October 17, 2013

Participation in Christ, part 4 (obedience)

This post continues a series looking at "Participation in Christ (An Entry into Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics)" by Adam Neder. To read other posts in this series, click on a number: 12, 3, 5, 6, 78910.

For Barth, our participation in the love and life of Jesus Christ is by a grace that involves obedience. Though obedience is sometimes construed in ways that are antithetical to God's grace, Barth sees obedience and grace linked within the covenant that is ours with God in Christ, our Lord:
In showing His grace, God proves Himself both Savior and Helper... [His] exercising of lordship is kind as well as good... [Grace] rules by offering God to His covenant partner as Lord of the covenant (Neder, p19).
Paradoxically, the covenant "rest" (freedom) we are given in Christ (by grace) is realized in obedience to Christ as Lord. According to Barth, God's grace sets us free first to hear Christ and then to obey what we hear him tell us as our Lord. "...Obedience is indeed the aim of free grace. It is for this that it makes us free" (p19).

However, as Barth notes, the obedience that accompanies grace is not our own - it is a sharing, by grace, in the obedience of Jesus who is both elected man and electing God. We gain the benefit of Jesus' election as we walk with him in covenant fellowship. Indeed, the "meaning and being of the world is defined with respect to this relationship" (p20). How ironic, then, that the people whom God has elected in Jesus, for fellowship with himself, have rejected him. "Their lives have become lies. They are not the people God declares and determines them to be in election. Therefore to... be who they truly are, they need to be rescued" (p20).

Of course, Jesus has provided that rescue, reconciling humanity to God and thus setting humanity free for fellowship with God. The nature of that fellowship is defined in Scripture, particularly as it shows what life "in Christ" is like - the life that is God's will for humanity. Indeed, Jesus has re-created human nature in himself and now invites us to share in his perfect, obedient humanity. Our obedience to God is thus objectively accomplished in the person of Jesus Christ. As believers, we subjectively participate in Jesus' obedience as we live in fellowship with him. Note Barth's comment:
As Jesus Christ calls us and is heard by us He gives us His Holy Spirit in order that His own relationship to His Father may be repeated in us. He then knows us, as we know Him, as the Father knows Him and He the Father. Those who live in this repetition live in the Holy Spirit. The gift and work of the Holy Spirit in us is that Jesus Christ should live in us by faith, that He should be in solidarity and unity with us and we with Him, and therefore that our obedience should be necessary and disobedience excluded (p25).
Commenting on Barth, Neder notes that...
...the command of God is God himself in action drawing human beings into active fellowship. According to Barth, the command of God is a "living command" a "kind decision" because it is the bond of our union with Christ and is the expression of God's love. "The law," Barth famously insists, "is completely enclosed in the gospel" (p25). 
Barth then speaks of our obedience to God in accordance with the Johannine concept of "abiding in Christ." For Barth, the mode of this abiding is obedience to God's command. By virtue of who Jesus is, humanity already, objectively abides in God. But through an act of the will in obedience, believers subjectively experience this abiding. What was already objectively true for them, through obedience, now becomes subjectively (personally) real. Barth's point here is that...
...the perfection of Jesus' Christ's work does not mean that nothing remains for human beings to do. By fulfilling the covenant for us, Jesus Christ does not bring humanity to rest, but sets humanity in motion. Or, using Barth's terminology, Jesus Christ summons humanity to the rest of active obedience (p26). 
This does not mean that we earn our justification or achieve our sanctification by works or merit of our own. Indeed, every aspect of our salvation is an accomplished, objective reality in the humanity of Jesus, entirely by grace apart from ourselves. Our calling then is to cleave to this salvation that already is accomplished in Jesus Christ. As Barth notes,
In [Christ] the realization of the good corresponding to the divine election has already taken place - and so completely that we, for our part, have actually nothing to add, but have only to endorse this event by our action (p27, emphasis added).
And so when it comes to our obedience to God, we look to Christ - we rely fully and only upon his obedience and not our own. This does not mean that we are passive or complacent - for this reliance means relationship - a life lived in active dependence on Christ. Thus for us, obedience is the "obedience of faith" - our active participation in the faith and obedience of Christ himself.

No comments:

Post a Comment