This is a chapter from the manuscript I have recently finished. It is copyrighted, so no stealing! (Why anyone would steal sub-par writing is beyond me). I am currently having a group of people look at the manuscript and edit it, but I have yet to find a publisher. If anyone knows a publisher that might be interested, please send them my way.
THE HOPE OF LOVE
Becoming like Christ through Theosis
For far too long, many Christians have thought of salvation as nothing more than being saved from Hell while others have viewed salvation as nothing more than becoming enlightened to the needs of the world and subsequently working to fill those needs. For the first type of Christians, we must wonder why God doesn’t just snatch them up to Heaven? If the sacrifice of Christ was nothing more than insurance against Hell, then immediate rapture would make sense upon coming to Christ, considering life after Christ is worthless. For the second type, we must ask why Christ had to die. He had many years ahead where He could have brought about even more good. Either His death was superfluous to our salvation, or it was an accident (that is, not planned by God). Either way, His death becomes meaningless.
The reason there is so much confusion about salvation is because Christians have forgotten the idea of theosis. To many, this is a foreign word. Theosis is the teaching that salvation is the process of becoming divine. This isn’t meant in some “New Age” way or that we actually become God though. Rather, it is more akin to the Protestant word “sanctification” or “Christ-like.” St. Maximos the Confessor states the act of Theosis as such, “All that God is, except for an identity in being, one becomes when one is deified by grace.” Thus, we do not gain the identity of God, but instead become like Christ. To engage in theosis is to enter into the community of God (the Trinity); we begin to become holy so as to be acceptable to this community.
The teaching of theosis coincides with the Bible’s declaration that Christ did not just come into this world to punch our ticket to Heaven; He came that we might have an abundant life (John 10:10). This abundant life doesn’t mean Christ came into the world so that we could be rich or have all the material items we desire. This would be a self-centered Gospel, which is counterintuitive to the self-sacrifice of Christ, who’s example we should follow. The abundant life, rather than one of material good, is one that is moving forward to become a part of the community of God.
It must be understood that Christ is the only way to partake in the community of God. In John 14:6, Jesus Christ describes that He is “the way.” The Greek word that John uses (hodos) means, when used metaphorically, the course of conduct and the proper way of thinking. Socrates, Plato, Cicero, and all other philosophers have pointed to a way of conduct that would produce a happy life; Jesus said He is the way. The goal of all philosophy has been to find the way to a happy life, whether through virtue, justice, or simply by knowing ourselves. Jesus looks to Cicero and declares, “I am virtue.” He looks to Socrates and says, “You can’t know yourself without knowing me.” He looks to Plato and says, “I am justice.” Jesus is the only way to have a good life.
Recovering the Image of God
What does it mean for Christ to be “the way” though? How does one live Christ? Paul teaches that to “live Christ” means we are to be made into His image (Romans 8:29). And there it is, that is what it means for Christ to be the way and how to follow Him. We do not look to abstract virtues (though these certainly help and we should know them) as the end to living the good life. We do not accumulate “things” and money in order to have the good life. If we want true happiness in this life, if we want our purpose fulfilled, we look to the life of Christ and begin to live as He lived.
Living as Christ did is so much more than “What Would Jesus Do?” Such a phrase indicates that we try to guess how Christ would act in any given situation. This is not what it means to follow Christ, because this keeps Christ as a moral example. Through theosis, we have the Spirit within us; God resides in us so that we might be like God. This means that living like Christ did and conforming to His image is a moment-by-moment action. We must constantly beseech the Holy Spirit to guide us and direct us on how to think and act to the point that such thoughts and actions become natural.
The action of theosis is necessary because the image of God within us is tainted. As we learned, by damaging this image we lost our purpose in life. However, by being conformed to the image of Christ, we are repairing the image of God within us (1 Corinthians 15:49). God is slowly restoring us to what we were always meant to be (Colossians 3:5-10). This means that those in Christ should never have to “find themselves” or wonder what their purpose in life is. Their purpose in life is to become like Christ; they are to find themselves in Christ.
This all means that just as Christ was crucified for our sins, we are crucified to Him and to ourselves (Matthew 16:24). Who you are before Christ is not who you are after Christ. You die just as He died, for this is what it means to be conformed to His image (Colossians 2:20). This change isn’t immediate, but instead it takes place over time, sometimes with it seeming easy, and other times it seeming stagnate. This is normal in the Christian life. But it doesn’t change the fact that overall our wants, our desires, everything we want that is not in accordance with His Will will pass away. How often do we have to hear Christians say, “Well this makes me happy and God wants me to be happy, so it has to be good”? It is in our fallen natures that we think all things that make us feel good must be good. This is one of the biggest indicators that we have failed to die to our old nature.
Thankfully with all this talk of death, Christ does not leave us as death. He does not call for the sacrifice of ourselves and then leave us to be mindless zombies walking around handing tracts out to everyone we see. That is not what it means to be conformed to the image of Christ. Rather, we are resurrected with Him in this life (Colossians 3:1-4).
Part of being resurrected in Christ is that we are to seek the things that are above, not the things that are here on this earth. This doesn’t mean material things are evil or “lesser,” merely that we are to seek God in all situations and use all material things to glorify Him. St. Augustine explains it best:
Therefore, the very same things [physical things, i.e. money, tools, material items] are used in different ways by different people; some use them badly and others use them well. Someone who uses them badly clings to them and becomes entangled with them. He serves things that ought to serve him, fixing on goods that he cannot even use properly because he is not himself good. But one who uses these things rightly shows that they are good, although not good for himself. For those things do not make the one who uses them good or better; in fact, they become good by being put to good use. And so someone who uses them well does not become attached to them. They don’t become limbs of his soul, as it were…so that when these things begin to be amputated he is not disfigured by any pain or decay. He is completely above such things, ready to possess and make use of them when there is need, and even readier to lose them and do without them. Since this is the case, you must realize that we should not find fault with silver and gold because of the greedy, or food because of the gluttons, or wine because of the drunkards, or womanly beauty because of the fornicators and adulterers, and so on, especially since you know that fire can be used to heal and bread to poison.
When we are raised in Christ and begin to conform to His image, we should no longer worry about the things of this world. Susan has better clothes than you on the first day of school? What does it matter for you have a relationship with the King of all that exists? Bob drives a better car than you? Why does this mean you must despair or try to get a better car than Bob? As St. Augustine points out, why do we serve the things that should ultimately serve us? We are above such things, but we are below God, so it makes sense that we are to utilize the things to our service, and in turn only serve God.
In the World…
There is no denying that even after we accept Christ, we are still in the world. Many people have attempted to take Christianity out of the world. The extremists were the Gnostics who attempted to deny all things that had to do with physicality. The modern versions are the Christians who only want to shop at Christian stores, who form a bubble between their home and their church. But how is this being conformed to the image of Christ? He was in the world, He participated in the world, and He did not shy away from the struggles that came with being in the world.
Being in the world means that the points of separation caused by the Fall have been restored. We are no longer at odds with each other, with ourselves, and with nature because, being conformed to the image of Christ, we seeking reconciliation in these three areas.
Reconciled to others –
By being conformed to the image of Christ, we are being reconciled to others. Christ was quite explicit that in order to be His disciple, we must be willing to love others.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-46)
Christ is clear – our duty is to be reconciled to our fellow human beings. This is more than just being a “nice person” or always having a smile on your face. It requires a complete shift in how we act towards other humans. It means abandoning the idea of “the bottom line” in business transactions. It means taking pity on those who suffer in this lifetime (James 1:26-27). To be reconciled with my fellow man means that I must constantly be selfless and always looking to put his needs above my own (Galatians 5:13-14).
Do we Christians even come close to fulfilling this idea of selflessness? When we think of the stereotypical conservative evangelical, how quick are Christians to support war or other activities that end human life? Though violent activities are sometimes necessary, such as in the defense of one’s nation or of another, why do we celebrate these actions? The death of an enemy soldier, though potentially necessary, is still evil. In fact, the necessary evil of war only accentuates the disaster this world has become. Saying that violent acts are sometimes a “necessary evil” isn’t a defense for a just war; it’s a somber reminder that we’ve come to depend on evil.
In Christ, however, such dependency is lifted. We are in love with our fellow humans even when they hate us. We try to reconcile ourselves to them, regardless of our differences. This requires compromise in some situations or even a willingness to die for one’s convictions, but the path of Theosis is not supposed to be an easy one.
Reconciled with ourselves –
The beauty of about the resurrection of Christ is that we can be found in Christ; we no longer have to go off on long hikes in Europe to “find ourselves.” We need merely look to Christ and we can find ourselves. The reason for this is that we are raised in life in Christ so that we might be conformed to His image.
We know who we are because we know who Christ is. We put our ego aside; in fact, we kill our ego and instead find who we are in Christ. Most pop psychologists should hate Christianity because Christianity is extremely anti self-esteem. Christianity teaches that low self-esteem is actually good common sense; we’re fallen and the only good to be found in us is that which has resided in God’s image. Other than that, why should we be proud of ourselves outside of Christ? Why should we take pride in offending God? Thus we die to ourselves and find who we are in Christ. We gain our esteem in Christ and then have esteem in who He has made us to be. The only way to “find yourself” or overcome the separation of yourself from yourself is to find Christ.
Reconciled with nature –
The idea that we have to be reconciled to nature is one of the harder points for Christians to accept, but only because of modern connotations of the idea of being reconciled with nature. Reconciliation with nature, through the Christian worldview, is not some pantheistic or environmental movement though. It simply means we recognize nature as God’s creation and seek to treat it as such. In Christ, we reclaim our position as steward of His creation and take hold of proper dominion of the Earth. We should stop polluting because, after all, what is pollution if nothing other than the over production of goods, caused by the over consumption of goods? If we are not to pursue the things of this world, then overproduction should not occur.
More than that, however, Christians should appreciate the beauty of nature more than anything else. We should not have to slap a Scripture verse on a painting of nature in order to make it “holy.” Nature is already holy because God made it. We should be attempt to preserve His beautiful creation when we can because we love Him and now have our purpose in Him. What sense does it make to spend all our time and effort proving that God created all things seen and unseen if we abuse His creation? To be reconciled with God is to be reconciled with what He has created.
…But Not Of the World
Though as Christians we are being reconciled to others in this world, it is important to realize that by being in Christ we are also not of this world. This is because, ultimately, we are being reconciled to God. Because we are being reconciled to God, we are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:14-16). This means that we can no longer live like the world lives. We cannot be chameleon Christians, living as the world does and only mentioning Christ in Church or whenever we have some guilt for not sharing Him with other people. Our lives must be different from the ethics of the world (1 John 2:15-17).
Now I must use a word of caution when saying that we don’t conform to the ways of the world. In a like manner, we don’t become “that Christian” who everyone knows is a Christian by the bumper stickers on our cars and shirts that we wear. Being separate from the world doesn’t mean we leave a tract instead of a tip at restaurants or that we take every opportunity in life and turn it into a witnessing opportunity. Jesus did not say that the world would know us by the worship songs we sing, the t-shirts we wear, or the stores we shop at. He said the world would know us by our love for one another, but this love begins with holiness, which is to be separate from the ethos of the world.
To be of a different ethos than the world means that every aspect of who we are in our vocations, our friendships, and marriages is changed. In fact, everything about us is changed. Every second of every day we are to display Christ and avoid acting like the world. We put the desires of Christ first all the while putting ourselves last in every situation. This selfless attitude is antithetical to most worldly ethics, at least in the modern West.
Living like Christ is not enough though; we must also think like Christ and not like the world. I once heard a Christian tell me that he did not believe in the resurrection of Christ because it didn’t fit with the naturalistic philosophy of most scholars. Evidences for the resurrection aside (and there are plenty), this young Christian forgot the command of Colossians 1:8, that we are not to be led astray by worldly philosophies. Why? We must never forget that the philosophies of the world are created in autonomy to God and are therefore foolish (1 Corinthians 1:25). Rather, we should accept the philosophy of God where the wisdom and love are wrapped up in the person of Jesus.
In order to have proper actions we must have proper thoughts. We must renew our minds to the purpose of God (Romans 12:2). Proper thinking only makes sense in the context of becoming holy; where our minds go so go our actions. This means that our minds must always be on the things above so that while we live in this life (Colossians 3:2) we might hopefully bring this world a taste of Heaven. At the very least, by thinking like Christ we might become like Him.
The Process of Salvation
Though it is easy to say we should think like Christ and live like Christ, the sad reality is that we will continually fail. 1 John 1:10 says that if we claim to be without sin then we are calling God a liar. Our desire to sin is why Christianity, at times, can actually cause us to be depressed. We know how we should act, but we fail. Even Paul said, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:15).” We will fail, we will be bad examples, we will say one thing and then do the other. There is no Christian who can escape this reality; but this doesn’t justify just giving up. We can’t adopt some sort of Christian Nihilism, where we realize that no matter what we’ll sin at some point, therefore why try.
We cannot let the despair of our sins overwhelm us. Though we are weak, He is strong. Though we fail, He succeeds. Though we feel we may never recover from a sin we have committed, He is faithful and just to forgiven our sins (1 John 1:9). He will complete the work He had begun in us (Philippians 1:6). This doesn’t mean we’re free from responsibility – for if we sin He will discipline us (1 Corinthians 11:32 and Hebrews 12:6-7). God’s faithfulness simply means that He will complete this good work in us, that He will not let us wallow in our guilt, but will instead restore us if we are willing to seek Him and ask for His forgiveness.
At the same time, His faithfulness is no excuse to sin. Just because our sin brings about His grace does not give us an excuse to sin even more (Romans 6:1-2). We are called to be holy because we are being reconciled to Him. What child disobeys a parent so that after the discipline, the child can get a hug? Why not just behave and get the hug without the punishment? Likewise, why sin so we can experience God’s grace when we can live by the power of His grace without sinning?
Before we can be reconciled to other humans, to ourselves, or to nature, we must first be reconciled to Him. We do this by seeking repentance, which means we turn away from our sins (2 Corinthians 7:1). We should turn away from our sin out of love for God; not out of fear of His discipline, not because we feel obligated to, but because we realize that when we sin we dishonor and hurt God and, because we love Him, we don’t want to do that to Him.
The Point of Reconciliation
Why is it important that we are reconciled to God? If we are already going to Heaven and are forgiven why does it matter that we live a life that glorifies God? On a more human level, the reason is that we are the evidence that God exists. How we live demonstrates His truth (Hebrews 12:14). Likewise, people know God by our love for other humans (John 13:35). Our lives are the best evidence that God exists, that He can take those at war with Him and turn them into those who love Him. Therefore, when we continue to live in rebellion to God after we belong to Him, how are we proving He exists?
More importantly, we should be reconciled to God because we love Him. What lover asks why he should be reconciled to his love? It is such a superfluous question! If someone must go, “Why should I act in love toward the one I love,” then such a person should be slapped upside the head because something isn’t working. Unfortunately, as Christians we often take the attitude that, “So long as I ask for forgiveness, I’m alright.” We ask, “Why do I have to live a holy life? I’m already going to Heaven.” This ignores the fact that we are to fall in love with God; we have entered into a relationship with God, which means we are to love Him. The reality is that if we’re not becoming more like Christ, if we aren’t engaged in the act of Theosis, then we might want to rethink our plans on the afterlife. The One who spoke all things into existence has opened up a way for you to love Him, why not take it?
Everything that we do in this life should be guided out of our love for Him (Matthew 22:35-40). Everything you do, whether it be feeding the poor, putting spread sheets together for your boss, clothing the naked, or working a drive through window should all be done out of love for God and for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). There is no such thing as a “private faith” – if you are in love with God then He will shine forth in everything you do.
In seeking to glorify and love God we will naturally begin to love others (1 John 4:11). When we love God we will love those made in His image. When we love God, we will love the person of a different race. When we love God, we will love our enemies. When we love God, we will love the unlovable. When we fail to love others it merely demonstrates our failure to love God (as Christ said in Matthew, to fail to love others is ti fail to love Him). We will know how much we love God by how much we display our love for others; that truth should frighten us.
The center of Theosis
Everything I have written up to this point makes sense, but still seems fragmented. For instance, it makes sense that we are to conform to the image of God and in doing so, we’ll grow in harmony with our fellow humans. But what is the central aspect of this?
The biggest problem in Christianity, aside from not understanding the Trinity, is that we don’t understand love. Because we don’t understand the Trinity or love, we fail to properly understand Theosis. The reason for this is that Theosis is the outpouring from understanding both the Trinity and love. I believe that in order to understand Theosis and to put in practice what I have written above, one must understand love within the Trinity. If we understand what love exists within the Trinity, we can then attempt to duplicate that love (though imperfectly) in this lifetime. In fact, it is only in duplicating this love that living like Christ becomes a reality.
We must be aware that the love within the Trinity has existed for eternity. Just as the sun is always begetting light, yet is inseparable from light, so too has the Father eternally been begetting the Son, yet is inseparable from the Son. This indicates an ongoing relationship between Father and Son, with the Holy Spirit eternally proceeding from the Father (c.f. John 17:21). The love within the Trinity is eternal. Christ even says as much in John 17:24 when He states, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me h before the foundation of the world.” The eternal begetting and procession indicates an ongoing relationship within the Trinity.
The key aspect within this Trinitarian relationship is selflessness and sacrifice. We learned in the beginning of this book that the very act of Creation was one of God’s acts of love towards humanity, as creation was a sacrifice. But even within the Trinity there is an attitude of selflessness, with the person of the Son and the person of the Spirit submitting to the person of the Father. Though it might be popular in today’s world to forgo the idea of obedience being a sign of love, the Trinity casts off the view of the world and instead defines love for us.
The greatest example of Christ’s submission to the Father is Matthew 26:39, where Matthew writes, “ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” In this moment the Son faces a horrendous death at the hands of the Romans and He knows fully what this will entail. Yet, even in this moment of despair He willingly submits to the Father. His sacrifice is not only to us, but to His Father as well. The Father, in turn, sacrifices His creative possessions and gives them to the Son (Matthew 11:27). John 14:16-17 shows how the Father acquiesces to the request of Christ to send the Spirit and how the Spirit submits to the command of the Father to go. Certainly the Father holds the authority in the Trinitarian relationship, but even still He is selfless with the Son and the Spirit because He loves them perfectly.
All three persons are God, which is to say, all have the essence of God and are therefore one, but all three are persons and are distinctive. This is a mystery that, unfortunately, I do not have space to explore. What is important to recognize is that all three are persons, meaning they have wills. Christ had the will to ask for the Father’s cup of wrath to be removed. The Spirit too has a will as well (1 Corinthians 12:11). This means that the three persons of God choose to be selfless with each other. The Son chose to follow the Father and submit to His plan. The Father chose to listen to Christ and out of love for His Son, sent the Holy Spirit as a comforter to us. In all of this, love is demonstrated either in submission or in selflessness. Both, along with sacrifice (which can be the ultimate act of selflessness) demonstrate the center of love; what says “I love you” more than trusting someone enough to submit to that person’s will, or being so connected with someone that you put their needs before your own?
This idea of submissive love baffles the modern mind because to the modern thinker, to submit is to be weak. To have someone submit to you is to have power, and to the modern mind power is something that is inherently abused; no love can exist within a relationship where one has authority over the other. But this simply is not so, in fact, without such boundaries, love cannot exist.
To be fair to the modern world, we usually witness submissive love between fallen individuals, which can and does lead to abusive situations. We see submissive love practiced improperly, which can often distort our view of submission. But seeing something done improperly doesn’t mean the idea is necessarily wrong. For instance, if we were to watch a person try to use the steering wheel of a car with their feet, this wouldn’t mean that driving a car is inherently flawed; it would only mean that we are flawed.
It is the proper use of love that is central to the act of Theosis. In loving God we seek to become more like Him. To demonstrate this, imagine a child watching her father. She will emulate the actions of her father and seek to live as he does and have his character. She does the right thing because her father does the right thing and she seeks to be like him. She knows there are consequences for doing the wrong thing, but she obeys her father out of love rather than out of fear of the consequences. This is what it means to engage in Theosis; we love God so much that we seek to do the right thing in order to be like Him. In doing so, we ultimately join in the fellowship of the Trinity.
This love is not purely between God and man. Above we learned about how the act of Theosis reconciles us to our fellow humans and ourselves. This is because we take this idea of selflessness and apply it to our relationships. We no longer approach relationships in a “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” mentality, but rather we selflessly help people, expecting nothing in return. We demonstrate our love by helping people simply because they are people. To grow in Christ means to grow in love because the two are one in the same.
Not I, but You O Lord
The entire point of Theosis is to get over us, to rid ourselves of ourselves. We are the problem and the problem cannot fix the problem All of this is done with the power of the Holy Spirit, God within us.
When we are in Christ we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). He indwells us so that we can live for Him. All of our good works, all of our movements, are through Him. The ideal spiritual life is the one where we sit back and pray to the Holy Spirit and say, “Work through me as You will.” The same Spirit who hovered over the depths of the earth at creation aids you in your daily walk (Ephesians 1:18-19). This means that all things are truly possible for the child of God.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is both a one-time act and a continual act. It is a one-time act in that we have been received into the fellowship of the Trinity once we recognize the proper place of Christ. At the same time, we must constantly ask the Holy Spirit to show His power within our lives; the act of living like Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit becomes a moment-by-moment act.
How do we become conformed to the image of Christ? We rely on God Himself, on His Spirit, to enter into our lives and give us the power to live for Him. The road to living like Christ begins on our knees in prayer asking for the Spirit to kill us and raise us up in Christ. That is the hope of love; that God loves us enough that He is willing to perfect us by residing within us.
 Agustine. On Free Choice of the Will. Trans. Thomas Williams (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993). P. 26
 Unfortunately, war is still necessary, but we should be prudent and somber in going to war.
 Some might take exception to my statement that we can hurt God, but we know that the Spirit is God and that we can grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). Logically, God is three persons and to be a person is to have feeling. To create beings lesser than Himself who are also persons whom He loves, but also free-will beings, He opens Himself up to be hurt.