Conformity to God means Conformity to Christ

God-likeness is Christ-likeness, and if Christ is the crucified one, then both God is cruciform and the Christian is designed to become cruciform. The call to holiness and to love is the call to be conformed to Christ and to God, and if God reveals himself in Christ’s love in the cross and resurrection, then God-liness and Christ-likeness are both cruciformity.

This is is the important thesis of Michael Gorman in his exceptional study, Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul’s Narrative Soteriology. My Paul class at Northern Seminary read Michael’s book and one comment was rather common: “Man, this guy sure does pile on some terms.” He does, but just stick with him a few pages, you’ll catch the meanings and then you can follow him cleanly and easily.

Response? What do you think of Paul’s idea of salvation as “cruciform theosis”?

So, I’ve grabbed one of his central thesis statements in the book, provide it here with new line breaks, and then I’ll unpack it a bit:

Because the faithful and loving crucified Christ is the image and self-revelation of God,

the paradoxical process of justification by co-crucifixion, or resurrection through conformity to the crucified Christ,

means that the pisteueontes (“believers”) are those who are becoming like God and thus

experiencing the process of theosis inasmuch as they embody the symbiosis of fidelity and love found in the Son of God.

Whew! This is on p. 90. It’s exceptionally clear even if it is not plain English. I shall explain it now:

1. God reveals what God is like and who God is in Christ, and that means God reveals “God-ness” in the cross and resurrection. What we see in Christ is the faithful Son, the one who is faithful to the covenant, and what we see is the loving Son, the one who loves both God and loves others — so what we see in Christ and therefore in God is the covenant faithfulness and love of God. We see God in the cross. God is cruciform. Let that dig in a bit.

This “faithful and loving crucified Christ” has a story, and Paul’s master story is told in Philippians 2:6-11. Gorman proposes that “because he was in the form of God” is a reliable translation and not just “although he was in the form of God.” The divine pattern at work is although/because (status), not (selfishness) but (selflessness).

2. We are justified by faith, but faith in Paul’s letter is more than assent and more than logical conclusion; faith in Paul’s letters is about co-crucifixion and co-resurrection. That is, faith is participating in the death and resurrection of Christ. That is, faith is participating in the revelation of who God is and what God does.

3. Justification is by faith, but if faith is about co-crucifixion then justification is by co-crucifixion. The debate over the years is whether justification is a legal fiction or simply a forensic declaration. Gorman says No!  What is justification?

… restoration to right covenant relations with God and others by participation in Christ’s quintessential covenantal act of faith and love on the cross;

this one act fulfilled both the ‘vertical’ and the ‘horizontal’ requirements of the Law, such that those who participate in it experience the same life-giving fulfillment of the Law and therein …

begin the paradoxical, christologically grounded process of resurrection through death (45).

They are liberated from Sin and sins. Justification entails transformation; justification is synonymous with reconciliation. The theological rift between justification and sanctification is illegitimate.

4. The believer, the co-crucified and the co-raised, participate in that death and resurrection and in that act of participating begin to become like God. They are entering into theosis.

Holiness is one such expression of this: and holiness is cruciform, too. “Be ye cruciform for I am cruciform.” Holiness is about being cruciform.

5. What God reveals in the cross and resurrection is the love of God and the faithfulness of Christ to God — Christ’s covenant fidelity — to the ways and life of God itself.

Now to sum up the whole: for Paul, salvation is cruciform theosis. Salvation is about becoming like God, the God who is revealed in the cross and resurrection.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul W

    I think this is spot on.

    I’ll give my YES vote now for a book review series.

  • http://sermonsleuth.com Cole

    Thanks for posting this Scot!
    I read through half of the 2nd chapter and put it down, not because I disliked it, but because it rocked my world! I’ll have to pick it back up again. I’ve been digesting Gorman’s take on the Phil 2 Christ hymn for a few weeks, and it can radically change one’s ‘mindset.’ Here’s a reflection that I wrote on it a few weeks ago.

    http://sermonsleuth.com/the-storyequation-of-lent-gods-and-ours/

    I second Paul W’s request!

  • http://gregorysmagee.wordpress.com/ Greg

    I really like putting cruciformity at the center of Christian experience in this age.

    “Because” rather than “although” for Philippians 2:6 seems unlikely based on the parallel concessive sense in 2 Cor 8:9. I wonder what others think about that – I know that a number of other scholars prefer the “because” translation for the participle. It seems like a stretch to me.

    Also, to what extent is cruciformity linked to the presence of opposition to God’s reign? How will cross-shaped living be affected when Christ returns and judges all of his enemies?

  • Rodney Reeves

    Michael Gorman’s work on “Cruciformity” was a breath of fresh air for me when his book (under that title) came out in 2001. Brilliant work.

    @Greg #3,

    Great question (one that Paul never answers it seems to me–he simply holds out the hope that the power of the cruciformed life [resurrection power in the cross of Jesus] will sustain the faithful until the day of Christ’s parousia). Cruciformity is a strange way for God to rule the world through Christ.

  • Rick

    Scot-

    Would you say that this may be a strong 3rd way at looking at the NPP issue (Wright v. Piper for example), and is more in line with Michael Bird’s attempt?

  • josh carney

    Thank God for Mike Gorman. Such a great voice.

  • Luke A

    Yeah, a very underrated and underexposed writer and thinker.

  • John W. Frye

    This is fascinating stuff. I read the reviews at amazon.com and someone reflected Barth’s observation that one of the weaknesses of Calvinism is that it separates the Father and the Son too much. That made me think that Gorman not only helps us see an ontological unity in the Trinity but an operational,revelational unity as well into which salvation brings us.

  • http://www.chiasticstructures.com Todd Moore

    Intriguing synthesis from a Western mindset, but there is no need to re-invent Theosis. Come & see Eastern Orthodoxy.

  • http://www.createdtobelikegod.com theophilus.dr

    “Salvation is about becoming like God, the God who is revealed in the cross and resurrection.” This a great statement. There are quite a few posts in this same direction except from a more biophysical perspective, so that the “big words” are different. A rather “tongue-in-cheek” (but also serious) approach develops the “Unified Field Law of Everything in the Universe” from Eph. 4:24 & Col. 3:10; the gift of the Holy Spirit being the DNA of God, same spiritual genes given to Jesus Christ, coding for His characteristics revealed in us through transformation; the “Trinity” as three relationships modeled to perfection by Jesus the Son; and about 200K more words on 2 websites.

  • http://caveat1ector.wordpress.com Hydroxonium

    Really appreciate this blog post. Theosis is a core biblical concept, and the Western church should have realised this a long time ago.

    @Todd Moore (#9), indeed!!

    The apostle Paul himself gave a wonderful summary of the purpose of the crucifixion:

    Romans 5:9-11
    Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)
    9 much more, then, having been declared righteous now in his blood, we shall be saved through him from the wrath;
    10 for if, being enemies, we have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved in his life.
    11 And not only [so], but we are also boasting in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom now we did receive the reconciliation;

    Since Romans 5:9 looks forward to our vindication at God’s final eschatological judgement, then perhaps Romans 5:10 is properly understood as looking forward to our final eschatological theosis!

    Theosis is about knowing God (1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor 3:18; 1 John 3:1-2).
    Paul, in Romans 5:11, mentions this idea of “boasting in God”. This is also about knowing God (Jer 9:23-24)! Furthermore, 1 Cor 1:18-31 explains that we know God through the crucified Christ! At the end of that wonderful passage, Paul even quotes Jer 9:24 as the punchline (1 Cor 1:31)!

    “They are liberated from Sin and sins. Justification entails transformation; justification is synonymous with reconciliation. The theological rift between justification and sanctification is illegitimate.”

    I would agree with the author, though with the qualification that he has understated the subtle differences between Justification and Reconciliation. My understanding is that Justification is a kind of forensic “de jure” declaration that is based on a real “de facto” godliness possessed by the one who has been reconciled to God. In other words, instead of saying that Justification and Reconciliation are synonymous, it’s more accurate to say that they are inseparable.

    PS. I chose the YLT version of Romans 5:10, because “saved in his life” seems to be a much better translation than “saved by his life”. After all, this is the point of Paul’s repeated use of “in Christ” (en Christo).


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