Deification / Theosis: Better than Mere Image Bearing

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. John 16:7

The kernel postulate of this post is simple. Deification/Theosis is far better than mere image bearing, and Jesus taught His Disciples that fact, when He revealed the procession of the Holy Spirit.

“In Christ:” Spirit Baptism

Notice a repetitive formula in the New Testament letters: “in Christ.” It is much more prevalent than “Christ in you.” Still, both formulae present the concept of a believer’s new identity—a new creation, brought into being by the grace of redemptive regeneration, through faith in Jesus for it. Why is a new identity “in Christ” necessary, and what purpose does it serve? Answers to those questions arise, when one examines human nature (theological anthropology).

All Christian theologians agree humanity was originally created in the Image of God, or Imago Dei. However, not all theologians agree regarding the current state of human nature. Below is Lamb’s Harbinger’s assessment (perhaps too simplified or generalized) of the conundrum, followed by the theological solution. Note that both views (though at odds with one another) end up with the same theoretical, ideal Christian moral psychology/ethic. However, only one of those views can accommodate the far better situation of Deification/Theosis, as compared to mere image bearing.

The Intact and Renew View

Some of the more progressive and liberal-leaning theologians answer the “why” about the Christian’s new identity in overt ecclesiastical (faith community) terms. They disagree that humanity is inherently flawed in nature, as proposed by Augustine’s notion of Original Sin. They do not believe the Imago Dei is in any way directly affected by the phenomenon of what the Apostle Paul describes as Adam’s disobedience. Yes, people do sin, and shalom (cosmic peace, between God and mankind & between humanity and creation) has been shattered by human sin. Yet, shalom has been restored through the death of Christ. So, Jesus, by His Cross, exemplifies to a “forgetful” humanity what it means and looks like to faithfully embody the Imago Dei as a human; and also, by the Cross of Jesus (a.k.a. Atonement for sin), God caused all humanity (and earthly Creation with humanity) to be reconciled to Himself.

Thus, humanity only needs to become aware (by degrees) of the self-sacrificial Cross work of Jesus and renew their understanding of their true nature (i.e. innate dignity, the Image of God), in which they were and are made. Only the Christian Church is the community of faith, which teaches this. To be apart from said community reveals a lack of understanding and no assurance that one is illumined by grace (not yet with the redeemed). Likewise, one can only best embody the Imago Dei by being in community with others of the Faith, in the Christian Church (a.k.a. “in Christ”), which by worshipping and following Jesus as Lord, together works to prophetically cry out against and to self-sacrificially & collectively work against systemic evil: injustice, inequity, oppression and destruction… because this peacemaking, justice warrior lifestyle is consistent with the pattern of Christ and His (now present) Kingdom. Matthew 5-7 describes it best.

Automatic Possession

Sometimes, “Intact and Renew” theologians will say that Christ causes humanity to automatically possess the benefits of redemption by His Cross and resurrection; or to the other extreme, they may be tempted to say Jesus did not die to benefit all of humanity, only the redeemed (ex. Augustinian Reformed). When espoused, these teachings are very harmful.

The first line of teaching does harm to the identity (coherence and semblance) of the Christ community. If all are already reconciled to God and possess an unflawed Imago Dei, then all are Christ’s already. Communion of the saints and forgiveness of sins are cheapened. Why leave Buddhism (for example) in order join in fellowship with Christians? Why disciple and baptize? What need is there for resurrection with Christ? from what should one repent?

The second line of teaching would do harm in logically asserting some humans exist only to be damned. Then, God is a monster, and his elect are bigots.

The Innately Distorted and Remade View

Other theologians answer the “why” about the Christian’s new identity by a more realist view of humanity. It is admittedly most associated with evangelical Protestantism but it also finds manifestation in ancient works, like Augustine and Irenaeus. The image of God in mankind was marred or distorted at the phenomenon of Adam’s disobedience (i.e. humanity joining a cosmic rebellion of evil spirits, Genesis 3-6; Romans 5:12-19), identifying humanity under them, rather than under God. Thus, that identity change flawed humanity innately (in our ability to resist selfish and destructive desires perfectly & in alienating humanity from God with regards to offenses), all to the effect that direct and unbroken communion (from humanity toward God) was made impossible. This state is labeled “fallen self.” Moreover, humanity (in the disobedience of Adam) abdicated its original, God-given and superintended regency of Creation, handing it over to the rebellious & malevolent spirit beings, whom (later) came into full exercise of ruling power over the nations of the world, because mankind so chose.

These same theologians (hailing back all the way to the 1st Century A.D., see Didache) assert it is necessary, before and/or at Baptism, to renounce Satan and all his works—including the “fallen self” or old humanity (“in Adam”)—and receive (by confession of belief & allegiance) Jesus of Nazareth as the delivering and conquering Messiah, the rightful King of All Creation. This combined renunciation and annunciation is the “Repentance toward God and Faith in Jesus Christ” required for regeneration. It is a response toward God’s call to switching allegiance and identity, made possible by His own gracious provision. Only by this obedience to the Good News does one enter—as a member of a new humanity—the community of Faith, the Body of Christ, the Church. After entrance, one continues a new and living way by collectively pursuing and exercising this new human identity “in Christ.” Believers are individually and collectively prompted (and even compelled) to live the Christ Life: selfless, harmonious love with God and fellow humans, promoting peace and working against injustice and oppression (to demonstrate love for one’s neighbor) …and faithfully, responsibly stewarding Creation, as it should have been from the beginning, until the Day that full redemption of all believers and Creation at the return of Christ and the physical institution of a now only spiritual kingdom. Matthew 5-7 describes it best.

Universal Provision

Sometimes, proponents of the “Innately Distorted and Remade View” affirm a universal provision of Atonement, as opposed to automatic possession of the Atonement’s benefits. The salvific benefit/efficacy of Christ’s Atonement is appropriated as grace (free gift to the offender by the offended) by faith (humble reception of the gift, motivated by belief in its need and in the goodness & greatness of the Giver; Eph. 2:8-9). Opponents will rightly argue that Augustine’s Original Sin makes devils out of infants. As a result, some have resorted to infant baptism in remedy of this; yet others assert the Federal view of Adam’s disobedience cannot be imputed until actionable offense is committed. While none but the individual knows when he/she becomes conscious of conscience before God, the Bible does affirm each person, with or without God’s Law, can accuse or excuse self by conscience (Romans 2:15). Thus, many have regarded the ability to express repentance and faith a requirement for obtaining redemption. Before then, innocence prevails.

Deification / Theosis is Better than Mere Image Bearing

Whichever view is chosen by the reader, Lamb’s Harbinger (LH) sees and advocates the Innately Distorted and Remade View as more tenable and represented in the Gospels and New Testament Letters, and in the most ancient (paleo-orthodox, post-Apostolic) documents. But more than that, LH sees that only the Innately Distorted and Remade View preserves the “in Christ” formula, when pairing it with Jesus’ statement about the benefit of the Holy Spirit’s procession. In other words, the Spirit was not sent merely to baptize us into the Person and Body of Christ, but also, to make possible the repeated, mystical infusions of Christ Himself into our own persons.

Which is better, to bear the Imago Dei or to participate in the direct influence of the indwelling Christ, via the Holy Spirit—to become a “partaker” of the Divine Nature?

Theosis/Deification: (See also works by C.S. Lewis, John Wesley, and Keswick Theology) is the Christian understanding that, at regeneration, the believer is re-made in the inner person, fitted with the ability to “partake of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4, 3:18; Heb. 12:8); and thus, the believer’s latter state (after regeneration) is better than the original created state of humanity. Partaking in the Divine Nature, as Theosis demonstrates, is far better than possessing only an appointment and responsibility to reflect Divinity in one’s own power, even if human nature were not Innately flawed. The betterment emerges in so much that, before Adam’s disobedience, humanity was never indwelled by the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

For the Distorted and Remade View, the Imago Dei in mankind’s nature was originally pure and untested. At Adam’s disobedience, humanity became “tainted” or “fallen” or “marred” but, upon regeneration, every human is spiritually refashioned in such a way that one’s identity is re-unified with God & also is enabled to “participate in Christ.” This is admittedly a mystical union and can only be experienced mystically—that is to say, through practicing interaction with (being influenced by) the Divine (The Father via Jesus via Holy Spirit, See Romans 6-8; Galatians 2:20; 5). The degree to which one intentionally participates is proportionate to the degree of spiritual formation / sanctification.

________________________

OTHER RESOURCES:

In What Ways are Believers Partakers of the Divine Nature? | Got Questions

Universalism and “The Devil’s Redemption” | Jesus Creed

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