We must tread here with extreme caution. The operative word is φύσις (physis), most commonly translated "nature" and "instinct", etc. For a word that only occurs 14 times in the NT, its BDAG entry is quite extended showing that it is used far more outside the Bible. BDAG gives four basic meanings for this word, only the first two of which concern us here:
- condition or circumstance as determined by birth, natural endowment/condition, nature, eg, Gal 2:15, Rom 2:7, Eph 2:3, Rom 11:21, 24.
- the natural character of an entity, natural characteristic/disposition, eg, James 3:7, 2 Peter 1:4, Gal 4:8.
Notice that this word does not occur in Colossians and so Col 1:16 and 2:15 will not be discussed. However, another idea is closely related - the meaning of μορφή (morphe) in Phil 2:6, 7 is related but importantly distinct - more on this later.
Thus, φύσις (physis) describes the natural character of someone and is at the crux of the Christian message. It is about how a person displays their character or nature (see Matt 5:14-16). Paul goes to some length to tell us in unmistakable terms that were are by nature all sinners (Rom 3:10-18, 23, 5:12-19) and incurably sinful. John does the same (1 John 1:8, 10). See also Jer 17:9, Heb 3:13, Eccl 7:20, Eph 4:22.
By contrast, there is only one righteous One, Ezra 9:15 - YHWH God almighty, Himself. However, we are asked to "participate in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) and avoid those who are by nature not gods (Gal 4:8) - what does this mean if we are all sinners? It means two things:
- Distance ourselves from the devil and his temptations who are described as the (patently false) god of this world (2 Cor 4:4) who is described as the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan is the very essence and "father" of all who are by nature/character not gods. The false idols, falsely called gods by pagans also fit this category because of the hideous acts they inspire. See quotes below.
- We must become like Christ (Rom 12:1, 2) by being miraculously transformed into His likeness (2 Cor 3:18) and thus have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16, Phil 2:5) and take on His loving nature.
The Bible describes numberless ways to be like Christ; here is a short sample -
- Jesus was led by the Spirit Matt 4:1. The Christian must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25, John 6:63, Phil 3:3, John 4:24). In fact the whole life of Christian is to put aside the “psychical” mind and live by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 15:44-46, Gal 5:17, Jude 19, John 6:63, 1 Peter 3:18).
- Love as Jesus loved. John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2.
- Lay down life for friends. John 15:13, Eph 5:2.
- Jesus’ suffering leaves us an example. John 16:33, 1 Cor 7:28, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21.
- Because Jesus was persecuted, so are His followers. John 15:20, 21.
- Conformed to the likeness of the Son. Rom 8:29.
- Transforming our will and bodies to conform to God’s will. Rom 12:1, 2.
- Jesus was baptised (Matt 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21, 22) and so should we be baptised, Matt 28:19, Acts 2:38, 10:48, 16:31, 22:16, Rom 6:1-9, etc.
- Forgive as Jesus forgave. , Matt 6:12, Eph 4:32.
- Be imitators of God. Eph 5:1.
- Be holy as Jesus is holy. Lev 11:44, 45, 1 Peter 1:15, 16.
- Be pure as He is pure. 1 John 3:3.
- Partakers of the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:4.
- We are being changed into Christ’s glory (= reputation/character/nature). 2 Cor 3:18.
- Pray as Jesus prayed. Luke 11:1.
- We are to have the mind of Christ. Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16.
- Be kind because God is kind. Luke 6:34, 35.
- Be merciful because God is merciful. Luke 6:36.
- Be servants to others as Jesus was. John 13:15-17, 1 Peter 4:11b, Matt 20:24-28.
- Be patient as Jesus was patient. 1 Tim 1:16.
- Talk/speak as Jesus speaks. 1 Peter 4:11a.
- Be “perfect” (= mature and generous to enemies) as the Father is. Matt 5:48.
- Husbands should love their wives as Christ loved His people and gave Himself for her. Eph 5:25.
Again, this is not a process that we do ourselves - we cannot. It is a miraculous work done on our characters, to change our natures to be imitators of Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit, with our consent.
It is this divine miracle of the transformation of our natures that become called "children of God" (Gal 3:26, 1 John 3:1, 2 10, 5:2, Rom 8:14, 16, 9:8, Phil 2:15, etc.)
Several commentators arrive at similar conclusions about false gods.
Them which by nature are no gods.—The gods
of the heathen are called by St. Paul “devils.” (See 1Corinthians
10:20 : “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to
devils, and not to God.”)
which by nature are no gods — “This is a true description of the idols
worshipped by the heathen, for either they had no existence, being
mere creatures of the imagination; or, if any of them existed, they
were dead men, or evil spirits, or the luminaries of the heavens, [or
other creatures of God, as most of the idols of Egypt were,] deified
by human folly: and being destitute of divine perfections, they were
utterly incapable of bestowing any blessing whatever on their