Deification: Coming Closer to God
by Father Anthony G. Yazge
(Originally submitted to the Tribune Star for publication in the Fall of 1995)
Life is so short, and eternity is so long! So why are we here and what are we supposed to be doing? For Orthodox Christians, the answer is not difficult! Life is for the joy of growing closer to God. It is a day in, day out effort to live the life in Christ. It is easy, it is difficult, it is a struggle to the end. It is glorious if we endure and do not give up, because it means after this relatively short life here, there is unending life with God in His heaven.
It is God’s desire that everyone in His creation would dwell eternally with Him in paradise. Afterall, we have been created in His image and likeness. We have been charged to care for everything that God has given us and to be obedient to God’s Word. We are the crown of His creation. Unfortunately, because of the sin of Adam and Eve, all mankind is banished from paradise on earth. When Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God, all of mankind thereafter inherits the consequences. First and foremost: we will all die. Secondly, we all have the propensity to sin. Sinning is much easier for us to do most of the time, than is the right thing. But we just as well have the ability to refrain from the temptations of the devil. We have been given free will by God. He blesses us by giving us the ability to choose to follow Him or not, to choose between right and wrong, to choose a godly way of life or a sinful one. This is what sets us apart from the rest of creation. We are rational creatures with free will. Too often we fall away from that life which God desires for us, but even so God continues to love us. He welcomes us back into His loving arms, if we repent of our sins through the sacrament of confession (as given to the apostles by Christ) and recommit ourselves to following Him. John the Baptist called the people of His day to repentance, and we are called to that same life.
Deification is what God desires for all of us. That is not some mysterious or unBiblical expression. It is simply what happens in growing in a life in Christ, whereby we become more like God. St. Paul addresses this process when he writes, “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness . . . you may be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3,4). This does not mean that as human beings we can actually become divine. Our nature is human and always will be. We can not take on the nature of God. Deification then means that we are to become more like God through His grace. We are icons of the God by being created in His image and likeness. Through baptism we are joined in faith to Christ. Because of the Incarnation of the Son of God, being joined to Christ means that it is again possible to experience deification, the fulfillment of our human life. Through our union with Christ, we become by grace what God is by nature. We “become children of God” (John 1:12).
With this understanding of our calling as humans, it is important to understand how Orthodox Christians apply this to daily living. We do not try to manipulate the Truth to meet some arbitrary need that we have established for ourselves. We do not try to change what we are called to, in order to fit into society. We do not change the Church to satisfy the whims and desires of the people. Instead, we call everyone to be “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). God is Truth, and that Truth is unchanging. It is holiness that reveals falsehood. And it does so in love and without apology. St. Paul tells us to hold fast to what is good, and that is Truth, first and foremost.
Holiness is difficult for people in today’s society to accept, because often that clashes with their own desires and pleasure. Today’s generation wants to be their own gods. Self-ruling, self-determining, self-governing, and self-centered, which is the work of the devil. “If it makes me feel good, then do it!” is the message we have heard since the late 1960’s. This hedonistic approach has led to chaos, destroyed families, give us a diseased and sick society that results in death and no hope for life everlasting in the kingdom of God. The Orthodox Church stresses a Christ-centered life. Everything that we do is centered around Jesus Christ. We need to conform our sinful lives to the teachings of Christ and change (repent of) those things in our life that just are not of God. We rely on God’s mercy and His grace to transform us to be partakers of the divine nature.
For this life in Christ to become a reality, each person must make the second move. Christ made the first move. We need to respond to the love that was so great He willingly died to give us the chance of life. That life begins NOW and lasts forever. Each day is too precious to wait until tomorrow. Life is too precious to take it for granted. And the Creator who has given it to us loves us too much to ignore Him and all that He has to offer. It isn’t without its price. To give up self-centeredness is difficult. But the payoff is eternally incredible!
What exactly does the Orthodox Christian Church teach about those issues of our day with which we all must struggle? Of what around us are we called to repent? How does the Church of the New Testament live in a world 2000 years removed from its beginning? Look for this column the first Friday of October to find out! Or join us some Sunday morning at 10 AM and bring your questions with you!