Deification in Christ

Why did the Son of God become the man Jesus? Most of us have been trained in a form of Christianity that says that our sin created the necessity for the incarnation. This answer to the question was first described in detail by St. Augustine, then expounded in Medieval Theology and handed on to us by the Reformers. I believe that this perspective minimizes the Bible’s teaching on the Father’s plan of Adoption (Eph. 1:5).

One of my favorite quotes on this subject comes from the Greek Orthodox theologian Panayiotis Nellas  in his book Deification in Christ. Here Nellas describes the negative results of this truncated, sin-centered view of Jesus’ Mission:

. . [negative] consequences followed also from Augustine’s axiom that “if many had not perished, the Son of Man would not have come.” [Enchiridion viii, 27-ix, 29.] This trapped Christ, and by extension the Christian life and the realities of the Church, the sacraments, faith and the rest, within the bounds defined by sin. Christ in this perspective is not so much the creator and recapitulator of all things, the Alpha and Omega as Scripture says, but simply the redeemer from sin. The Christian life is regarded not so much as the realization of Adam’s original destiny, as a dynamic transformation of man and the world and as union with God, but as a simple escape from sin. . . The Church forgets her ontological bond with the world. And the world, seeing that its positive aspects are not appreciated within the Church, feels a sense of alienation and breaks off relations with it. ~ Deification in Christ: The Nature of the Human Person, by Panayiotis Nellas, p. 95. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997.

As Nellas suggests, we must recover the early Christian perspective on Christ that sees his work as not only the cure of sin but as the deification of humanity – that is to say, the adoption of humanity into the Triune Life of the Deity and our maturing into full sons and daughters of the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit. We must recover the full, comprehensive view of Christ which sees him as the beginning and purpose of all things, all people, and the whole creation.

~ Jonathan Stepp

2 comments so far

  1. Jane Hinrichs on

    I like that. Thanks Pastor Jonathan. I love the last line I think the best. “We must recover the full, comprehensive view of Christ which sees him as the beginning and purpose of all things, all people, and the whole creation.”


  2. shackbible on

    In the Augustinian view, I see a very Greek way of viewing creation–where the material world itself is really just a result of a “fall” from the timeless and ethereal ideal world of Forms. When you read the Bible from within that grid, the Fall becomes the center of everything, even of God.

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