Our Destiny in God, Part 6

Our Telos Reached As we have seen in the previous posts, man was created for union with God and was intended for an even greater union with God than Adam experienced in the Garden. This deeper union was held out to man as reward for covenantal faithfulness but forfeited by Adam in his rebellion. Had man been granted this deeper union, he would have been granted immortality and been confirmed in an inviolable righteousness. (Using Augustine’s categories, man would have passed from the state of being both posse non peccare & posse peccare to a state of being non posse peccare) What was promised but never granted to Adam has been accomplished in Christ; thus, what we gain in Christ is more than what we lost in Adam. As our covenant keeper, Christ earned for us the blessings of the original covenant made with Adam. Christ leads creation to its final telos. To fully understand this we must examine our future participation with Christ in his resurrection. Paul writes in Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” The transformation of our bodies at the resurrection is a significant theme for Paul. He expounds upon it in 1 Corinthians 15,

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (v. 42-49)

Important in this context is the shift that Paul makes from discussing the believers body which is subject to death and decay because of sin to discussing man’s creational body even prior to sin. Gaffin suggests, “Apparently his interest is to show that from the beginning, prior to the fall, a higher or different kind of body than the body of Adam, the psychical body, is in view. Adam by virtue of creation (not because of sin), anticipates and points to another, higher form of somatic existence” (Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption, 82). The body Adam was given in creation was not immortal, not heavenly, but earthly. Adam would have gained this heavenly body as reward for faithfulness, but forfeited it. Now it is ours in Christ on the basis of his covenant keeping as the second Adam. Though quoted above, Calvin’s comments on Genesis 2:7 bear repeating,

Paul makes an antithesis between this living soul and the quickening spirit which Christ confers upon the faithful (1 Corinthians 15:45) for no other purpose than to teach us that the state of man was not perfected in the person of Adam; but it is a peculiar benefit conferred by Christ, that we may be renewed to a life which is celestial, whereas before the fall of Adams man’s life was only earthly, seeing it had no firm and settled constancy (John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis).

Fee clarifies, “It is ‘spiritual,’ not in the sense of ‘immaterial’ but of ‘supernatural’…The transformed body, therefore, is not composed of ‘spirit’; it is a body adapted to the eschatological existence that is under the ultimate domination of the Spirit” (Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987, 786).

It is into this transformed existence that we are being moved in our union with Christ and his resurrection, and it is this transformed existence that makes possible a more full experience of participation with God [i]. When we speak of the image of God being restored in us, it is no longer the image of God as revealed in Adam, but as revealed in Christ that is the end goal of God’s redemptive work. This certainly echoes a key theme in Calvin summarized by Mosser, “The goal of salvation, in other words, is to have the image and likeness of God restored in them as fully as it is in Christ and thus to participate in God and reflect his glory” (Carl Mosser, “The Greatest Possible Blessing,” Scottish Journal of Theology 55.1, 2002: 42). Mosser’s statement points in two directions, both articulated by Calvin, namely the restored image as participation in God and as reflecting God’s glory. Julie Canlis picks up the participatory idea, writing “for Calvin, our telos is not moral perfection (outside the Mediator) but communion. This is why redemption has surpassed creation (I.15.4): we now have the ‘life-giving Spirit,’ who enables us to participate in Christ more fully and to enjoy the Father’s fatherhood (III.1.2)” (Canlis, Calvin’s Ladder, 63). The text of Revelation 19-22 gives us indications that our hope of a deeper participation is not misplaced. To begin, the believer participates in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9). The Bride, having been cleansed Christ (Eph. 5:25-27) is now presented to the bridegroom. Marriage has, since the beginning, been about union – two becoming one (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:28-32). Though the church is the Bride of Christ, the union is only consummated in the eschaton. R. Tudur Jones explores this theme in the Puritans, expressing surprise at the ease with which they applied the most romantic/erotic portions of the Canticles to their spiritual marriage with Christ. Jones quotes Rutherford, “we cannot rest till we be in other’s arms – and o, how sweet is a fresh kiss form his holy mouth: His breathing that goeth before a kiss upon my poor soul, is sweet, and hath no fault, but that it is too short” (Quoted in R. Tudor Jones, “Union with Christ: the Existential Nerve of Puritan Piety,” Tyndale Bulletin 41.2, 1990: 201). What Rutherford anticipates becomes reality in the consummation of our union with Christ. In addition to the marriage image, the tree of life reappears in the eternal order (Rev. 22:2,4,14), signaling again a deeper union to be enjoyed. What Adam was not privileged to experience when barred from partaking of this sacramental tree, we now experience as the reward for Christ’s conquering. If the tree of life as a sacrament points to man’s union with God (as the sacraments do), then we must conclude, as with the other sacraments, the gift is given in the sign. Thus man, as he partakes of the fruit of the tree is brought into a deeper participation with God. Add to these images the never fading, never departing, all-encompassing presence of God in the new heavens and new earth, the cosmic temple, and the sense of our more full participation in God is impossible to miss. Moreover, due to our transformation there is a more profound experience of seeing and reflecting the glory of God. Commenting on 1 John 3:2 Calvin writes,

But as far as the image of God is renewed in us, we have eyes prepared to see God. And now, indeed, God begins to renew in us his own image, but in what a small measure! Except then we be stripped of all the corruption of the flesh, we shall not be able to behold God face to face… he does not teach us that we shall be like him because we shall see him; but he hence proves that we shall be partakers of the divine glory, for except our nature were spiritual, and endued with a heavenly and blessed immortality, it could never come so nigh to God… Hence the majesty of God, now hid, will then only be in itself seen, when the veil of this mortal and corruptible nature shall be removed ( Calvin, Commentary on The First Epistle of John, comment on 3:2).

Likewise, Calvin argues based on 2 Thessalonians 1:10 that Christ “irradiates them [believers] with his glory, and that they may be partakers of it” (Calvin, Commentary on The Second Epistle of Thessalonians, comment on 1:10). In our experience and radiation of God’s glory, we surpass even the angels. Interestingly, Mosser connects dots in Calvin’s theology that Calvin does not connect himself. Mosser concludes, “The appropriateness of angels being designated gods due to their reflection of the divine glory combined with statements about the believers’ glorification leads to the conclusion that glorified believers can appropriately be designated gods” (Mosser, “The Greatest Possible Blessing: Calvin and Deification,” 52). This brings us to the concept of theosis or deification [ii]. Does Scripture give us warrant to proclaim that human’s will be deified? Mosser clearly sees this concept in Calvin, arguing, “Deification is not merely an eschatological concept for Calvin. It is rooted in the divine intentions for the creation and recreation of humanity” (Mosser, “The Greatest Possible Blessing: Calvin and Deification,” 41). Donald Fairbairn concludes that the Orthodox doctrine of deification is not as incompatible with evangelical understandings as the word may make it sound, though he is quick to identify significant deficiencies in the Orthodox understanding of how one is moved towards this goal (Fairbairn, “Salvation as Theosis: The Teaching of Eastern Orthodoxy,” 47). The concept does not seem to have been a stumbling block for Calvin, who, though he distanced himself from improper conceptions of theosis, could still write on Romans 6:5,

But there is no reason why you should seek to apply the metaphor [of engrafting] or comparison in every particular; for between the grafting of trees, and this which is spiritual, a disparity will soon meet us: in the former the graft draws its aliment from the root, but retains its own nature in the fruit; but in the latter not only we derive the vigor and nourishment of life from Christ, but we also pass from our own to his nature (Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans).

Likewise, he comments on Romans 5:2, “The hope of the glory of God has shone upon us through the gospel, which testifies that we shall be participators of the Divine nature; for when we shall see God face to face, we shall be like him. (2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 3:2)” (Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans). Maybe most startlingly, on 2 Peter 1:4 he asserts, “The end of the gospel is, to render us eventually conformable to God, and, if we may so speak, to deify us” (Calvin, Commentary on the Second Epistle of Peter). Again, Calvin distances himself from any understanding of deification that would makes us something other than creature or sharers in the substance of God. For example, in the Institutes Calvin makes clear that “the Spirit does not work in us so as to make us of the same substance with God” (Calvin, Institutes, 1.15.5) But, having set those false understandings of theosis aside, he does articulate the doctrine throughout his writings. It is the “height of honor,” the goal of all that God has been doing in Christ, “For the Father has given all power to the Son, that by his hand he may govern, cherish, sustain us, keep us under his guardianship, and give assistance to us. Thus, while we wander far as pilgrims from God, Christ interposes, that he may gradually bring us to full communion with God” (Calvin, Institutes, 2.15.5). Billings concedes that Calvin does not have a fully detailed, technical doctrine of theosis; yet he sees, as does this author, that for Calvin, “Redemption involves the restoration and fulfillment of the original union of God with human beings in creation [emphasis added]” (Billings, “United to God through Christ,” 333). Whether one wants to term this fulfillment of man’s original union theosis or ‘deification’ is somewhat immaterial. More important is that we realize we are to be blessed with a more full participation in the divine nature. This is what makes our eternal state more blessed and more secure than Adam’s original state – a deeper participation in the divine nature made possible through our transformative union with Christ. Notes [i] In his comments on 2 Peter 1:4, Calvin says that we participate in the divine nature “as far as our capacities will allow.” While our capacities after the resurrection are still creaturely, finite capacities, it seems reasonable to conclude that our capacities have been enlarged and enhanced in our new, post-resurrection humanity. Thus, while we are still limited, we are less so after our resurrection. [ii] Mosser offers a good, succinct definition: “theosisis for believers to become by grace what the Son of God is by nature and to receive the blessings that are his by right as undeserved gifts.”(“The Greatest Possible Blessing,” 36).