level of “likeness” between any two things we are likening.

Man can become a god?

Mormons are known for an old saying, “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.” This saying date back to the mid-1800s, soon after Joseph Smith preached the “King Follett Funeral Discourse” (a funeral sermon preached on the death of a man by the name of King Follett; it’s often abbreviated the KFD). Here it is in full, from the LDS website [part one and part two]. The sermon was preached in 1844, only a few months before Joseph Smith [JS] was killed. In it, he taught that God, our Heavenly Father became a God, and that men could become Gods themselves.

While modern Mormonism may shy away from it and/or backtrack from the statements, some do still hold to these beliefs as stated. Many do believe that they will become gods in the afterlife and will point to Biblical passages that seem to indicate that, by talking about “partaking of the divine nature”, and other such things.

Let’s look at some other Bible verses – in context – and see what we can glean from them.

The first passage I’d like to look at is in 2 Pet. 1, since that was what prompted this post to start with:

3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:

4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (KJV)

“Partakers of the divine nature”? Notice how it is linked to “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”. That is, it appears that Peter is saying that being the partaker of the divine nature is to have escaped the world’s corruption. (All scriptures in KJV)

  • Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
  • Luke 20:36, “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”
  • Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
  • 9:8, “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.”
  • 2:14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
  • 3:26, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”
  • 1 John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
  • 2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
  • 1 John 5:5 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

Whose effort is it?

Now here’s where it gets tricky when dealing with Mormons. A Christian would look at those verses and conclude that being righteous and no longer sinning is what is meant – and that the righteousness and no longer sinning is due to God’s sustaining power and not our own effort. However, Mormons are taught that “exaltation” (what most Christians would call “going to heaven when you die”, but is what they consider “becoming like God”) is based on “being obedient to gospel principles”. So when the NT talks about how that Christians ought to do good deeds and not sin, Mormons take that as “obedience to gospel principles”.

One main difference is the emphasis that the two beliefs place on good works, and the place that good works have in the eternal scheme of things. Christians view good works as the fruit of righteousness and of being converted / born again. We don’t believe that works save us or make us righteous before God; only Jesus’s righteousness can. Mormons won’t say that they believe that good works save us; they’ll say that it’s only because of Jesus’s sacrifice and atonement that we can become exalted (i.e., get to heaven). But what they mean by what they say is quite different from what Christians mean.

Here is one analogy that demonstrates the difference between what Christians and Mormons believe about salvation and what Jesus actually accomplished. Both Christians and Mormons would metaphorically view man as being in a deep pit due to sin, from which he can’t escape.

The Mormon view of Jesus’s atonement is that of dropping a ladder into the pit, so that sinful men can get out of the pit by climbing up the ladder; the more good works they do and the more “obedient to gospel principles” they are, the higher up the ladder they climb – even all the way up to exaltation and Heavenly Father’s presence. In Mormonism, Jesus’s atonement is “necessary” like a ladder is “necessary” for getting off the ground. After all, it doesn’t matter how strong a person is, he can’t climb out of a pit much less all the way to heaven, if he has no ladder.

Christians, on the other hand, would view mankind not just in the pit but dead in sin, so in Jesus’s sacrifice, He didn’t merely “lower a ladder” to us, but actually climbed down into the pit Himself, picked us up, and carried us out of the pit and all the way to heaven. Our good works don’t cause us to be saved, but rather, we do good works to praise God for His love and mercy for us.

The emphasis on good works, for a Christian, is that of showing we are saved (like an apple tree produces apples to show what kind of tree it is; it doesn’t become an apple tree by producing apples), and a lack of works doesn’t keep us from being saved but rather shows that we aren’t saved (or never were saved in the first place). Mormons on the other hand would view a lack of works as the thing which keeps one from being exalted, such that a person who does X amount of works might get into the middle kingdom, while a person who does even more would get a higher level of exaltation.

Attaining or accepting?

So for a Christian, being a “partaker of the divine nature” means becoming righteous and sinless, as God is righteous and sinless (though God’s righteousness is inherent in His being, while man’s righteousness is not inherent but only due to Christ’s infused righteousness), and since we will be righteous and sinless in the future estate, it only makes sense that we should try to imitate that in this life. For a Mormon, it means trying to be or become righteous in order to earn a higher level of salvation, in order to become a God someday.

Which viewpoint is Biblical? Considering verses such as Isaiah 43:10 (“Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no god formed, neither shall there be after me.”), it doesn’t really make sense for man to become gods or a god in the afterlife, since this verse and the surrounding passages says that there are no gods other than the One True God, and that there will be no gods formed in the future. So, becoming like God can’t mean becoming God as God is God, so it must mean something else – something like becoming righteous as God is righteous.

About Razor Swift

The mission of Razor Swift is to open hearts and minds through apologetics, sharing the Christian worldview with reasoned answers while encouraging those in the faith.
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