What is it going to be like in heaven?
Well, I know we are going to see God (Rev 22:4). But how?
We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
When Christ comes, “We will be like Him.” How? “We will see Him just as He is.” Believing on Christ and ultimately having our faith be sight makes us qualitatively different,
Those who by faith believe this will purify themselves. In short, we are becoming more like God without losing our “creaturelyness.” This is what the Orthodox call Theosis.
Theosis and the Gospel. When communicating the Gospel Protestantism emphasizes what we are saved from (punishment for our sins) and how we are saved (by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ). However, they do not emphasize for what we are saved and what exactly is the saving.
For what are we saved? Eph 2:10 specifically says we are saved “for good works,” and as we can see in 1 John 3:3 these works do not earn purification but it is a necessity that purification occurs–seeing Him just as He is and purifying oneself both precede becoming like Him.
Or, in Protestant parlance, “we are not saved by works,” but works are still essential. “They do not earn salvation,” but they are inexorably part of salvation as being like God includes the producing of good works as spiritual fruit.
To speak of salvation as something entirely without works is to deny what salvation actually is–experiencing God and participating in a profound union with Him for eternity. Manifestations of goodness, i.e. good works, must exist in this context.
So, what exactly is the saving? It is not merely being forgiven for what one has done and being accounted as righteous even though one has done nothing to be righteous. Sure, this is part of what salvation is, but it cannot be the whole thing. Salvation consists of two connected things:
1. We are made holy (which in the Greek, comes from the same word for sanctify/sanctification). 1 Cor 3:17 says that we are holy as temples of the Holy Spirit. This shows that the saving work of God, accomplished by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the temple of our bodies, does positively make us holy.
2. This holiness makes us more like God (i.e. Theosis.) The Theosis paradigm is not something we often think of in Protestantism, but the Scriptures make mention of it in a few places. In one, Paul says:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Cor 3:18).
As we can see, Paul is referring to the same exact thing that 1 John 3:2-3 is. We are even now beholding the glory of God, and by so doing, are being transformed increasingly into His image. What was lost in Adam is not only judicially restored in Christ, but is literally being transformed away.
Peter also makes a reference to Theosis:
His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence (2 Pet 1:3-5).
True knowledge of God, apprehended by faith, has granted us “everything pertaining to life and godliness.” Therefore, true knowledge of God will make us partakers of the divine nature. For this reason, (because God has granted us everything we need in this department) we must supply moral excellence.
Moral excellence does not earn partaking in divinity, but it, in Peter’s words, “makes certain…His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble” (2 Pet 1:10).
God works in us a faith that produces moral excellence, without which we cannot become “partakers of the divine nature,” because moral excellence naturally precedes the consummation of all things. This is yet another reason why what I said before, “‘we are not saved by works,’ but works are still essential.”
So, as we can see, works chronologically precede salvation. But, if they do not earn salvation, what is their role?
Works and Their Role in Perfecting Faith. This is a tough concept for Protestants to grapple with, but the Scripture says, “as a result of the works, faith was perfected” (James 2:22). Works perfect faith–they don’t earn faith nor do they earn the saving work of God (His transformation of our nature so that we become partakers of Him.) Grace is never earned or it would not be grace (Rom 11:6).
So, how do works perfect faith? A simple example of how faith (knowledge of things unseen apprehended by hope) is perfected is as follows:
Let’s think of a doctor performing heart surgery the first time. This happens all the time. Doctors study, read and practice on cadavers. They may have other doctors walk them through it. But, eventually doctors do the real thing on live subjects for the first time. Being that we do not hear on the news that tons of newbie doctors are killing patients, we must assume that all of their acquiring of knowledge in performing heart surgeries is sufficient for actually doing them.
But, when the doctors actually do the surgery their knowledge is no longer in the theoretical realm. It has ascended to reality. Knowledge is perfected.
So, when we participate in God’s goodness by doing good, our faith is perfected–not as a reward for doing good, but because this is what logically happens when theoretical knowledge bears itself out in experience. And what faithful Christian does not want a deeper, more profound, perfected faith? A perfected faith, normatively, is essential for the Christian–just as perfect knowledge is needed for a surgeon.
Sanctification’s Connection To Theosis. On what basis do we have to believe that sanctification pertains to Theosis? Well, for one, sanctification is progressive but also something that will be completed, much like Theosis.
Paul prays, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thes 5:23). Though in one sense we have been sanctified and justified as accomplished facts (1 Cor 6:11), sanctification is not complete for the Christian in this life.
This makes sense if we are still being transformed into His image. So, it would appear to be a good and necessary consequence of the Scriptures which pertain to sanctification (i.e. “without sanctity/holiness no one can see God,” Heb 12:14) that sanctification makes Theosis possible. After all seeing God, being with God, and being like God is what heaven is. In some ways, Christians begin experiencing a foretaste of heaven the more they grow spiritually.
Though we are obviously not in heaven yet, we are being saved (2 Cor 2:15). However, until we are sanctified entirely, we are not yet fully partakers of the divine, making our salvation not yet complete.
Another connection between sanctification and Theosis pertains to the idea that sanctification/purifying oneself are the same thing. They are part-in-parcel with being transformed into God’s image. For example, Paul writes, “[I]f anyone cleanses himself from these things [sins], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Tim 2:21). As we can see, just as the one who “purifies himself” will “see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:3) the one who “cleanses himself…will be a vessel of honor, sanctified” (2 Tim 2:21). The growth in progressive righteousness precedes full knowledge of God and sanctification–so, both preceding passages are speaking about the same thing.
From all of this, we must conclude that salvation is so much more than a not-guilty verdict. It is literally a process of God transforming us to be more like Him–a process where God makes us increasingly more holy and righteous. If we are becoming more like Him, to say we are only growing more in sanctity/holiness and not actual righteousness borders on the absurd.
For the former to be true and not the latter, God would have to be holy, but not righteous. Being that He is both, the more we become like Him the more we become both holy and righteous. Not surprisingly, the Scripture speaks of sanctification and justification interchangeably--probably specifically because God obviously does both to the same effect in the life of the Christian.
Category Errors. Why is there all of this confusion over the whole idea of justification and sanctification? Most likely, it is because the Scripture uses several words that communicate in different ways how we are saved.
- Protestants, and Catholics to some degree, fixate on how we are justified [i.e. made right] with God.
- Obviously, we must be made right with God or we cannot have a relationship with Him.
- The idea of being made right is implicitly judicial. We often do not think of being right merely in terms of correcting something (i.e. “make this truck run right for me!”) Rather, we think of being right in some sort of ultimate sense, such as in the eyes of the Law.
- However, righteousness is more than a judicial not-guilty verdict. For example, Jesus Christ is perfectly righteous. All of us happily concede this is much more than Him simply being not guilty, but rather it pertains to the depths of justice and goodness intrinsic to His nature.
- So, if man is made “righteous,” there is something more going on than him being not-guilty if we are to do any justice to the plain meaning of the word.
- Orthodox fixate on how we are sanctified [i.e. set apart as holy] before God.
- Obviously, we must be set apart as holy, because without holiness no one can see God (Heb 12:14).
- Sanctification is more than being merely set apart, as temples of the Holy Spirit we are literally “holy” in our bodies (1 Cor 3:17).
- Everyone agrees that we are being increasingly transformed into the image of God and we will “see Him just as He is.” We have good reason to believe that this transformation is the same as sanctification (1 Thes 5:23, 2 Tim 2:21).
When we separate the meanings of these words as if they were talking about radically different things, we miss the whole point of 1. what salvation is and 2. how God goes about actually saving us. When we understand 1 and 2, then differentiating the sanctification process from justification no longer makes sense (unless one wants to talk about the single moment in time when one first entered into right relations with God–the whole Protestant paradigm dwells on this moment and nothing else.)
Conclusion. In short, in order to mitigate constant bickering over the issues of justification and sanctification, it is most necessary that we:
1. Actually go by what the Scripture says and not merely what our presuppositions dictate.
2. Take a well-rounded view that includes both what we are saved from and what we are saved for.
3. Take into account how Christians have always historically understood the doctrines pertaining to salvation. If these doctrines were not understood until the 1500s, then there simply is no such thing as historical Christianity and for all we know any given heretical group can have it all right and the rest of us have it wrong.
So, my Protestant brothers, we must realize that the way we talk and think about justification does not necessarily do justice to how Christians have historically understood the topic. I think this occurs, because we have created a doctrine around the “sanctification process” which robs both sanctification and justification of their well-rounded meanings.
In other words, what we call “sanctification” is what all non-Protestants call “justification.” Until we realize that non-Protestants have a legitimate reason for this we will all be speaking past each other.
In my analysis, Protestantism pigeon-holes sanctification so one’s growing in holiness has nothing to do with justification. Being that justification is an on-going reality, and not merely a one dimensional past event, we must realize that such a position does not portray the full reality of justification. This forces us to realize, if we were to go by strictly what the Bible says, that the Orthodox and Roman Catholics are onto something.
The Scriptures portray justification as interconnected with both our sanctification and salvation. These are both being now realized, and in the end perfected in, Theosis.