Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Achieving the Divine Nature

            I am enjoying my study of the New Testament. I appreciate the individual writing style of each of the apostles, and I am quite fond of the Apostle Peter. I found the principle that I would like to discuss today in his writings (2 Peter 1:4-7).

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.

5 And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

            Peter tells us in these verses that we must gain these Christlike attributes in order to become like Christ or to partake of the “divine nature.” As I read the above characteristics, I wondered if Peter wrote them in a specific order. I know that faith, the first principle that Peter lists, is the first principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I also know that charity, the last principle written by Peter, is the true love of Christ and what we must possess in order to return to His presence. However, I do not know the order of the remaining attributes, so I decided to learn a little more about them and went to the Bible Dictionary.

            The first principle of the gospel is faith  in Jesus Christ. It is defined in the scriptures as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). If we have faith, we “have hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21). We do not receive any witness of our faith “until after the trial of [our] faith” (Ether 12:6). So faith is to hope for things that are true but not seen, and the witness of faith does not come until after the trial of faith is over.

            I was surprised when I did not find virtue in the Bible Dictionary, but I found this idea online. A person who has virtue “displays wisdom, courage, kindness, good manners, courtesy, modesty, generosity, and self-control in their life.” He also “perform[s] good acts” and gives “the best of himself.” So the principle of virtue covers a lot of different behaviors and must come after faith in order.

            I did find knowledge in the Bible Dictionary and learned that knowledge is “one of the attributes of God. I also learned that “Knowledge of divine and spiritual things is absolutely essential for one’s salvation.... Knowledge is not obtained all at once, even by revelation, but line upon line, precept upon precept.” We know that knowledge is essential for salvation and that we cannot gain it all at once. This means that the pursuit of knowledge must be a lifelong effort.

            I did not find temperance in the Bible Dictionary, but I found this understanding online. Temperance means to be the master of our own desires and passions and to be in control of our own behavior, including how much we eat or drink. I once asked a stake president why obedience to the Word of Wisdom was so important. He answered that we cannot listen to and be obedient to the Holy Spirit if we are addicted to harmful substances. So we need to have the knowledge of what is right and wrong and then we must be obedient to that knowledge in our words and actions.

            The next principle is patience, for which I again went online for this definition. Patience is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” Its synonyms are: “forbearance, tolerance, restraint, self-restraint, stoicism.” So as we gain knowledge and practice temperance, we must also practice patience.

            This brings us to godliness. Again I went online to find this definition: “the quality or state of being spiritually pure or virtuous.” Synonyms are: “blessedness, devoutness, holiness, piety, piousness, sainthood, saintliness, sainthood, sanctity.” It makes sense that godliness follows temperance and patience because it seems to be the next step to take towards charity.

            The next principle is brotherly kindness. I again checked the Bible Dictionary before going online. I actually had a difficult time finding a simple definition of brotherly kindness because it appears to be the same as brotherly love. “Brotherly love in the biblical sense is an extension of the natural affection associated with near kin, toward the greater community of fellow believers, that goes beyond the mere duty … to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” It appears that it is brotherly kindness that helps us accept everyone into the family of God as spiritual brothers and sisters.

            This brings us to charity, the last of the attributes listed by Peter. I found this definition in the Bible Dictionary: “The highest, noblest, strongest kind of love, not merely affection; the pure love of Christ. It is never used to denote alms or deeds or benevolence, although it may be a prompting motive.” This is the highest Christlike characteristic that is known.

            From the above definitions, it appears that Peter listed the attributes of faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity in a specific order and on purpose. He starts with faith, the first principle of the gospel, and takes us up the steps of development until we reach charity.

            In addition to giving us the Christlike characteristics that are required to achieve the divine nature, Peter also mentions “great and precious promises” that come from developing these attributes. Elder Spencer J. Condie, then of the Council of the Seventy, explains how God’s promises help us to become more like Him.

The Lord’s countless exceeding great and precious promises include forgiveness of our sins when we “confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43; see also D&C 1:32). Opening the windows of heaven is a promise claimed by those who pay a faithful tithe (see Malachi 3:10), and finding “great treasures of knowledge” accrues to those who observe the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89:19).

Becoming unspotted from the world is a promise to those who keep the Sabbath holy (see D&C 59:9: Exodus 31:13). Divine guidance and inspiration are promised to those who “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3) and who “liken all scriptures” unto themselves (1 Nephi 19:23).

The Lord also promised that “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Nephi 18:20). We are promised that the Holy Ghost will be our constant companion when we “let virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly” (see D&C 121:45-46). We can claim the spiritually liberating promise of fasting, which will “loose the bands of wickedness,” unto our “heavy burdens,” and “break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6).

Those who are sealed in holy temples and who faithfully keep their covenants will receive God’s glory, which “shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19)” (“Claim the Exceeding Great and Precious Promises,” Ensign, Nov. 2007 16-17). 

            Elder Condie lists some spectacular blessings that come from obedience to the laws of God. These blessings are the result of what Peter calls, “exceeding great and precious promises.” The greatest and most precious promise of all is the promise that we can become like the Savior. President Ezra Taft Benson references Peter when he says the following.

The virtues outlined by Peter [in 2 Peter 1:5-7] are part of the divine nature, or the Savior’s character. These are the virtues we are to emulate if we would be more like Him (“Godly Characteristics of the Master,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 45). 

            President Benson said that these virtues are “part of the divine nature.” To me, this means that these are the first divine characteristics for us to obtain, but they apparently are not all of them. However, by working to attain these attributes, we can grow to be more like the Savior.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gives this warning about procrastinating our quest to achieve the divine nature.

We easily can be overcome by the routine and mundane matters of mortality. Sleeping, eating, dressing, working, playing, exercising, and many other customary activities are necessary and important. But ultimately, what we become is the result of our knowledge of and willingness to learn from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; it is not merely the sum total of our daily pursuits over the course of a lifetime.

The gospel is so much more than a routine checklist of discrete tasks to be performed; rather, it is a magnificent tapestry of truth “fitly framed” and woven together, designed to help us become like our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, even partakers of the divine nature. Truly, we are blinded “by looking beyond the mark” when this overarching spiritual reality is overshadowed by the cares, concerns, and casualness of the world (“Exceeding Great and Precious Promises, Ensign, Nov. 2017).

            We must not put off the development of Christlike attributes if we desire to become like Him because change takes time. This is one reason why I appreciate the Becoming Projects in my religion classes. We are assigned to choose a Christlike attribute and to make a list of the actions we will take each week to achieve that characteristic. A different action is chosen for each week of the semester, so the growth comes slowly.

            The weekly action item can be small, but it often leads to other achievements. For example, I chose to stop murmuring. The first thing that I noticed was that I was murmuring much more than I thought. The next thing that I recognized was that I could control my negative feelings by noticing when I started to murmur and stopping it before the feelings developed. It is little steps like this that helps us to achieve these attributes.

             I always choose my attribute by inspiration from God, and I am often surprised by the characteristic that He says that I need to develop. However, I understand the inspiration as I work on developing the characteristic. I see little changes in myself, and I gain more understanding of myself as I strive to develop that particular attribute. I am a long way from becoming like the Savior, but I am closer than I was! I highly recommend that all my readers start their own Becoming Project by choosing a divine attribute to work toward over a period of three months. You will be surprised at what you can achieve by the small actions that you take.


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