The Divine Nature

by Mike Ratliff

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!– assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV)

The writers of the New Testament had no concept of a Christian whom many today would call a “Carnal Christian.” All believers still sin in this life and there will be times when they struggle with certain sins as if in a deadly battle, which they perceive as one they are losing. However, God will not leave His children this way. There will be no peace in the heart of a genuine Christian who is actively indulging his or her flesh. Instead, there will be heartache, self-loathing, and a deep desire to get the victory and draw closer to the Saviour much as David did when finally confronted about his horrible sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. There is no true peace in the heart of Christian who is hiding his or her sin. Those around them may not know what is going on, but God does  and so do those hiding their sin. It is not a spiritually healthy situation. 

The proper walk before the face of God for the Christian is one of repentance. This walk consists of self-denial, prayer, and dying to the desires of the flesh. We often make the mistake of thinking that the way to do this is through will power or asceticism, but the best way to walk according to the spirit is to actively pursue God as His living sacrifice.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)

Here is this passage in Koine Greek:

παρακαλω ουν υμας αδελφοι δια των οικτιρμων του θεου παραστησαι τα σωματα υμων θυσιαν ζωσαν αγιαν τω θεω ευαρεστον την λογικην λατρειαν υμων  και μη συσχηματιζεσθε τω αιωνι τουτω αλλα μεταμορφουσθε τη ανακαινωσει του νοος εις το δοκιμαζειν υμας τι το θελημα του θεου το αγαθον και ευαρεστον και τελειον

During my lunch break on Friday, I translated these two verses from Greek to English as an exercise as part of my study of Biblical Greek. Here is the end product:

I pray, therefore, that you brothers, by God’s mercy, give yourselves as slaves to Him as holy and acceptable living sacrifices, which is your reasonable service. And be not fashioned after this evil age but be transformed by continual mind renewal that you may discern God’s purpose, which is good and well pleasing and complete.

This was not “easy,” but I enjoyed it very much especially after I had my rough outline and did further research into word usage, et cetera. In any case, the part I wanted to emphasize for this post was the transformation we are commanded to go through by embarking on continual mind renewal. This is a way of life. This is to walk through each day with our minds on Christ and His Word. It is not about “experience” per se, but about knowing God through the means of grace He has given us such as Bible Study, Prayer, service, worship, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper, et cetera. It is not about making the mind go into neutral and fellowshipping with “familiar spirits.” Nor is it about interpreting God’s word via experience. No, it is about knowing God’s Word and applying it to our obedient lives. As we know God more and more the more we will be changed. We will begin to become more and more indentified as having that “divine nature.”

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. (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)

Please notice that we take on this divine nature by God’s power. Our efforts could never produce this. Instead, it is by His divine power as we obey Him and partake of His promises. This increases the level of the divine nature in us. The more we obey God this way the more we partake of the divine nature, which is opposed entirely to the corruption and flesh orientation of this lost and dying world. This is how we become transformed (Romans 12:2) because this is how our minds are continually renewed. We must remain in this growth process. When we slack off and pursue the things of the flesh, we are going nowhere. We are not growing in Christian maturity. We are not having our minds renewed, so we are not being transformed. Instead, we are being fleshly-minded and this only leads to darkness and despair because we are off the narrow path and have taken the easy way, which only leads to Doubting Castle and imprisonment by Giant Despair. The only way out of there my brethren is to get back to the narrow path by believing and submitting to the promises of God made to all His children by and through the Cross of Christ. These promises will unlock all the doors in Doubting Castle and then we can escape Giant Despair’s clutches as we get back on the narrow path that is the only way of continual mind renewal in obedience to our Lord.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

This passage is a picture of how we must stay in continual mind renewal. We lay aside the weight and sin that clings so close so we can run with endurance the race God has set before us. The writer of Hebrews compares sin to a weight that keeps us from running with endurance. Laying it aside is a picture of repentance. We turn from it and move on. We refuse to pick it up again. We pray for the fortitude and courage to do this. Then we get into the race and run it by looking unto our Lord Jesus Christ for His direction and promised joy and strength to serve Him (John 15). Christ went to the Cross to save His people and the picture for us is that we must also be willing to lay down our own wants and desires so that we may obey God with our entire lives.

Those who  are being continually transformed by mind renewal as part of running the race set before them by God stay in the Word of God, prayer, worship, and obedience. This is how it is done. It requires submission to those around them. It calls for humility. Both of these are necessities in this as well as products of it. The more we run the race the more humble we become and it requires humility and self-denial to stay in the race. Do you see it my brethren?

We all blow it at times. We sin, we become self-focused and do and say stupid things that are bound up in the ways of the flesh. This is the taking up again of those weights that keep us from running the race. This is self-focused and rooted in pride. It ends our spiritual growth. It puts us out of the race. The only way back in is confession, repentance, and obedience.

When we are in the race our focus is eternal. Even those temporal things that seem to make up the boundaries and consistency of our lives in the temporal are seen for what they are and they have no hold on us. We are able to deny ourselves and move on with God. However, if our focus is temporal then our circumstances run our lives. Our possessions actually own us. We are self-focused and submit to no one. While in the race we grow spiritually, but while living and operating in the temporal as our focus then we stop growing spiritually until we repent and get back into the race.

My brethren, do an inventory of your spiritual walk and how it intersects with your temporal existence. Which controls which? Which defines how you live, worship, and serve? If we are controlled by the temporal, we can often look very much like active Christians. We can be deeply involved in Church and do all sorts of religious “works.” However, that is not the same thing as walking in repentance and living ones life as God’s living sacrifice. Those who are in the race will serve God in all they do. They will be involved in our Lord’s Church, but their daily walk with Him is what defines them, not simply their religiosity. On the other hand, those who have many religious “works,” but who live for self the rest of the time are not in the race. They may very well be in a huge battle here. I know this because I was there for many years.

I was a Deacon and Bible teacher in a church for many years, but my daily walk could best be described as a disaster. I indulged the flesh. I rebelled against putting parts of my life under the Lordship of Christ. I would teach on Sunday and live for myself the rest of the time. Oh, I had periods of repentance in which I would serve God as well as I could with my whole life, but eventually I would devolve back into self-focused spiritual mediocrity. The OKC Federal Center bombing sent me down a new self-destructive path. I was in the blast zone when Timothy McVie set off his truck bomb. I became depressed. I was angry, bitter, and resentful about nearly anything having to do with me not getting my way. It was an awful time. However, God had mercy on me.

In late 2003 I had been on a 6 month sabbatical from teaching in Church. At our Church Christmas party, I was asked to teach a new class for young adults. God made sure I knew that I was incapable of doing the legwork to get this going because of my lack of focus and obedience. This drove me to my knees. For the next 8 months or so God drew me to Himself. By the time August rolled around, I was in the Word, prayer, or worship all day nearly every day. It was amazing. The closer I drew to God the more grace He gave me. Increasing obedience marked my life. God transformed me continually through this. He changed my value system. He put me in position to run the race as it should be run. I was amazed and still am. I have grown quite a bit since then. God has not got tired of me pursuing Him. He has used me in the battle for the truth. He has revealed His ways to me. This has brought His Word to life for me.

In any case my brethren, if you are struggling with the desires of the flesh then you are where I was before God drew me to Himself. I pray for you to turn from this as you draw near unto God. Pray that God will not allow you to become distracted from this pursuit. Go hard after God my brethren and He will come hard after you.

Soli Deo Gloria!

14 thoughts on “The Divine Nature

  1. Hi Mike

    Well said. I do have one question regarding your faith. In the section, “We all blow it at times,” you talked about falling out of the race. You’ve also talked about getting the victory and obtaining divine nature… Is it possible, while in this earthly body, to come to a place where you never ‘blow it’ again? Where you have complete divine nature (maybe in one area or another) and aren’t even tempted to fulfill the desires of the flesh (in that area)?


  2. Yea, the other part of being a living sacrifice is having the ability to do justice and judgment in our daily lives. A lot of those who follow the ‘religion of do’ are not able please God because of the desire to be like (or to please) the world. I had a discussion with a brother in Christ about the many opportunities his people are given to be a light and stand up for what is right. But as you know, it has become extremely taboo and unpopular to raise one’s voice against sin and injustice. The injustice being the suppression of God’s Word.

    God will hold his people accountable for the times that they have been given to take and stand but did not for the sake of preserving their own comfort zones. Those who are given over to pleasure will hide their faces from God just like the unregenerate do. They are vines that yield not fruit. You know what Jesus and John the Baptist say about those who do not produce any fruit. Not a pretty picture eh?

    If a man claims to be a true follower of Christ and does not contend with the world, then I doubt that he/she is a living sacrifice. The word sacrifice means that we must give up something and it will cost us. We must mortify our love for the world and be obedient. If we find ourselves thinking that we are not allowed to judge right from wrong, then we certainly need to reexamine ourselves. Practicing judgment pleases God more than the ‘religion of do.’ It enables us to guard our own hears as well as mortifying things that grieve the Holy Spirit.

    “To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.” Proverb 21:3


  3. Hi Mike
    This was so great to read. Again, the whole thread running through it was – it begins and ends with God.

    I was so encouraged to read your reaction to the bombing then your sequential decline in your self ability then eventually to your knees and then flat on your face. I have seen this type of life-changing things take place in some of those around me and experienced this myself, of being taken to the ‘bottom-of-the-barrel’ of who I am, knowing that I cannot go on in myself, by myself.

    I honestly believe it has to be like this. Before we come to this place, we kind of have our understanding and agenda for what God wants with us and our lives and who He is, instead of allowing Him to bring us to an understanding of Him and Who He is and what He wants with us and our lives – if that makes sense? HE brings us to a reality of WHo He is. We have to realise that ‘I’ cannot and God will often allow us to go down some incredible roads for us to get to that place of surrender – and I am talking about those who are already believers here.

    As you say so truthfully – if we run hard after Him, He runs hard after us. I could leap out my skin with joy at knowing this and having seen it happen, as you and others have in you rlives, in my own life. It is all glory to Him and Him alone.
    God bless you brother 😀


  4. Mike,
    Thank you for this. Romans 12:1-2 is one of my favorite passages as it is my desire to have this in my life. The prescription for the christian life in 2 verses!
    And you are right when you say this is about humility and submission. God gives us this desire to be humble before Him, obey His Word as He commands and enables us to do so. He does not command us to do what He will not provide. Everything comes from Him.
    Isn’t that just amazing? What a God we have!
    Bless you!


  5. Matthew, no, I don’t think perfection is possible in this life. We may get very proficient at killing our sin and denying our flesh, but I doubt if temptation is every very far from us.


  6. Thanks Mike for this post! I have always fel that the Romans 12:1 verse you quoted that man wants to leave out the phrase “in View of Gods Mercy” as he tries to obey.

    That small phrase, in view of Gods Mercy, means so much to me personally!

    Being a living sacrifice without doing it in view of Gods Mercy is little like pounding sand…. it has no purpose and meaning. As Josh stated it becomes the religion of do.. it looks a lot like Christianity but it becomes self-oriented and not Christ oriented!


  7. Jon, in the Greek that statement is much stronger than “in view of God’s Mercy.” In fact, the emphasis is that we do this ACCORDING TO God’s mercy and because of what He has done for us.


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