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Called To Be Children of God, Part 3

By Carl E. Olson
“The Son of God became man so that we might become God.”

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Talking about man becoming like God might sound dangerous. After all, isn’t that what got Adam and Eve in trouble? However, Carl Olson explains that a full understanding of the coming of Jesus Christ in the Incarnation tells us that through Him we can become, in a way, like God. Jesus came to save us from our sins, but that means more than just clearing the slate. He shares our humanity so that, through Him, we may receive some of the divine life. Justification in Christ isn’t just about justice—it means that we are filled with the life of God!

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. … For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace.”

– John 1:12-14, 16

The Word: The Only-Begotten Son

God perfectly revealed Himself through the Word, His Son, Jesus Christ (CCC, n. 65).  He desires that men should come to Him, "the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature" (n. 51). There has been no change in the Father's will for man since before creation. The goal is still intimate, supernatural union. This is now a reality again because of the work of the "New Adam" (n. 411). God "wants to communicate His own divine life to the men He freely created, in order to adopt them as His sons in His only-begotten Son" (n. 52). This is due to his undying and unequalled love that sees in man what man cannot give himself through natural means: the ability to have intimate union with the Trinity.

Next to the Trinity, the greatest mystery of the Christian faith is the Incarnation, the belief that God became man and dwelt among us (nn. 456-463). The Catechism teaches that a primary reason for the Incarnation was that we might become adopted sons of God:

“The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’:  ‘For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.’; ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’; ‘The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods’” (n. 460).

These three quotes, from St. Irenaeus, St. Athanasius, and St. Thomas, are indicative of the teaching of the Church fathers and doctors. Much of their writing addressing divine sonship refers to a passage in Peter's second epistle that the Catechism repeats many times: "For by these he has granted to us his precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature ..." (2 Pt 1:4). The language of the fathers may appear pantheistic, but in reality it points to the great mystery of the natural creature being filled with the supernatural life of the Creator, thus changing his character through union with the Triune God. It also follows that, by being incorporated into the Incarnate Son of God, believers become similar to God in the sense of being filled with the life of God, which is a true partaking of the divine nature.

Resurrection and Justification

It is specifically in the Paschal mystery that the divine life is brought forth and offered to humanity once again. Christ's death first frees us from sin and then "His Resurrection opens for us the way to a new life" (n. 654). It is here that one of the most controversial and disputed of theological terms is used: justification. While classical Protestantism sees justification as a juridical term used in a sort of cosmic courtroom, the Catholic perspective continually refers back to God as Creator and Love, as maker and giver of life. Certainly justice is demanded, but not merely because God is a judge whose wrath must be satisfied, but because He is also a righteous and holy Father ("a provident father and just judge," cf. Dei Verbum, n. 3), whose divine life cannot be freely shared with those who seek their own lives. This self-seeking rejection of the Father's divine life and love severs our relationship with God. It means that a mediator is required to close the chasm between us. Now, through the Son, we have this mediation and, consequently, new and supernatural life. "This new life is above all justification that reinstates us in God's grace, 'so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life'" (n. 654). Justification is "a new participation in grace. It brings about filial adoption so that men become Christ's brethren" (n. 654). Here is the heart of the Gospel: While the Son has intimate communion and union with the Father by His nature, we have that relationship by and through grace. This means that our "adoptive filiation gains us a real share in the life of the only Son, which was fully revealed in His Resurrection" (n. 654, also see n. 1972).

To be continued …

Copyright © 2000 Carl E. Olson.

Carl welcomes your comments. Email him at

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