This painting goes with thought 2. It’s an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the theosis of the saints. What is “theosis”? See THOUGHT 2 below.
THOUGHT 1: “To really live”
What does it mean to really live? A religious scholar asked Jesus a similar question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” If I were to put “eternal life” in my own words, I would think of it as life that is not bound by a particular time or season or set of circumstances but is forever life, full and rich and deep forever.
Well, Jesus turns the question back on this scholar and asks if he can find the answer in the Law of Moses. The man can. He answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him he answered correctly and then says, “(D)o this, and you will live.”
So this is life, eternal life: loving God (with my entire being) and loving neighbor as myself. So simple, yet so terribly difficult for me to do. Impossible for me to do this.
But I am not asked to do this and then left powerless to actually do it.
The Nicene Creed refers to the Spirit of God as the “giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…” Jesus, immediately after he was resurrected and reunited with his followers, breathed on them. This is the same breathing found in Genesis, when God “breathed” into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and in Ezekiel when the breath of God causes the bleached bones to live again!
I sometimes feel like a clod of dirt or like a pile of dry, dusty bones. I am not enlivened with the love of God and neighbor. I find myself, like the religious scholar, asking, “And who is my neighbor?” and then shaking my head at my inability to love the person God points out to me.
But I have been breathed on! I have been given the gift of the Spirit by the Father and the Son, and the Spirit “gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6) to me—fills me with love for God and neighbor! New Testament scholar Gerald Hawthorne wrote, “The significance of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus extends to his followers in all of the little and the big things of their existences. … Jesus has freely and lavishly given (the Spirit) to those who would be his disciples today!”*
To live eternal life right here, right now—to live like Jesus among and with all people! Give us life, Holy Spirit, to live like that!
*The Presence and the Power by Gerald Hawthorne, p. 242. Also found on Amazon.com.
THOUGHT 2: “Justification by faith AND becoming like God”
Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen describes the differences between the Eastern and Western wings of the church in the third century in this way: “The Eastern tradition expressed itself in Greek, and its distinctive doctrine of salvation was conveyed in the terms of deification or divinization (from the Greek term theosis, “denoting God”), which means “becoming like God.” The Western wing of the church, with its center in Antioch, used Latin and focused primarily on moral obedience and justification by faith.”*
That fascinates me! I was raised in a church culture that was very focused on justification by faith and moral obedience, so the idea of having my Christian faith expressed as “becoming like God”—that through Christ’s work and the Father’s love and the Spirit’s presence/power, I am being made more and more like God (2 Peter 1:4)—this still feels like a very strange thing but also a beautiful thing! Does anyone else identify with this?
*The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction, p.72
I found a couple of helpful blog posts when I was googling “theosis.” I’m including the links here in case anyone would want to explore further. Both are very readable.
THOUGHT 3: Three reading suggestions on the Trinity
I am reading Trinity Matters: In Faith, Work, & Love (…and even theology) by Steve Dancause right now. If you are at all interested in reading about the Trinity, I highly recommend Dancause’s book, along with Darrell Johnson’s Experiencing the Trinity and Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. All are readable, filled with joy, and concerned with concrete implications and applications for followers of Jesus—both individually and corporately.
Here are just a few quotes from the first few pages of Dancause’s book to whet your appetite.
“If we don’t deep down trust that Jesus is God alongside the Father, then why would we obey his commands? For example, why would we love our enemies—an extremely difficult thing to do—when it is easier to model our treatment of enemies on Old Testament passages that we find easier? And if we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is God alongside the Father and the Son, then why would we submit to the Spirit’s desire to transform us?”(230/3415, Kindle edition)
“The Church faces catastrophic decline in the developed West. Even in areas where some churches seem to be thriving, our general reputation is woeful. Why? Because we (the Church in Western society as a whole) don’t follow the teachings of Jesus as paramount. We prefer sectarian politics, sacred tribalism, legalism, academic philosophy, or a health-and-wealth gospel over a radical faith in Jesus who is God and perfectly reveals God’s character. We have settled for weak views of the Trinity.” (238/3415)
“If we have seen the Father, it is because we have seen him through the Son, and if we have received the Holy Spirit, it is through the faith of, and our faith in, the Son. There is simply no better place to find God than in Jesus. In Jesus, we are invited into the life of the triune God who exists as an eternal act of perfect love. In Jesus we see clearly not only what God looks like, but also what true humanity looks like. Since Jesus is fully human, sin, separation, and death no longer define human nature for those who are in Christ. Jesus is indeed more human than we are opening the way for us to live into our own human fullness.” (292)