Theosis, updated

A Little Leaven posted this yesterday:

For those of you who don’t recognize it, this is a reference to a statement by St. Athanasius of Alexandria from On the Incarnation, “God became man so that man might become God.”  Now, this will probably get a number of evangelicals’ undies in a bunch, but this is not heresy, if understood in context. The concept of theosis or deification is not that man can become God in essence, but rather it is the understanding that through the incarnation, God being joined to a human nature, as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we too are beings in which the human and the divine are being joined. It is the process of sanctification, or of simply becoming God-like, “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Cor. 3:18)  A rather pedestrian approach would be to say, “Jesus became in the likeness of man so that we can be made into the likeness of God.”

Not merely an Orthodox or Catholic teaching, deification was also an element of Martin Luther’s theology.  Whereas the Roman approach to deification seems to make theosis a certain “level” of holiness to be attained, Luther was closer to the Eastern viewpoint in that theosis is an act of redemption, the process of being saved; and, like justification, it is a complete act of grace. At the same time, while it is an act of grace, deification is “worked out” in praxis (as James says, faith without works is dead). In a Christmas sermon, Luther stated:

For the Word becomes flesh precisely so that the flesh may become word. In other words: God becomes man so that man may become God.

Even Calvin alluded to theosis when he wrote

This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us…

Calvinists, however, tend to speak of “progressive sanctification,” a much more obscure and boring title.

I’m not sure that “Jesus was downloaded so we can be uploaded” is sufficient, especially if all you mean is that Jesus came to Earth so that we can escape to Heaven, which represents a very deficient eschatology (though I have a feeling that this, indeed, is what was meant by the poster).  But, as we consider the anthropological implications of the incarnation (that is, the effect that the incarnation has on man), we can take this to heart. Because in Jesus God became human, in Jesus we are now able to become Christlike.

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