If you ever had an experience with a trainer in the gym, then you know professional trainers tell exactly your body’s limitation. While lifting weights, they tell you to push again and again. When you are pushing your last rounds and at the brink of stopping they give you a little help. And when you are on your last rep and you can’t push anymore they take/pull the weight from you. In real honesty one of the hardest things in our life is to go to the gym. When we workout we desperately look for a short cut. We try to do as little as we want to but on the other hand we want to see our body physically fit. What we want is a body that can be an example to others, health that is immune to any sickness, an energy that can last longer; and a physique that will boost our confidence anywhere we go. But, at the same time we don’t want to do the hard work to get to our final destination. And the trainers sometimes will be harsh with us, other times motivates us, sometimes leave us by ourselves and at times give us a little nudge to keep us going Sometimes we feel accomplished when the trainer say “way to go!!” other times we get frustrated when they say “Is that all you can do?!! Push!!” and at times we really want to quit when they tell us “You don’t have what it takes! Prove me wrong!” Why do they do that? And how do they know our limit? And most of all, what is their intent for pushing us in this way? The only goal of a professional Trainer is for you to be the best…to be like them. That’s why after all we hired them so we can look like the trainer. I believe by now you understand the analogy here. Theosis is a process of transforming ourselves to be in the image of God. If we want to be spiritually fit, immune to ailments of the soul like Christ, be light for the world like Christ, be confident in Christ, and also to have what it takes to push through temptations without despair; you need to go to the “gym” of the spiritual world. And you need an eternal divine trainer…God.
Saint Athanasius elaborates the meaning of Theosis as “becoming by grace what God is by nature” which is the purpose of Tewahedo (Incarnation). The Son of God becoming man goes far beyond than atonement of sin but essentially is for us to be like God through His grace. Saint Paul wrote for his disciple Timothy many times about the idea of Theosis or godliness. Especially on 1st Timothy 3:16 he mentions saying “beyond any doubt the mystery of Theosis/godliness is great.” How can a corrupt man be God? It truly is mystery but “revealed in flesh” Tim 3:17 which means it can be done. It can be seen. Yes, godliness can be achieved! The only way that we can strive to Theosis is by training. And the benefit of this was mentioned by Paul and he said “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value; but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for BOTH the present life and the life to come.” 1st Tim. 4:8. However in training there are things that we leave up to the trainer and things that we pursue.
Pushing the limits of spiritual achievement
“Train yourself to be godly” 1st Tim 7:15
Concerning Theosis, knowing the difference between God’s role and our role is necessary. Opening the door of salvation is not our role but getting up and walking towards and through that door is our role. Knowing your limits is necessary for you to know God’s role. In this case training ourselves to godliness by pushing the limits of spiritual work is our role. And godliness cannot be achieved overnight. It needs blood and sweat and for us to push to reach the limits. The limits of spiritual achievement are mentioned in the Sermon of the Mountain. (Matthew 5&6). Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ set the bar concerning how to keep the commandments. In a worldly sense, if we research how our muscles are built, our body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle growth. A trainee needs to prevent himself from junk foods. Instead, he/she needs to take healthy and nutritional intake. The trainer requires or pushes the trainee to be disciplined. In spiritual training as well when we exercise spiritual path, we will break ego, bitterness, despair, hatred, sexual immorality, jealousy, rage, drunkenness. And in turn we build a new muscle of self-control, love, hope, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, and peace. But we need to prevent from worldly junk indulgences through fasting and alms giving. And we need to communicate with our trainer and his recommended guides continually (unceasing prayer), and consume spiritual nourishment (partaking sacraments and reading the bible). And at the end when we stand on the mirror of righteousness all the fruits of the spirit can be measured in Christ by us looking like Christ. These are the ways we train and push ourselves to achieve godliness.
Knowing your limits of flesh
“Apart from me you can do nothing” John 15:5
Sometimes when we get carried away and want to achieve our goals all by ourselves, we forgot our actual limitations. We want to do so much we basically disregard that we are human. King David said on psalm 22:1 “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” and this is for the most part underlying question. That is when we struggle on specific things again and again, we lose hope. Similarly, in the gym analogy when the trainer leaves it up to us to push by ourselves, he is there. He didn’t go anywhere. And if we see through our spiritual eyes instead of our fleshly ones, we will come to realize that Christ never left us. He was with us all along and he will be with us because His name is Immanuel. But for us, it’s imperative that we understand the limits. We need to have the realization that we can’t overcome anything by our own. God does not test our limits rather He wants us by ourselves to know the limits of our feeble flesh. When we struggle on something and carry the yolk by ourselves, we believe that we can overcome it. Then since He is a God of freedom, He lets us to do what we want. In this case we try everything except leaving it up to Him. And finally we cry out “Why have you forsaken me?” God didn’t forsake you; you wanted to carry the yolk by yourself. And thus you realized your limits. We need to let Christ in us defeat the fight against any snares not by ourselves. We can come up with many strategies, we can plan our new year resolution, we check mark all the supposedly helpful tips but as long as we are doing all by ourselves we fall right back to the same temptation but still with more despair. So when we strive to overcome any temptation truly believe and do your absolute best within your limits and leave the end result up to Him and that is one way how we can get fit spiritually.
Finally, for some, the above mentioned pointers seem to be contradicting but they are not. Knowing the limits of our flesh lets us to focus and rely on the divine. Thus if we rely on our divine trainer (Christ) there is no limit to pursuing the fruits of the spirit and that’s why Saint Paul said “there is no law (limit) for these ” (Gal. 5:23). Therefore pushing the limits of spiritual achievement through Christ lets us surpass the limits of flesh. And in turn, we become like God.