Last Sunday we looked at the ascension of Jesus, which worked out quite well given that last Sunday was Ascension Sunday—the Sunday after Ascension Day. Since Easter is always on a Sunday and since Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after his resurrection, Ascension Day is always on a Thursday, yet many churches celebrate the ascension on the following Sunday. In that sermon we saw that the ascension of Jesus was no mere postscript. It was not the epilogue after the big climax of the story, much like the wedding of Aragorn and Arwen at the end of “The Return of the King”. You gotta wrap up the loose ends of a story, right? That is not what the ascension is. The ascension was the coronation of King Jesus where he ascended to heaven in a cloud to sit down at the right hand of God, having all authority in heaven and on earth and under the earth. As we saw, this exaltation of Jesus was not granting the Son of God glory and honor that he never had. Rather, it was granting this glory and honor to the God-Man who will forever be God and Man, united in one divine Person, the Son of God. By entering into the Father’s presence on our behalf, having lived and died for the sins of his people and now risen from the dead, Jesus, the eternal God-Man, ushers us into the presence of God for all eternity. (If you missed this sermon, you may watch and/or listen here).
Throughout our series in the Gospel According to John, we saw that the work of Jesus was always directed toward granting us life in God. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.Galatians 2:20 ESV
Salvation is the liberation from sin and death and evil. It is redemption, for God has purchased us out of sin and death to be a people for his own possession. Salvation transfers us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son (Colossians 1:13). As Paul says above, salvation is the life of God living in us. Peter wrote more about this in his second letter.
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
It is God’s divine power that saves us and transforms us. This comes with “precious and very great promises”! Then Peter says something strange: “so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature”. As Hilary wrote in the fifth century,
Just as God stepped out of his nature to become a partaker of our humanity, so we are called to step out of our nature to become partakers of his divinity.Hilary of Arles, Introductory Commentary on 2 Peter
God the Son took on the form of a human—he participated in what it means to be human—so that we could participate in the life of God. We don’t become God, for that is impossible. We will always and ever be mere creatures, yet we are being transformed into something amazing. Bede explained it this way:
The greater your knowledge of God becomes, the more you will realize the magnitude of his promises. When God blesses us, he changes our very being so that whatever we were by nature is transformed by the gift of his Holy Spirit, so that we may truly become partakers of his nature.Bede, On 2 Peter
Too often we limit salvation to a change in status. It becomes a ticket to a destination. One is either saved and therefore headed to heaven at death, or one is not and ends up in hell. There is a sense in which this is true, only the destination is not heaven, but God himself (just as hell is less a destination and more the absence of God for eternity; see 2 Thessalonians 1:9). Rather than a ticket to the afterlife, salvation is a divine rescue from death and a steady movement into the life of God. As Bede put it, God’s incredible promises are such that we are transformed in our very being by his Holy Spirit. We often refer to this process as sanctification. God is working to set us apart for himself, that we would reflect our status before him more and more. When he justifies a person through faith in Jesus, that person receives the status before God as holy and pure, yet God works in the life of that person to make him or her actually holy and pure. This process of sanctifying takes a lifetime, and it is the work of God in us through his Holy Spirit. We participate in the life of God!
Notice, however, that these precious and very great promises of God come with a command:
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.2 Peter 1:5–7 ESV
Because God’s promises are precious and very great and because God has granted us to partake of the divine nature, to be infused with the very life of God in increasing measure, we must make every effort to add to our faith. As Paul put it in Philippians 2:12–13, we must work out our salvation, knowing that it is God who is working in us to do this. God is the author of salvation, and salvation is his work of granting us life in him, thereby transforming us to be like him. This is why Paul could write about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5; where the Spirit is, his transforming activity is, and his transforming activity makes us more like God, thus we become more loving and joyful and patient and kind and good and faithful and gentle and self-controlled. While this is the fruit of God’s work in us, we must also work, as Peter instructs us. We must make every effort to supplement our faith by pursuing those qualities that reflect who the Lord is and what he is like. Leo summarized this well:
Realize your dignity, O Christian! Once you have been made a partaker of the divine nature, do not return to your former baseness by a life unworthy of that dignity. Remember whose head it is and whose body of which you constitute a member!Leo the Great, Sermons 21.3
God has rescued us and claimed us as his own. Through Jesus we are adopted into the family of God, which grants us an incredible dignity. Because we share in God’s divine nature, we must begin to look more and more like him and less and less like what were once were.
This brings us back to the ascension of Jesus. By him ascending to heaven as God and Man, we are able to be united with God. Jesus sent us his Spirit to dwell among us, that we might receive that “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). The Spirit’s work in us is to transform us as we partake in the divine nature. Realize your dignity, O Christian! Leave behind your former way of life, for that is not what ought to characterize a son or daughter of the King of kings. Together, let’s pursue our identity in Christ by making every effort to become what we are in Christ. Let’s pursue the risen and ascended Jesus.