How to Study the Bible: Theosis, Plain and Simple, Part 2

theword biblepage-781x1024Gal 2:20

(Gal 2:20 NET)  20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 

As we covered earlier, God is faithful to his covenant promises (Rom 3:3) and so Jesus has also been faithful, especially on the cross. We respond by being faithful — which can be just as well be translated “having faith.” In having faith, we take a critical step toward becoming like God.

God responds by coming to live within us through his Spirit (Rom 8; Gal 3:3-4), making our one-ness and in-ness that much more so.

Therefore, Paul can say that “I have been crucified with Christ.” We want to argue about when this happens and how it relates to baptism, but the point is more about what our faith, baptism, and receipt of the Spirit do to change who we are. It’s not niggling over God’s timing but submitting to the transformation from self to Christ living in me.

This time, N.T. Wright gets to do the honors of explaining why this doctrine matters for the church today —

You see, the whole point of the gospel for Paul, as he makes clear in several passages, is that through the achievement and announcement of King Jesus the principalities and powers, the local and tribal deities that have carved up the world between them, have had their power shaken to the roots. A new kingdom has been set up in which the old tribalisms, and the ideologies and idolatries that sustain them, have been declared redundant. And woe betide anyone who names the name of Christ but persists in worshipping, at least by implication, at the shrine of any of those old loyalties, no matter how venerable they may seem.

All of which brings us, none too soon, to the thrust for today of all this wonderful Pauline theology. I return to the central point: justification by faith is not simply something which, if we work at it, we ought to be able to agree on; it is, in fact, the doctrine which declares that all who believe in the Messiah Jesus belong at the same table, no matter what their ethnic, geographical, gender or class background. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul’s doctrine of justification is the ecumenical doctrine.

Galatians 2 gives us, therefore, not just a truth to glimpse but an agenda to act upon. The way forward is unlikely to be merely a matter of doctrinal definition. It will mean going wider, into the world that, properly understood, doctrine reveals: the world of symbol and praxis. Let me say a word about each of these.

At the heart of Galatians 2 is not an abstract individualized salvation, but a common meal. Paul does not want the Galatians to wait until they have agreed on all doctrinal arguments before they can sit down and eat together. Not to eat together is already to get the answer wrong. The whole point of his argument is that all those who belong to Christ belong at the same table with one another.

The relevance of this today should be obvious. The differences between us, as twentieth-century Christians, all too often reflect cultural, philosophical and tribal divides, rather than anything that should keep us apart from full and glad eucharistic fellowship. I believe the church should recognize, as a matter of biblical and Christian obedience, that it is time to put the horse back before the cart, and that we are far, far more likely to reach doctrinal agreement between our different churches if we do so within the context of that common meal which belongs equally to us all because it is the meal of the Lord whom we all worship.

Intercommunion, in other words, is not something we should regard as the prize to be gained at the end of the ecumenical road; it is the very paving of the road itself. If we wonder why we haven’t been travelling very fast down the road of late, maybe it’s because, without the proper paving, we’ve got stuck in the mud. But isn’t this to elevate something we do, as opposed to something we believe, to the supreme position? The understandable Reformation emphasis on ‘faith’ as opposed to ‘works’ has often, paradoxically, emasculated the clear thrust of Pauline theology: that we should express our unity by working together with one mind for the spread of the gospel, that is, for the announcement of the Lordship of Jesus Christ to all the world, not least to the principalities and powers that keep people locked up within their local and tribal divisions.

We have seen once again in the 1990s what happens when tribalisms, including those that proclaim a would-be Christian allegiance, go unchecked. The gospel itself stands against all attempts to define ourselves as Catholic or Protestant, Orthodox or Methodist, Anglican or Baptist, still less by national, cultural or geographical subdivisions of those labels. Our definition must be that we are in Christ; the praxis that goes with that is love for one another and the loving announcement of Jesus Christ to the whole world.

Thus, wherever we find tribalisms distorting the truth of the gospel (whether it be in Bosnia or Birmingham, in the West Bank or in Wolverhampton, in Staffordshire or South Africa), we must name them for what they are, and must announce that in Christ all are one. Evangelism, properly conceived, ought to be the most ecumenical of endeavours. If we are looking out at the world for which Christ died, rather than at ourselves and all our problems and muddles, we are more likely to find those problems and muddles put into their proper perspectives. To turn away from our own jealously hoarded private identities, and to discover that we are all redefined in and by Christ, and by him alone: that is the vision. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Stand back now from Paul, and think about the New Testament as a whole. It is all about the wonderful things that God has done in Jesus Christ, revealing his power, presence and glory. What do you think would reveal to the world today the power, the presence, and the glory of God? Well, how about the coming together of all those who name the name of Christ, in love, and unity, and mission? That might take a miracle, I hear someone say. Well—isn’t that, once more, what Jesus seems to have specialized in?

Tom Wright, For All God’s Worth, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1997), 108–111.

(Alexander Campbell would have gladly approved.)

Michael J. Gorman sees in this same text a central understanding of our justification —

[J]ustification is an experience of both death and resurrection, and both must be stressed. But the resurrection to new life it incorporates is a resurrection to an ongoing state of crucifixion: I “have been” crucified means I “still am” crucified. Therefore, justification by faith must be understood stood first and foremost as a participatory crucifixion that is, paradoxically, life-giving (cf. 2 Cor 4:7-15). The one who exercises faith, and is thereby crucified with Christ, is resurrected to new life but always remains crucified (hence the perfect tense of systauroo [co-crucified] in Gal 2:19 – as in Rom 6:6 [see below]), because he or she is animated by the resurrected Christ, who always remains for Paul (and the New Testament more generally) the crucified Christ (e.g., i Cor 2:2; cf. John 20:20, 27; Rev 5:6).

As Miroslav Volf says in commenting on this text, the self “is both ‘de-centered’ and ‘re-centered’ by one and the same process, by participating in the death and resurrection of Christ through faith and baptism …. ‘ Volf continues:

By being ‘crucified with Christ, the self has received a new center – the Christ who lives in it and with whom it lives…. The center of the self – a center that is both inside and outside – is the story of Jesus Christ, who has become the story of the self. More precisely, the center is Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected who has become part and parcel of the very structure of the self.

This understanding of faith as crucifixion is reinforced by Paul’s insistence that the believer’s experience (narrated representatively by Paul in first-person texts) is not only a death with Christ but also a death to the Law (Gal 2:19), to the world (Gal 6:14), and of the flesh (Gal 5:24).

 Gal 2:19-21 suggests that co-crucifixion is both the way in and the way to stay in the covenant. Once again, we must stress that it is the resurrected crucified Christ with whom believers are initially and continually crucified. This is important, both christologically and soteriologically, in two ways.

First, as an experience of the risen or resurrected Christ, co-crucifixion is not merely a metaphor but an apt description of an encounter with a living person whose presence transforms and animates believers: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I live, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me by giving himself for me.” As Douglas Campbell says, “this is no mere imitatio Christi!” for “God is not asking [believers] … to imitate Christ – perhaps an impossible task – so much as to inhabit or to indwell him,” such that “the Spirit of God is actively reshaping the Christian into the likeness of Christ.”

The kenosis [self-emptying] of the preexistent Son of God, known in the fidelity and love of the historical Jesus, continues to define the reality of the resurrected Christ and thus of those whom he enlivens.

Michael J. Gorman. Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology (Kindle Locations 662-682). Kindle Edition.

That is, our initial salvation at faith and baptism is all about entering into the crucifixion with Jesus, not just as our receiving the reward for Jesus’ obedience. Rather, it’s death and resurrection — powerfully depicted in baptism — but it’s death with the crucified Jesus. We live — are saved — because we live the crucifixion as crucified people.

It’s not a mere legal transaction in which we are credited with Jesus’ merits. No, our faith/faithfulness means that we are faithful as Jesus was faithful — giving our lives up for the sake of others — others who do not deserve our sacrifice.

Our theosis, our unity with God and Jesus, begins at baptism. We immediately, by our faith and our baptism and our repentance (not that these are clearly different things), commit us to become like Jesus in his self-emptying, in his giving himself up for others. This is what it means to be crucified with Jesus.

If we’d been there and been asked to give ourselves up for others, we would have joined him on the cross. This is the meaning of “faith” at perhaps its deepest, and this is what it means to be united with each other and with Jesus. It’s all about self-surrender. Gorman would say kenosis, the Greek word for pouring oneself out or emptying oneself for others.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to How to Study the Bible: Theosis, Plain and Simple, Part 2

  1. rich constant says:

    you know J that’s just excellent that could have been twice as long with twice as many words thanks you

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I believe that’s the first time in 8+ years of blogging that someone has wished I’d been more long winded. I have no idea how to react. None.

    Thanks. 🙂

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