Theology and Theosis

by Roel Velema
(A letter to a friend on outward and inward knowledge)

Dear …,

As I promised, I would send you a summarizing of what we have talked about this weekend: Calvinism, Arminianism, eternal salvation, mystics and inner life.

Well, let’s start with Calvinism. I consider the Calvinist and Arminian view to be man’s theology. The Arminian school believes whether we are saved eternally depends upon ourselves; thus that we are responsible for our eternal salvation. This doctrine is mainly based upon the five warnings in Hebrews and the warnings given by our Lord in the gospel of Matthew (cp. Matt. 24:45-51; 25:14-30). They say that Christians should be watchful or else they can still lose their eternal salvation.

However, a Christian cannot lose his salvation, because the Arminian school fails to see that there’s also a future salvation, which is conditional. This salvation has to do with being faithful in order to realize the rights of the firstborn sons and to be coheirs with Christ in His coming kingdom.

The Calvinist view has its faults too. Calvin stated that our eternal salvation was not initiated by ourselves, because God predestinated us before the foundation of the world. This predestination is eternal and unchangeable; therefore the saved ones will never perish. Calvin was correct that eternal salvation started with God (Gen. 1:1,2), but made the mistake to relate predestination to eternal salvation, instead to our future salvation. An unredeemed person is never predestined, but only after that person has been saved eternally.

In the late 1800’s and God raised up Robert Govett (and later his successor David Panton). Their teaching stands between the Calvinism and Arminianism. They emphasized the difference between God’s eternal salvation and man’s responsibility. Govett and Panton saw the truth concerning the kingdom. They called to attention which was there all the centuries in the Bible, just as Luther “rediscovered” salvation by grace through faith. Govett said that after being saved, we are saved forever and will never perish. But we must follow the Lord faithfully. Then when the Lord comes back, we will receive the Messianic kingdom as a reward, in addition to our eternal salvation. If we are not faithful, we will not be able to share the glory of the kingdom and we will suffer loss.(Rev. 2-3).

Calvinism and Arianism are forever opposed to each other and never come together, which shows it’s man’s theology. However, when we see the truth of the kingdom Calvinism and Arminianism can be put aside.

In the reformation God gave men like Luther and others to rediscover the truth of justification by faith. From the early 19th century God raised the Brethren and they opened up the Scriptures, unlocked the prophecies, dug out the types and antitypes, the difference of Israel and the Church, law and grace, and practice of the church and many other Biblical truths like the Trinity and dispensations. The culmination of John Darby’s writings were his Synopsis of the Books of the Bible where he abstracted every book in the Bible and showed the underlying principles of each book.

There may be exceptions with devotional men as C.H. Mackintosh, but in general the Brethren were objective and theological related in their approach. Therefore the Brethren were short of the inner life. Throughout Church history we have the mystics who called attention to the inner life and our organic relationship with Christ. If we only have objective Bible teaching and not the inner life teachings, we are imbalanced and not qualified to know the Bible properly. It’s theology and theosis, i.e. unity with God.

As in objective Bible truth, there is also an ongoing disclosure of inner life truth.

God raised many to emphasize the inner life, such as Mediaeval saints, and later men as Andrew Murray and T. Austin-Sparks.

Another one from the 19th century was A.B. Simpson. If you read his writings, “Christ in you” and Galatians 2:20 are the central driving truths — but he still puts it on “you” to perform it or make it happen.

Another one is Hanna Whitall Smith. In her book The Christian Secret of a Happy Life, written in the late 1800’s, she wrote about “Just Three Steps” and the beginning part of it seemed very legalistic with many “we must do’s” in the text, though it ends up in oneness Christ in the end.

Most of these writers at that time knew Galatians 2:20 still did not have the full grasp of union, yet what they wrote was glorious in its day and served as an foundation.

Still later, in the 20th century, God raised up T. Austin-Sparks with more light. Watchman Nee considered Sparks to be his greatest human teacher. I have to admit that I profited much from Sparks and I stand on his shoulders. Sparks also warned against academical truth. He said: “Life works out in revelation of Jesus Christ, and truth is not academic truth, technical truth. Truth is personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus in a living, experimental way. Knowing is not just technical, mental, intellectual knowledge in the Word of God, it is association with a person. To know the truth is to come into association with the truth in a living way, and that truth is not something in itself’ it is in Jesus, ‘as the truth is in Jesus’”.

A teacher who follows Sparks and Nee closely today is Chip Brogden. In his book Lord of All he writes:

He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). Each time you lose a part of your life, you will find Christ’s Life is right there to fill the void. Every single time. This is a spiritual truth, and there are no exceptions to the rule. Think of what it means. The more I give to Him, the more He gives to me. I trade in my life in exchange for His Life. Which would you rather have? Do you want your life, your failures, your mistakes, your frustrations, your sins? Or would you rather give that up in exchange for His Life? You can have either one you want, but you cannot have both”.

Chip Brogden teaches, just as Sparks, a separation/distinction between the life of Christ and our lives. Therefore he can say that we trade our lives for His life.

But God also raised other ones who had fuller light on this matter, such as Norman P. Grubb and Thomas Merton. Norman Grubb (www.normangrubb.com) was of the same generation as Sparks, while Merton, a Trappist monk, was born later in 1915 in France. Merton said: “You have to experience duality for a long time until you see it’s not there.”

Grubb and others saw that there is no duality in our organic relationship with Christ. We are one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), and we are just as one with Christ as Christ was one with the Father. Grubb saw through the prism of union, rather than the prism of performance. He said that sanctification is simply recognition, that it is not a progressive rectification of one’s behavior but rather a progressive recognition of our new identity. Grubb taught that sanctification is not a process of becoming more holy but through the axiom of union, to know that I AM.

Union life, which Norman Grubb taught, corrected the error that we can and have to die to self. There is no such thing as “dying to self”. “Dying to self” says that all my natural and normal instincts are not to be trusted and we must change. It is a process of change to become more “Christ-like”. However the reality is that the only necessary change has already occurred. It occurred as a result of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Savior. We are one spirit and therefore there is no such thing to become Christ-like, because that is separate thinking. Galatians 2:20 is not our standard to be reached through long dedication and patient progress. No, it is God’s description of how we live now. That’s great news, because God has accepted our whole natural life as His asset. This is why we do not need to fear our intellects, our imaginations, our emotions, our intuitive beings, or own bodies. We simply offer them wholly to God and find them revitalized and redirected. I no longer ask “What is wrong with me?”, “What have I done to deserve this?”, “Why is God angry with me?” or “What did I wrong now?” That’s separate thinking. But praise God I am free. I don’t look for improvement, because I can’t improve. I died. We are just vessels and it’s not God’s intention that the vessel should become as the treasure.

Union life corrects another error and that is the fallacy that we have two natures.

Austin-Sparks wrote: “You can still allow your own old man to have a place, you can still allow your own will to have a place, your own feelings to have a place. Going on with the Lord depends entirely upon whether you are going on on the basis of that which is born of the flesh or that which is born of the Spirit”.

The truth is that we don’t have the old man anymore. We can sin but no longer after the old man. We cannot have two spirits in us. Union life says that we are one with Christ and that our natural life is not a second nature. We have only one nature; we are children of the light and no longer children of wrath.

We are one with Christ and we no longer have an independent self. We think so and try to act accordingly, only to find that we are in bondage again.

The greatest obstacle to seeing who we are in union with Christ is a behavior orientation we cannot let go. “What about my behavior?” is at everyone’s forefront. And as such, it continually remains an outer what-we-can-see approach, and it is the hardest thing for people to give up, but it must go, for full liberation. Otherwise the outer behavior wheel keeps turning endlessly without satisfaction. The only thing we can do is to take the step out in faith that we fully died in Christ. The soul is forever trapped in duality, so we don’t look at the visible and temporal to determine the state of our spiritual life. We are fixed in our oneness where “Christ lives as us”.

After we have seen that we died, we are the happiest people in the world, because then in resurrection Christ fills the whole picture. Our true self is who we are at the spirit level. And at this deepest level of our personhood we are no sinners, but saints. The temptation to believe that there is something wrong with me, that I have fallen, that I ought not think, feel or react like I do. The law always tries to make me go back to self-effort. Its subtleness can only be exposed by the practice of our senses, and it lurks around every corner trying to catch us in its net. Trying to be good is so alluring, but there is only One who is good.

We never separate ourselves from Him. We don’t say we ‘blend’ in such a way that we ‘become’ like Christ. We only become AS Christ to others. We are forever <fill in your name> AS a form of HIM. The form NEVER becomes who it contains, but IS His expression.

All these things were seen by Norman Grubb and it’s the highest revelation of the Christian life until now. God may raise up other believers to deepen the union life. I foresee that the Lord will reveal more as our awareness of union with Christ grows. I don’t doubt that especially in the millennium the Creator in us will reveal the untapped creativity in us in a fuller way.

Yours in His grace,

Roel

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