Participation in Christ, part 10 (experiencing our new humanity)

This post concludes a ten part series looking at Adam Neder's excellent book, "Participation in Christ (An Entry into Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics)." To read other posts in the series, click on a number: 12, 3, 4, 5, 6, 789.

We come now to the last post in this series. We'll look at Neder's analysis of Barth's understanding that, through participation in Christ, we experience the new humanity that is ours in the resurrected, glorified humanity of Jesus Christ. In that regard, what is true for all people already in Christ in a de jure (objective/universal) sense, is experienced by individuals progressively in a de facto (subjective/personal) sense through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thus Barth embraced a "Christocentric pneumatology" (a Christ-centered doctrine of the Holy Spirit), alongside his "theology of the resurrection of Christ" (p83, emphasis added).

For Barth, this personal experience of our new humanity in Christ is direct and free---it is not limited to indirect means of grace such as the sacraments. Though Barth viewed baptism and the Lord's Supper as vitally important, he insisted that God is free and sovereign in showering his grace upon us in ways that are direct and unmediated. He insisted that our participation in Christ (de jure and de facto) is directly with the risen, ascended and glorified Incarnate Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Barth, the grace that God freely gives us is not a "what"---not a "substance"--- but a "who," the divine-human person Jesus Christ. Thus, Barth understood that "we receive Christ's benefits [his grace]...to the extent that we are joined to him" (p84).

Barth believed that when we cling tenaciously to this Christocentric view of grace, we help to insure that "Jesus Christ will never be displaced from his place of supreme importance, since believers remain dependent on him at every moment" (p84). A key "place" where this tenacity is vital, is in our understanding of God's gracious work to sanctify us. Like all aspects of our salvation, Barth sees sanctification as participation in Jesus' own life---in this case in his own sanctified humanity:
Both the old man of yesterday and the new man of tomorrow...is still the old and yet already the new, in complete and utter antithesis.... The vita christiana [life of Christ] in conversion is the event, the act, the history, in which at one and the same time man is still wholly the old man and already wholly the new---so powerful in the sin by which he is determined from behind, and so powerful the grace by which he is determined from before.... The old and the new man are simultaneously present (p85).
Though our old man is dead in Christ, yet somehow it is still here with us. At the same time, though our glorification lied ahead of us, somehow the glorified new man is here with us (see Paul's comment in 2 Corinthians 5:17). Here we have Barth's understanding of the "now, yet future" sense of eschatology as it pertains to sanctification. Already we are new people in Christ, and yet we do not experience that newness fully this side of glorification. Indeed, our true (fully sanctified) humanity is at the present time "hidden in Christ" (see Paul's comment in Colossians 3:1-4).

By grace, we experience this new man--this new creation of humanity in Christ. And thus, according to Barth, the good works we accomplish in this life are not our own, but a sharing in the good works of the resurrected, ascended, glorified human Jesus. Our obedience to God takes place not by our "own caprice, but by the will and touch and address and creation and gift of the Lord" (pp85-6). In short, we should not view grace as some sort of a "transferred condition," but as our direct participation in the life and love of the man Jesus, who, himself, is God's grace.

Our ongoing life in Christ--our "journey with Jesus"--is thus not about merely mimicking Jesus' past behavior ("What would Jesus do?" some ask); nor is it about merely "cooperating" with God's grace. Rather, in union and communion with Jesus we have actual (real) participation in the ongoing, resurrected, ascended, glorified human life and love of of our Lord and Savior. And that participation comes by and through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Jesus.

Barth's concept that participation in Christ is participation in the triune being of God is similar to the idea of deification (sometimes called theosis) taught by the Orthodox church and others, though Barth was careful to show that this participation realizes rather than replaces our humanity. Barth emphasized that as we participate in the glorified, humanity of Jesus, we will forever continue to be human. Indeed, it is that participation that makes us truly human. Here is how the apostle John put his understanding of this truth:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).
To that we add our grateful "amen," as we conclude this series looking at Neder's book. I recommend it to you highly.

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