“Gospel” means “good news”. Most are familiar with the Gospel’s standard benisons, for example that the Christian Messiah has come in Jesus; Jesus taught a new life in God by example; about a hidden but widespread Kingdom of God on earth; he preached the Beatitudes, love of neighbor, forgiveness, charity, etc.
But one New Testament teaching, preserved in both Latin and Greek churches, has a strange, even exotic, aroma. This teaching treats of the believer’s merging into God. More than a merely adoptive filial relationship or a purely juridical incorporation into the Kingdom, this doctrine conveys the idea that the believer unites with God: unites with God, that is, to the extent of partaking in God’s own nature. The Latin church calls this transformation Deificatio, and the Greek church terms it Theosis.
John 17:21-23 has Jesus telling his disciples:
“That they may all be one, as you, Father are in me, and I am in you, that they also may be one in us…
And the glory you gave me I have given them, so that they may be one, even as we are one;
I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one…”
Alan Watts commented on these verses in words to this effect: “Jesus envisaged us becoming one with God in just the same way and to the same degree as himself.”
At first blush, “divinization” of the believer might seem an Eastern or even a New Age concept. But there it is, in the heart of Christian scripture. And John’s instance is not its only occurrance. In addition, there are:
John 15: 1-8 “I am the true vine… Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except that it abides in the vine; no more can you, except that you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in them, brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask what you will, and it will be done for you.”
2 Peter 1: 1-4: “…accordingly, His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness…that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through evil desire.”
1 Corinthians 15:49 “Just as we bear an earthy image, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.”
(Or: “Just as we are like the one who was made out of earth [Adam] , we will be like the One who came from heaven [Jesus].”)
2 Corinthians 3:18 “[w]e are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”
Romans 8:29 “For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
1 John 3:2 We “shall know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
For the New Testament, union with Jesus is said to be union with God, participation in God’s nature, and a transformation into a state of “being like” the glorified Christ. “Deification” is the Christian’s ultimate goal. Strange how seldom this essential doctrine, with its glorious claims, is taught in Christian congregations.