Salvation: Sector 2

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.

13 Responses to “Salvation: Sector 2”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    this must be extremely difficult,John mark. Just to compartmentalise a synergy.
    that sounds good to me.
    i hope that it is a word?
    you know like synergistic.
    any way
    blessings rich

  2.   Rabbi Rick Says:

    Would you agree that glorification is ontological? or not? If so, could not divine nature [2 Pet. ] also be ontological, or at least become ontological in the eschaton?

    I do miss you!

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      If by “ontological” we mean assuming an ontological status of possessing the divine essence so that we become infinite, omnipotent, etc., then I don’t think so. This would undermine the oneness of God since we would become equal in status with the One God.

      Rather, I think of it more along these lines. We become one with God through communion, through shared love as we become particpants in the Triune dance (perchoretic) of love. This is our union with God. In that sense we participate in the divine nature–the active, communing love the Father, Son and Spirit share in their inner life into which we are invited and in which we experience the “essence” of God through through their active loving.

      This is analogous to the traditional Orthodox distinction between the essence of God and the energies of God. We do not participate in the former, but in the latter.

      Ultimately, as I will talk about in the next post, we are glorified as humans in a new creation, a new humanity. We do not become, in my opinion, ontologically “God.” But we do share in the divine love and communion, join the divine community as adopted children and thus become “gods.”

      •   rich Says:

        How about john mark if we throw in 1 cor 13:0 In conjunction with Revelation 21:23 And the light being all there will be in this new heaven and earth?Anyways there wont be any more questions.We will all be bathed in the knowledge of the presence of the father.Blessings on this day of fellowship.Rich.

      •   rich Says:

        P.s. oops… 1cor13.10.

      •   rich Says:

        Rats rev. 22.5/1COR.13.10

  3.   rich constant Says:

    ya know john mark
    their seems to me that just as in doctrine there are touch stones of development that keep me subjectively balanced,that does not mean at all that i personally do not have blind spots in my perspective. which is scary in itself.
    which will in time develop in a skewing of a major characteristic of the person of Christ that we seek in ourselves,and will ether humble me or lead me on to further fragmentation of character.
    as an example.
    being me in my development a conservative noninstitutional brother,
    i have HAD a predisposition to challenge doctrinal issues aggressively.(which I might add has thoroughly caused me tooo many issues in personal development,basically a disconnect, a very bad cultural hermeneutic of debating love through leaglism as i had been taught another blind spot in community) boy oh boy
    knowing this i laughingly have one or two guys from men’s group set next to me(they so to speak slap me up the side of the head,hay it works for me and we have fun doing go0d work in daughter says dad stop MAKE IT A POST NOTE)…

    ballanced basics my brother the touchstones of salvation
    thanks again john mark

  4.   rich Says:

    P.s. As a compared to ,2 years ago, are those debates with yourself a bit more refreshing,as they are me?! Are we having yet! What does being blessed mean, compaired to the word i missed FUN RICH

  5.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    In his book “The Mission of God”, Christopher J. H. Wright suggests that we need to be asking what is the “ultimacy” of God’s mission rather than what is the “primacy.” I think “ultimacy” and “primacy” are helpful catagories for thinking about salvation as well (of course there is a relationship between salvation and mission). If we would learn to ask what is the ultimacy of God’s salvation, rather than the primacy, then perhaps there would be an easier connection made to all of these quadrants (especially the communal and cosmic) in churches where the salvation question that has been asked for the last century has been the primacy question.

    Grace and peace,


  6.   Rabbi Rick Says:

    Regarding your comment, “ontological status of possessing the divine essence so that we become infinite, omnipotent, etc.,” Does the divine essence not include holiness, love and purity? If so, do we not possess these ontologically at the eschaton? [But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.] What is your view of the divine essence and omniscience and 1 Cor. 13:12, τότε δὲ ἐπιγνώσομαι καθὼς καὶ ἐπεγνώσθην?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Certainly love, purity, etc. are part of the divine essence, and I do believe we experience those gifts as we participate in the divine life in the eschaton as we are conformed to image of Christ. I do not believe we will become omniscient in the eschaton, however. I think 1 Cor. 13:12 is a reference to a clarity of knowing rather than the muddled knowing we now have.

  7.   rich constant Says:

    a-big amen to that one, john mark,what a chore this is…

  8.   rich constant Says:

    although what i do think is, that our theological predispositions are blinding us to the extent that we cannot see the forest fore the tree.
    most of this should have been exposed long ago.


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