Theosis: Does Christmas Make Men Gods?

Sometimes you’re reading an old Church Father or something along those lines when you suddenly feel the need to stop in your tracks because you hit a quote like this one from St. Athanasius:

For the Son of God became man so that we might become god.

If you’re not from an Eastern tradition of Christianity, you might think that sounds heretical.Then there are other statements like of Irenaeus: “If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods,” or of Augustine: “But he himself that justifies also deifies, for by justifying he makes sons of God. ‘For he has given them power to become the sons of God.’ If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods.” 

So what does this all mean? Were the Church Fathers just raving heretics who missed important doctrines like monotheism and the Creator/creature distinction? Were they basically the predeccessors of New Age charlatans? I’m going to say “No,” and if that seems indefensible I will go on to explain why, and what the line of thought they’re talking about has to offer us today, specifically from a more Reformed perspective.

The doctrine we are specifically dealing with here is called theosis (also deification or divinization). Broadly speaking, the term just refers to a creature somehow becoming more like a god. For Christian theology in particular it is about a way of looking at salvation focused on our union with God. So what exactly does theosis mean in that context?

First, I should point out that despite the strong language in those quotes I just provided, none of these people thought that humans were somehow going to become equal to God, members of the Trinity, secondary deities, or anything along those lines. What they actually meant is more nuanced. They all believed that there is and can be only one true God, and that humans can’t just become another one, or something just like Him. So we can ignore the initial fear and try to find the reality that the writers were pointing toward by using deification language. Specifically, I will look at this from a Reformed perspective, through the lens of union with Christ.

In Reformed and Lutheran circles, doctrines of theosis are sometimes called Christification to emphasize that we are not dealing with some generic turing of men into gods but that what is happening in theosis is the transformation of humanity into the pure image of Christ, who is the image of God. Theosis means that through Jesus we participate in the life and glory of God, and that is where we find salvation.

What does this mean more specifically? I’ll break it down a little more clearly. Man by his mere flesh, his nature without God, has no true life or glory. He is little more than a smart and emotionally complex monkey. He will pass away after a brief, absurd, and often miserable existence filled with sin. His life and glory can come only from God, only from His ability and call to display the image of God. The glory of God is the true life of man. But because of sin, man is separated from the glory of God. This leaves him with only death and misery.

Jesus came in to resolve this problem. Being Himself God, He took upon human nature so that in His person there could be a humanity who is truly the image of the invisible God. Jesus, being that image unstained, lived a human life which was completely filled with the glory of God both in His power and in His holy character. Unlike Adam, He carried out that union of man’s life and God’s glory all the way to the grave and even back. Upon returning in a victorious resurrection, He was glorified as a renovated human being. His resurrected humanity far surpassed the old, mortal kind. It was and remains filled to the brim with God’s life and glory. Jesus is therefore what God looks like as a man. Jesus’ glory as the resurrected Lord is the human version of the glory of God. He is the image of the invisible God, and the only person in whom human nature has been able to align perfectly with divine nature (though without the two being mixed up together). To reiterate in one more way, in Jesus God’s glory has been translated into a human glory, a glory owned by the risen Christ.

The result with Jesus, then, is this: in Him there exists a form of humanity that far surpasses our fallen, sinful state, and even surpasses Adam’s state in Eden. It is filled with more life, glory, and power than man has ever known because of His union with God the Father through the Holy Spirit.This is humanity grown up, perfected, and exalted as God’s partner in love. This is not by any power inherent in mere humanity, but by grace alone, the free grace of the Son in choosing to become man, the free grace of the Father in resurrecting and glorifying His Son, and the grace of the Holy Spirit in binding this all together by His sovereign power. And by this grace Jesus has formed a kind of humanity which, compared to us in our current state, is so exalted and like-God to possibly justify calling it deified humanity, man become god.

Now, because of this new kind of human existence which Jesus alone possesses by nature, a special union between God and man, the rest of us are invited to join in. But we are called by grace alone through a union of faith with Jesus in the Spirit. And in this union we are transformed. We get to participate in the new, glorious humanity of Christ. We are conformed to the image of Christ (thus Christification), who is the image of God. So by the Spirit we become like the Son who is the exact expression of the Father. In this way we also come to be filled with and to express God’s life and glory. The glory of God became the glory of the man Jesus, and by our union with Him it becomes our glory as well. This is, in the end, our salvation. By our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit, we commune with God so much as to become like Him in a supernatural way which transcends the natural possibilities of anything else in creation. As Peter put it, we “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), not to become literal equals to God or sub-gods but to become in our human existence what Jesus is in His human existence, an existence which is created and animated by His divine nature.

The focus, then, is all about union with Christ. Theosis, in a Reformed key, is a way of saying, on the basis of Scripture alone, that by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone we are radically transformed and exalted from our totally depraved human existence to a state which lives by and expresses the glory of God alone. By the Spirit and word we know Christ, by Christ we know God, and by knowing God in Christ we are conformed to His image to His glory unto eternal life (2 Cor. 3:18, 1 Jn. 3:2, John 17:3).

This naturally makes for a great Christmas meditation. In theosis, everything has to go back to Christmas. If Jesus did not incarnate, if He did not enter our human existence as an infant in Bethlehem, then there would be no union between God and man, no restoration of human nature by the glory of God. It all began with the Son of God becoming a Son of Man, so that we might become sons of God. On Christmas, we find that by Jesus’ grace He partook in our nature, so that by the same grace we could partake in His.

Or, perhaps as Clement of Alexandria put it, “The Word of God became man, that thou mayest learn from man how man may become god.” Merry Christmas, children of God!

Theosis: Does Christmas Make Men Gods?

Assorted Thoughts on Christmas

The title here is as descriptive as they get. I basically have a bunch of random thoughts about Christmas. I could write them all as separate posts and try to elaborate and go into loads of detail, but why do that when it’s almost Christmas and you have people to see, presents to wrap, and plans to make? So here you go, assorted thoughts on Christmas from yours truly:

  • The way I see it, the question about “the meaning of Christmas” is rather pointless. Christmas is too big and straddles too many groups and cultures to even have a single meaning. It it’s not something laid out by God’s will in Scripture, so we have no basis for saying it even has to be about Jesus, though of course it’s great if it is. The more important question, in my mind, is “What will you make of Christmas?” or perhaps even, “What will you make Christmas mean to people in need?”
  • Following somewhat on that point, I personally tend to see basically two Christmasses as my personal framework. To me, there is the celebration of Jesus’ birth as one thing, and the common cultural traditions as another thing, both of which happen to be called “Christmas.” I enjoy each one in its own way and as its own thing. I love to think about the significance of Christ’s birth, and to call the world to think about the Savior. In a mostly independent way, I love the air of cheer, joy, friendliness, presents, trees, lights, and celebration. The two can overlap somewhat, but I nonetheless enjoy each part of Christmas in its own right.
  • I think Christmas is a very interesting phenomenon. What drives massive portions of the human race to calm down a bit on the hostility, celebrate peace, exchange gifts, and try to be a little happier than usual? It seems to be something that came along apart from the celebration of Jesus’ birth, so what led everyone to do this once a year? Why aren’t we mostly the same all year long? What power lies behind this kind of global day of the good that something like the Christmas truce could even happen? It’s all rather odd to me, and I cannot help but think that God intervenes, at least a little bit, to give us this time of year. Who’s to say that snow angels aren’t really angels?
  • Why was Jesus born? “To save us from our sins” is the usual answer. So I’d like to ask next, “Would Jesus have come if the Fall never happened and we didn’t have sin?” This is an interesting question, and I believe myself that the answer is “yes.” A neglected part of our theology of salvation is how essential it is for God and man to be united in the person of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Eternal life is not merely the biological reality we would have if we never sinned; it is the life of eternal communion with the Triune God, a life given to us through the Holy Spirit and created by the life of Jesus, the only person in whom divine life and human life are always and completely united and reconciled. So even without sin, I’m convinced that we would not have eternal life without Christmas. Jesus was always destined to be the one Mediator, the Reconciler, the Firstborn over all creation, God’s Word in flesh.
  • I think most churches should take a far more active role in bringing Christmas blessings directly and personally to the people of their local communities. Not just giving money and/or outsourcing to another organization. Not just contributing to a Christmas charitable thingo. Not just shoeboxes. Actually getting out, taking gifts of many different kinds, and sharing the love of Christ face-to-face with loads of people. Not just cheap gifts, either. Nice gifts. Gifts like you would want someone to give you. It’s like that one rule Jesus taught. What was that, again?
  • “Away in a Manger” seems to imply the heresy of Docetism. Just sayin’.
Assorted Thoughts on Christmas

The Miracle of Christmas, From the Bible

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God
He was with God in the beginning

All things were created through Him,
and apart from Him not one thing was created
that has been created

Life was in Him,
and that life was the light of men
That light shines in the darkness,
yet the darkness did not overcome it
The true light, who gives light to everyone,
was coming into the world

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation
For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities
— all things have been created through Him and for Him
He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together
He is the beginning,
the firstborn,
so that He might come to have first place in everything

He was in the world,
and the world was created through Him,
yet the world did not recognize Him
He came to His own,
and His own people did not receive Him
But to all who did receive Him,
He gave them the right to be children of God,
to those who believe in His name,
who were born, not of blood,
or of the will of the flesh,
or of the will of man, but of God
The Word became flesh
and took up residence among us
We observed His glory,
the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father,
full of grace and truth

He, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men

For God loved the world in this way:
He gave His One and Only Son,
so that everyone who believes in Him
will not perish but have eternal life
For God did not send His Son into the world
that He might condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through Him
Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned,
but anyone who does not believe is already condemned,
because he has not believed
in the name of the One and Only Son of God
This, then, is the judgment:
The light has come into the world,
and people loved darkness rather than the light
because their deeds were evil

As it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one
There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God
All have turned away;
all alike have become useless
There is no one who does what is good, not even one
Their throat is an open grave;
they deceive with their tongues
Vipers’ venom is under their lips
Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,
and the path of peace they have not known
There is no fear of God before their eyes

But God, who is rich in mercy,
because of His great love that He had for us,
sent His Son into the world
that the world might be saved through Him
For while we were still helpless,
at the appointed moment,
Christ died for the ungodly
But God proves His own love for us
in that while we were still sinners,
Christ died for us!
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death
— even to death on a cross

What then are we to say about these things?
If God is for us, who is against us?
He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?


Merry Christmas, reader! With what little time we have left today, let’s remember that when Jesus was born, the impossible happened. God Himself, the sustainer and creator of the universe, became a created human in need of sustenance. Out of completely free and gratutious love He chose to be a human being for us, so that by His life and death we might live and no longer die. God took on humanity to Himself so that God might take in humanity to Himself. The Father came to us through His Spirit in His Son so that we can meet the Father through His Spirit in His Son. With the birth of Jesus, God came down to man and man came up to God. The result was salvation and love of for all people. Truly this is good news of great joy, so be glad!

And if you’re like me, the magnitude of this great news can even have the effect of making you less joyful when you realize you don’t live up to it. You might feel like to God: “Here is where You’re finding me, in the exact same place as New Year’s Eve. And from the lack of my persistence, see, we’re less than half as close as I want to be.” I am there, and so are many others. Praise God that even though we fail and fall, sometimes finding ourselves taking two steps forward and three steps back in one year, through Jesus we have a Mediator and Savior, who keeps us in God’s life even when we would otherwise fall away. Trust in Him, as I’m trying to do.

Merry Christmas to all! Solus Christus!

The Miracle of Christmas, From the Bible

My Favorite Christmas Song

This is my absolute favorite Christmas song. The first part with Silent Night/Away in a Manger is good, but I really love I Celebrate The Day because I completely identify with it. Pay close attention to the lyrics and see if you do, too.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIIEA6wvNlw]

Here is where You’re finding me
In the exact same place as New Year’s Eve
And from the lack of my persistence, see
We’re less than half as close as I want to be

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