What is salvation?
In my first post in this series I proposed the below chart as a way of answering that important question. In this post I will comment on the second sector (2). I debated with myself (which is an interesting thing to observe :-)) whether to proceed numerically 1, 2, 3…. or to proceed temporally (talk about all the past dimensions, then the present, then the future). I finally decided on the numerical method because in this series I ultimately want to emphasize what is usually neglected, that is, the cosmic (and often the communal as well).
|Personal||Forgiveness of Sins and Relationship with God (1)||Moral (Inner and Outer) Transformation (2)||Resurrection of the Body (3)|
|Communal||One Body of Christ: One New Society (4)||Reconciliation and Social Transformation (5)||The Fullness of the Kingdom of God (6)|
|Cosmic||Resurrection and Exaltation of Jesus (7)||Redemptive Emergence of New Creation (8)||New Heaven and New Earth (9)|
Sector 2 identifies salvation as a present experience of “moral,” both inward and outward, transformation into the image of Christ who is the image of the invisible God. Personal sanctification is the process of becoming like Christ.
I put “moral” in quotation marks because I don’t want to simply identify this transformation by ethical virtues and practices (‘good works”) though it is a significant part of what I am attempting to describe. The danger is to reduce our transformation to “doing ethics” rather than “being Christ” and to claim the power of this transformation as rooted in our own moral efforts rather than in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Becoming like Christ entails moral transformation through the fruit-bearing power of the Spirit in our lives. We struggle against the “flesh” (σαρξ). There is a conflict or war inside of us. Indwelling sin battles against the indwelling Spirit so that we are often conflicted and we sometimes do not do what we want. Personal sanctification is a progressive though imperfect struggle against the sinful nature. We are neither perfectionists nor moral defeatists in this struggle–it is a battle that can be won only on the ground of the work of Christ and by the enabling presence of the Spirit but it is a hard-won victory through cooperative grace. The presence of the struggle reveals the presence of Spirit-enabled life. Through moral transformation we are saved from the debilitating power of sin.
This moral transformation is not limited to our inwardness, but is relational and kingdom-directed. It is practicing the kingdom of God just as Jesus did. It is becoming Jesus inwardly and outwardly.
But personal sanctification is not simply about moral transformation, struggle and victory, that is, defeating sin in our lives and being filled with the Spirit. It is also about being–living in communion and fellowship with God, participating in the mutual indwelling life of the Triune God. The Orthodox call personal sanctification theosis, that is, “defification.” It is an ancient characterization of life with God which goes back to at least Irenaeus in the late second century. It is reflected in 2 Peter 1:4 through the language of becoming partakers of the divine nature. We do not become ontologically divine (that is, we do not become infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, etc., so that we are God), but we experience the divine and become participants in the divine community.
Theosis includes moral transformation but it also includes ultimately participation in divine immortality (that is, glorification). Additionally, it includes a present experience of sharing the divine life and communion. It is about being–living, sharing, communing–with God. Theosis even claims that believers may seek and experience a union with God that is analogous to Jesus’ own transfiguration, that is, believers may enjoy momentary experiences of eschatological communion through inward transfiguration even now as foretastes of what is to come. In other words, we may know God in ways that are beyond knowing and experience the depth of God’s love in ways that go beyond mere cognition (Ephesians 3:14-19).
God is certainly present with us in the now, but our awareness of that presence and communion is limited by our own brokenness and busyness. Spiritual practices, such as solitude, still our minds and hearts in ways that open up the fuller reality of God’s presence with us and enable us to experience the joy of our future blessedness even now. Theosis envisons not only our moral transformation into the likeness of Christ but opens our eyes to see that God draws us into the experience of divine union through the Holy Spirit who cries “Abba” in our hearts.
Our personal present salvation, then, is not only about moral effort (cooperative grace) but also about existential participation in the divine community. Our present salvation is about participation–participation in mission of the kingdom of God and participation in the Triune communion.
Though this participation we become Christ(ians) in the world.