In my previous post, I made a few comparisons of Christianity and some world religions concerning human unity with God and with one another.
You could say it this way: in trinitarian Christianity, the relationship between God and humans is gracious rather than inherent. Our soul or spirit (in Hebrew nephesh) is not God within us but is an aspect of our God-created nature. Our original intimacy with God has been lost because of sin. Nevertheless, God gathers us into a saving relationship---because God's very nature is to be "for us," pro nobis. Likewise, Christ's human nature is not something alien to his divine nature, because of God's desire and purpose to be in relationship with us.
When we look to Christ (and meditate on scriptures like John 14 and 17 and Ephesians 2, which I discussed briefly in the last post), we begin to understand his unity with God the Father and God the Spirit. Consequently, we understand ourselves to be in unity with one another, not because we share a God-soul but because the love of Christ (in his death and resurrection, and in the advocacy of the Holy Spirit) broke down barriers between us and God and between other people. God gives us the gift of eternal life and the gifts of love for God and for one another. Altogether, unity with God and with one another are wholly gifts of God.
Christ's Ascension (that Sunday is May 20th this year) and Pentecost (May 27th) tie together. In the John 14-17 section, Jesus teaches his disciples (and prays for him) that he must leave (die, rise, and ascend to the Father) in order to fulfill God's plan of salvation. But the Spirit will come and will remain with the disciples forever. In fact, the Spirit is how we have a relationship with Christ today; we may wish we'd known Jesus in the flesh but we're actually closer to him today!
I'm still thinking about that expression, "partakers of the divine nature," in 2 Peter 1:3-4. As I've done research on Pentecost for one of my freelance assignments, I've noticed that passage cited elsewhere---the way you start to notice a word used in other contexts after you first hear it. In The New Interpreter's Bible (volume 12: Abingdon press, 1998), Duane F. Watson writes about this passage, "It is through Christ's power--power that he shares with God--that Christians have everything needed to live a godly life... The gift of possessing everything necessary for a godly life comes with the personal knowledge of Jesus Christ obtained at conversion, when the Christian responds to Christ's call through his glory and goodness (i.e. divine power)."
He goes on to say that "knowledge," epignosis, is essential for Christian conversion, but knowledge of God also derives from conversion and subsequently informs our Christian growth. He notes, too, that we see a Hellenistic Jewish idea here that the soul escapes the corruption of the material world and gain incorruptibility and eternal life with God. (p. 336). He writes: "Knowledge of Christ is a lifelong process, learned through living the godly life in relationship with him (1:5-7; 3:18). This knowledge can also be described as having 'known the way of righteousness' (2:21 NRSV), which Christ's life exemplifies" (p. 337).
The idea of a lifelong relationship with Christ consequently led me back to those Ascension and Pentecost stories in Acts 1-2, and to connect them with John 14 and 17. I liked what another commentator in The New Interpreter's Bible wrote about this passage. Robert W. Wall notes that we all face the question that the original disciples faced: how do we live as disciples, now that Jesus has departed? He interestingly notes the difference between Acts and Paul's letters on this topic. In Acts, he writes, "discipleship is defined in terms of an active witness to the risen Jesus rather than a deeply affecting relationship with him." But "[w]hile any biblical definition of discipleship must include those prophetic tasks in continuity with what Jesus did and said," he argues that a reader of Acts might overemphasize the first disciples' responsibilities compared to "the centrality of an abiding relationship with the living Jesus....We live in an activist's age in which participation in good deeds is keenly encouraged, even demanded of the 'committed person.' For this reason the biblical interpreter must take care to bring together the 'task discipleship' of Acts with the teaching of a more contemplative pattern of discipleship from, for example, John's Gospel (John 14-17), where God's Spirit is given to cultivate an intimate relationship with the living Jesus" (page 44 of volume 10 of The New Interpreter's Bible, Abingdon Press, 2002).
Nevertheless (Wall continues), "The church routinely neglects teaching believers that they live in the realm and under the influence of a more mission-minded Spirit whose presence empowers and effective, responsible witness for Jesus in the world." But "[t]he substance of what we proclaim and live as good news [including spiritual unity, community prayer and community fellowship, as seen in Acts 1:15-22] must first of all be grounded in a community that is given over the constant prayer and worship." But also, as he notes just a little later, "the interpreter must aim at a balanced theology of the Spirit that includes Paul's teaching of its transforming spiritual and moral effect in the individual's life" (p. 46).
Here again, we see how our relationship with one another, and our responsibilities for one another, are grounded in our relationship with Christ and his redeeming, love-creating Spirit.