What is Theosis?

The goal of every human being is to become fully human, and therefore achieve our pre-fallen state. This is to achieve a state of divinity, and in essence become like God, to achieve union with God as we had once before. This is deification, or theosis in Greek. First, it is scripture in which we find the directive to become like God: “You are gods, and all of you are children of the most high.”1 We are gods because we were created in God’s image and likeness. We can never lose the image in which we were created, but our likeness to God has been far removed by our sin, both personal and ancestral. Unfortunately, our sins became an insurmountable obstacle that we are not able to overcome on our own. Yet, God in his providence and love for mankind gave us a way out of our sins. He sent his only begotten Son to earth, fully man yet also fully God, to die for our sins upon a cross, as one holy, sufficient, and spotless sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. God became man so that we can once again become gods. He became man, so that we can become by His grace that which he is by nature. Cleansed of our sins, both personal and ancestral, we can then begin the process of deification by an amendment of life, conforming ourselves to the example set by Christ’s life and ministry here on earth.

The means of theosis is through holiness, a continuing process of acquiring the Holy Spirit. This is accomplished by putting sin to death within ourselves. We bring our bodies into the same state as our spirit, of which Saint Isaac the Syrian states is passionless. Our spirit, not of this world, remains without passion. So must we become passionless. Those passions for any worldly thing thus remove us from the love of God, for the love of God and the love of the world cannot coexist. We acquire the love of God through an amendment of our own lives. It is a total participation in Jesus Christ. We must go to Church, which is the representative body of Christ. We must receive the sacraments, the body and blood of Christ, and so bring ourselves into communion with Him. We must pray to God in spirit and in truth, keeping our communion and conversation with Him consistent in our lives. We must read the Gospels, in so keeping to the truth. We must also follow the commandments, being always aware of and repentant of our sins and shortcomings.

Theosis is not an individual act or process. It is the ultimate end for everyone, and all of humanity. Therefore, theosis presupposes life within the Church. As the saying goes, we are saved together, but damned alone. It is within the Church that we become a part of, and partake of the body of Christ. It is within the Church in which we partake of the sacraments, that which is necessary to acquire the sanctifying spirit and be transformed into the divine likeness of God. It is within the Church that we come into communion with Christ, and so participate in the divine worship of the Church triumphant, the Church militant being the living icon of that Church in heaven. It is within the Church that the meaning of the scriptures are revealed to us. It is in the Church alone that the truth is revealed to us, and the means necessary to our salvation are provided to us. The Church is taught by the Holy Spirit, and there exists an indissoluble unity between God and his Church, for “The Church is the earthly heaven in which the heavenly God moves and dwells.”2 We must choose to be where God is in striving towards a unity of spirit.

Theosis is not just a matter of spirit. Theosis involves the body as well. The Human person was created with both body and soul. God became man to redeem the whole person. In this is the reason that we are called to regard and receive our bodies as temples, for they too are holy, and are the dwelling place of the spirit. The body is a representative part of the created order. When mankind fell from grace, it was not just the human nature that was affected, but all of creation with him. The disorientation of Humanity affected creation as a whole. All of creation groaned at the fall of man, and “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”3 So, when Christ redeemed mankind, he did not do so apart from the whole of the created order. Humanity, as a part of creation, is not to be redeemed and removed from creation, but is to be redeemed and all of creation with it. For it was from the dust that man was made, and it shall be redeemed with him. For, creation is a part of the history of man. In all of creation, man is the center, the pinnacle of the order of what God created. Man was placed over all of creation, and has the focus and attention of God. So, as man is redeemed to become one with the father, reclaiming their place as sons and daughters of God, all of creation will be set free from its bonds to corruption and set free with him. Because God took flesh, part of the material order, and so has made possible the redemption of the entirety of the created order.

It was God’s will that spoke all of creation into existence. It was God’s will that breathed life into man. It was God’s will that we should have communion with God, walking in His presence as sons and daughters. Yet, it was our will that introduced sin into the world, and brought about our fallen state, thus removing us from union with God. From these statements it is easy to infer that an agreement between the wills of both God and man is a necessary part of the deification of man. Let us regard the words of Paul in his letter to the Philippians:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”4

This is a prime example of Synergia, God working together with man to bring man to himself. God’s part is to work actively in us, and our part is to humbly submit to Him and the infinite wisdom of the work, both God and man having an operative role in man’s path towards theosis. God does not give people grace without the cooperation of their free will. We are fallen, working with God through our own free will. God knocks, but we must open the door. God calls each one of us, but we must come to him of our own free will. We participate in the divine nature because God participated in our human nature.

The Greek word that is used, and translated as “work out” means to accomplish, achieve, or produce. It is a word that indicates our own active role in our salvation. Its use rules out any idea that our salvation is achieved by faith alone. The working of our salvation should not be done in pride, because we cannot do it alone. It should instead be done with fear and trembling, just as Paul exhorts us to do, in other words, with great humility. We cannot save ourselves, and if we tried to attain salvation on our own strength, we would fail miserably. God initiates the process and desire towards salvation within us. He gives us the ability to work out our salvation, granting us the strength and ability to do so, but it is also by our own will that we must do it. It is by God’s will and love for us that we should reach our own salvation, by God who works among us, teaches us, heals us, an so transforms us, all to the working of his will and glory.

As regards His will, and our own, we must acknowledge two operative realities necessary for our salvation. First of all, all things are necessary to, and require the grace of God. Also, God does not give people grace without the cooperation of their free will. God and man both work together towards the salvation of man. This is the true essence of the Greek work synergia, which literally means, working together. We must choose God, for God chose us. God is love, and God loves us, making love the very means by which we relate to God. For love to exist within us, we must have the free will to choose it. Neither could God compel us to love Him, for such a love would be artificial, forced, and a violation of our free will. Free will is central to our theology, as it is closely tied to the manner in which we relate to the Trinity through Jesus in our process of theosis. In that we were made in the image of God, free will is a fundamental aspect of our being as human beings. To become fully human then is to fully submit and submerge our will to His will, unifying ourselves with God, his grace, and his perfect will. It is through His perfect will that that we ourselves will become perfect, both in image and likeness, through the example and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord.

[1] - Psalm 82:6

[2] - Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople

[3] - Romans 8:19

[4] - Phil 2:12-13