Main article: Divine Life and Eternal Life
Divine life is a term Bible students use to refer to the most basic form of spiritual life from God. In our fallen condition, we do not have any capacity to perceive, understand, or respond to the claims of God. We are in a condition of spiritual deadness; “you, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). Until God does a sovereign work in us, we will remain in that awful condition. But when God does take that action (called new birth or quickening), we receive a new life from God that we did not have before, and a new nature that has the capacity to apprehend God’s truth. This life is from God, and it has godly desires and motives.
Modification of Divine Life. Divine life is modified by the character in which God reveals himself to a saint, and by His dispensational dealings. In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself as a Moral Governor, by His name Jehovah. He placed Himself in a covenant relationship with a people on earth. The law made Israel His servants, and did not teach them about salvation in an eternal sense, but only how to obtain God’s favor on earth. A.C. Ord said “as His earthly people representing His rights in government they had enemies to fight with, and could even rejoice in their overthrow, and be used in their extermination.” We might wonder, as New Testament saints, why it was so “natural” for David to kill his enemies, and so “natural” for us to love our enemies? We have the same Divine life, don’t we? Yes, but that same Divine life has been modified by a fuller revelation of God, which is peculiar to our dispensation. David was in relationship with Jehovah, and we are in relationship with the Father. This is why when Jesus was on earth, the disciples were expected to (and the faithful ones did) own Him as the Messiah. Their understanding of God through the scriptures caused their thoughts (rightly so) to be connected with the earthly kingdom, and the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel. This was why they had such a hard time understanding the Lord’s death. The cross seemed to contradict all their hopes. This is also why the Lord was so patient with the disciples, for their ignorance. In fact, John the Baptist was so discouraged by Israel’s rejection of himself and of the Lord that he sent to Him, saying “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matt. 11:31). So, the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than John, because Christians walk by faith without looking for any outward display of power. However, the same basic features of Divine life are the same across dispensations. Some examples of these common characteristics might be: faith, repentance, desire after God, obedience, and dependence.
Divine Life falls short of Full Christianity because of various limitations:
- Limited knowledge of Divine things.
- Limited power to walk in a Divine path.
- Limited communion with Divine Persons.
Limited Knowledge. The Old Testament believers had Divine life in common. However, this common life did not make Old Testament saints one. It did not unite them. The law made no distinction concerning who was a child of God and who was not. The law said; “this do, and thou shalt live,” and no one could keep it. The result was, there was no bright testimony for God until Jesus died. Up until the cross, God’s children were not gathered in oneness: they were “scattered abroad” (John 11:52). It was the work of Christ that gave the children of God the right to take their place of relationship with God.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to be children of God, to those that believe on his name; who have been born, not of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s will, but of God.” John 1:12-13
The work of Christ has given the children of God the right (or excuse) to take the place of accredited relationship with God and with one another. The death of Christ is what gives us the right to say “I am in a relationship with God, I know Him as my Father, I am different from this world.”
For the Lord’s disciples, it wasn’t until the Lord breathed into them Eternal life in the power of the Spirit that they could really understand the scriptures in their fullness. The indwelling Spirit is the great Interpreter of scripture. The Spirit of God is the one that teaches us spiritual truths (1 Cor. 2:12-13), and guides our understanding of the Word of God (John 16:13). My point is simply this; Divine life (without the Spirit) is limited in knowledge of the things of God.
Limited Power. Not only is Divine life limited in knowledge, but in power as well. The new nature, which a person receives by new birth, does not have the power to act on its good desires. Hence, the powerless feeling of the man in Rom. 7, who wants to please God, but doesn’t have the strength. In Rom. 7, the struggling man learns of the two natures. His conclusion is that the old nature is fighting his new nature, and that the old nature wins every time.
“I see another law in my members (old nature), warring in opposition to the law of my mind (new nature), and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin (old nature) which exists in my members.” Rom. 7:23
The desire to please God (new nature) is only half the solution. He needs power to walk (the indwelling Spirit) to get deliverance from the old sinful nature. Just as a car engine requires gasoline to perform, so the new nature needs the power of the Spirit to perform.
Limited Communion. Divine life enables a person to connect with God by faith (i.e. the “faith frequency”, Rom. 1:17), but it does not place the believer into abiding communion with God. In order to enjoy common thoughts with the Father and the Son, believers need something more than Divine life! We need Eternal Life. Eternal life is the same life that we have by New birth, but in a new character.