The New Testament describes believers in Jesus Christ as adopted sons/children who, when they come into God’s heavenly Kingdom, will be like Christ and see the Father face to face. Does this mean that the Christian will come to share in the Father’s nature as do the Son of God and the Holy Spirit? I examine this question.
In Ephesians 1:5-6, we read “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (English Standard Version). The King James Version has “adoption as children.” The original Greek is huios “son;” “children,” however, is in modern times better appreciated. Of course, huios in the verse is meant generically as in “man is the (mis?)measure of all things” (Protagoras).
John MacArthur, in his commentary on this verse says:
“Human parents can bestow their love, resources, and inheritance on an adopted child, but not their own distinct characteristics. But God miraculously gives his own nature to those whom he has elected and who have trusted in Christ. He makes them his children in the image of his divine Son, giving them not just Christ’s riches and blessings but also
his very nature (John 15:15; Romans 8:15).” (My italics).
(John MacArthur Study Bible)
If I were to describe my theology (which is exactly what I’m doing), I would say it comes very close to John MacArthur’s. That is why I was taken aback to read that he says the Father gives his adopted children the “very nature” of Christ. To me, the Father’s “very nature” means I AM (YEHOVA/YEHOWA/YAHWEH).
The term (divine) “nature” for Christians who know their theological oats evokes (divine) “person; the other side of the trinitarian coin: ” three persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in one divine nature (God). MacArthur also says that God (he means specifically the Father) makes his (adopted) children “in the image of his divine son.” So now, there are two descriptions to deal with, namely, the adopted children of God who 1. share in God’s “very nature” and 2. are fashioned in the image of God, the Son; Jesus Christ. Actually they are two aspects of the same concept encapsulated in the question: What does “man is the image of God” mean?
In Genesis 1:26, “God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Hebrew root “dama,” from which we get ADAM). What does the Bible mean by man being created in the image, in the likeness of God? What is certain – if we accept that God is Spirit (of course, when the Word was made flesh,the picture changes) – is that man is composite of spirit and flesh, while God is pure Spirit. What is important is that Genesis 1:26 does not specify what it means by man as the “image of God.” If, however, we examine the rest of scripture, the following human attributes emerge, which man shares with God: creativity, power to reason, power to make decisions, moral conscience and personal relationships. These are called the communicable attributes of God. The attributes that God does not share with man are God’s incommunicable attributes, for example, his omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful) and eternality (no beginning), immutability (unchanging). What does “man is the image of God” mean?
All human beings in their natural state (that is, without God’s saving grace) are the “image of God.” From the Christian perspective, only a redeemed “image,” – one that God has reconciled to Himself – is a child of God.
Now, MacArthur is saying that a child of God shares in the “very NATURE” of God. “Very” means “verily” (veritas), “the very truth,” “it is absolutely so.” How does MacArthur arrive at this description of God’s adopted children? Let’s examine MacArthur’s references of John 15:15 and Romans 8:15 (in his commentary of Ephesians 1:5 above), which he uses to buttress his statement that we share in God’s “very nature.”
“I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”
Jesus says that those who believe in him are his friends. It’s a big jump from being the Son of God’s friend to sharing his “very (divine) nature.” We share Jesus’ human nature, of course.
Here is MacArthur’s second reference, Romans 8:15:
“For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
The verse says “ye have received the Spirit of adoption” (we are adopted through the Spirit) which is what we read in Ephesians 1:5. So Romans 8:15 is not adding anything, and neither giving support, to MacArthur’s idea that the child of God shares in his divine nature.
What about MacArthur’s second statement that children of God “are fashioned in the image of God, the Son; Jesus Christ?”
In Colossians 1, we read of the Son being the “image of the invisible God.” It is through this Image that all things were created and in whom all things hold together. It is abundantly clear that the image in this passage is unique to the Son of God. In a word, this Image has the nature/essence of deity.
“15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…”
MacArthur is, of course, well aware that Christ has two natures, human and divine. So, does MacArthur mean that a child of God shares in both Christ’s (perfect) human nature and in his divine nature, or only in his human nature. By (Christ’s) “very nature,” the suggestion is strong that MacArthur means Christ’s “divine” nature, which becomes almost certain when we back up to read MacArthur comment on Ephesians 1:2 “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (My emphasis).
MacArthur’s commentary on 1:2:
Grace to you and peace. A common greeting in the early church that Paul used in all his letters. God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. From them came the authority with which Paul spoke (v. 1) as well as the blessings of grace and peace to all believers. The conjunction “and” indicates equivalence; that is, the Lord Jesus Christ is equally divine with the Father. (My italics).
We obtain more clarity, and a different twist (in the right direction, I suggest) of MacArthur’s position in his commentary on Ephesians 3:19, “and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
MacArthur’s commentary (my italics)
filled with all the fullness of God. To be so strong spiritually, so compelled by divine love, that one is totally dominated by the Lord with nothing left of self. Human comprehension of the fullness of God is impossible, because even the most spiritual and wise believer cannot completely grasp the full extent of God’s attributes and characteristics—his power, majesty, wisdom, love, mercy, patience, kindness, and everything he is and does. But believers can experience the greatness of God in their lives as a result of total devotion to him. Note the fullness of God here; the fullness of Christ in 4:13; and the fullness of the Spirit in Eph. 5:18. Paul prayed for believers to become as Godlike as possible (Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:15–16). (My emphasis).
That’s it John: “believers can experience the greatness of God in their lives as a result of total devotion to him.” And we pray that we and other believers “become as Godlike as possible.”
1 Peter 1:15-16 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Traditional Judaism of which a large part is mystical Judaism (Kabbalah, Chassidus) teaches man’s soul (neshamah) is a piece of God . Not any human soul, though; only the Jewish soul. The problem is that “only righteousness or personal merit entitles a man to be called a son of God” (Kauffman Kohler in his ““Jewish Theology”). So a Jew, who is purported to be by nature a piece of God, but lacks personal merit is not entitled to be called a son of God. What we then have is an impersonal relationship between spark and fire. What else can one expect between an unthinking, unfeeling, will-less (in a word, impersonal) spark and its source? SEE NOTE BELOW.
The Eastern Orthodox church speaks of deification:
“Eastern Orthodox theological thought regarding humanity, sin, and redemption has always revolved around the concept of theosis. The doctrine is also called deification or divinization …. Simply put, theosis means being deified or becoming like God. Theosis connotes participation in God’s nature while maintaining a distinct human nature … Theosis is held by the Orthodox to be the chief end of Humanity. Humans were created for deification” (Clendenin, Daniel B. “The Deification of Humanity: Theosis”, Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1994, 120).
Most Western Christians turn away from the term “deification.” It does not mean, as the quotation above explains, that a believer participates in God’s “nature” (his incommunicable attributes) but that the believer is glorified in Christ, which itself is an astounding thing – that we are made glorious in God; that the Christian becomes Christ’s “brother”. The Bible, though, is clear about this. If you, as a Christian can’t wrap your head round that, get a new head, or at least renew your mind, as the Apostle Paul admonishes you to do.
Comment from a Jew to JewsforJesus
“I cannot understand how you claim to be Jews and yet your belief that Jesus is somehow God is just the opposite of what Judaism teaches. I used to think that you believed that Jesus became so holy that he became a god. Now I understand that Christians teach that God became a man instead of a manbecoming a god, which is nevertheless inaccurate. (A Look at the Trinity From a Messianic Jewish Perspective
So, there are now three permutations:
1. Every Jew (whose mother is Jewish) has a Jewish soul, and is, therefore, a a “piece of God above,” and thus a child of God.
2. A Jew becomes a child of God through his meritorious striving for holiness; where there is no mention of becoming a “piece of God.”
3. A Jew becomes a god (God?) through his meritorious striving for holiness (obeying the 613 laws).