Ethics and the Holy Spirit as Redeemer

[Updated 5/10/19]

This is part 3 of a 3-part series reviewing Karl Barth's 1929 lecture reproduced in the book The Holy Spirit and the Christian Life, the Theological Basis of Ethics. For part 1, click here. For part 2, click here. We looked last time at the Spirit as Reconciler. Now we'll look at the Spirit as Redeemer.

Descent of the Holy Spirit (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

As Redeemer, the Holy Spirit helps us to experience now our redemption in Christ, though its fullness will not be ours until our resurrection in glory. Thus the Holy Spirit's work as Redeemer is as the Spirit of the Promise. And so we come to the subject of eschatology (last things). Barth comments on the Spirit's role in revealing to us the future fullness of the redemption that is ours in Christ:
In his revelation [of our redemption] he promises...a future that is a starting point... Characteristic of this promise is its reference to the reality of death, in the shadows of which we now and here exist: it gives a new quality to this state of our existence. Finality and futurity from the Beyond of our existence is the peculiar quality of God's purpose with us, imparting quality to our redemption, to resurrection and to eternal life. In the fact that God promises us our resurrection he is present with us. As the Word of God is the Word of the promise too, so the Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of the Promise," by whom we are "sealed unto the day of redemption" (Luke 24:49; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30). (pp. 59-60)
Barth then reminds us that the Spirit of the Promise is "not only the Alpha and Omega within himself but is the Beginning and the End on our behalf also." In and by the Holy Spirit we have "an all-final end and a new-starting future." Because this promise is spoken by God to us, "we are born again and become 'a new creature...partakers of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4): God's children" (p. 61).

This Word of the Promise of our redemption was spoken by God in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In him, God created and continues to create fellowship between himself and humankind--the kind of fellowship that exists between a father and his child. This Word of the Promise, having been spoken already, is a present reality. However, it is not yet full--not yet as it shall be--for there remains for us the outworking of Jesus' total victory over sin.

Praise be to God that this future--this total victory--which, though yet incomplete, is now present with us through the Spirit of the Promise. Its presence is not a mere concept, but a deeply personal, living reality in the person of the Holy Spirit, the Redeemer, who is with us and for us.

As the Spirit baptizes us into the faith, this present-future reality becomes actual in our experience, even though it may not be seen outwardly. Indeed, there is a journey ahead on which the Spirit leads us up to and through "the veil of death" to the possession of the fullness of our redemption in our coming resurrection. As Peter wrote, "we have been born again" (perfect tense), "to a living hope." In short, this redemption is ours now, but not yet fully. We are now, God's children; the kingdom is now close by; yet there remains a future fullness for which we hope with full assurance and joy-filled expectation. Thus, we view our redemption in what Barth refers to as a "double line" (p. 63).

Why is our hope in a promise of full redemption so sure and so joy-filled? Because, it "may not be removed from the action of the Redeemer." Our redemption is God's good work, not our own, and it is a finished work. And though we are now heirs of this full redemption, and not yet its possessors (in the ultimate sense), the promise of God of our complete/final redemption is sure and secure in him, and thus our hope is high!

Once again, we are reminded that Christian life in its essence is not about our efforts to redeem ourselves, but a life lived in hope and assurance in Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This is what Barth refers to as the "Christly life," in that it is our participation, through the Holy Spirit, in Jesus' own life--including his hope, faith and love. As Barth notes, "it is precisely because of this that it is said that the Christian's life is 'hid with Christ in God'" (p. 65, referencing Col. 3:3).

How does this life, shared with Christ through the Spirit of the Promise, manifest itself to us and through us? Barth gives three examples:

1. In the Holy Spirit we have a conscience. 
Barth refers to a Christian's conscience as "co-knowledge." The Spirit gives us a share in Jesus' own divine knowledge "about what is good and evil" (p. 65). As the Spirit regenerates us as the children of God, we are given, in Jesus, this inner knowing of our Heavenly Father's will. In that way, we look beyond ourselves to God to answer the ethical question, How then shall we live? However, our present ability to share in our Father's knowledge is not complete; not perfect. And so again, we are led to trust in Jesus--in his knowing, which is perfect.

2. In the Holy Spirit there is gratitude. 
Barth notes that our response of thankfulness to God as his children is the "sum and substance of actual obedience that is well-pleasing to God" (p. 66). He comments further:
Gratitude...means emancipated obedience; delivered from the fear of God's wrath; freed from the spasm of man's wanting-to-make-it-all-right.... It is obedience cheerfully rendered, because... our obedience is not a mere impulse of our unemancipated super- or subconscious self. (p. 66)
Of course, we are not yet fully grateful because we are not yet fully emancipated. However, we have hope, for "Christ, with his blessing, creates such [grateful] folk by his grace and Holy Spirit" (p. 67, and note Paul's words, "I, yet not I, but Christ" in Galatians 2:20--and on this point, click here to read a paper by Andrew Purves who reviews T.F. Torrance's view of the the vicarious humanity of Jesus who acts in gratitude for us as one of us).

3. In the Holy Spirit prayer is made.
On this point, Barth emphasizes eschatology--our looking, in hope, to our future glorification. We are, at the present time, as God's children, incapable of praying as we ought--our feeble efforts but mere (though not inconsequential) "groanings." However, we look forward to a future when we will see our Father face-to-face. Today, living in hope of that glory, we pray to him, despite our inadequacy, trusting the Holy Spirit to make our groanings fully intelligible to and a source of great joy to our Father and to us, his children. Barth comments:
The wonder of prayer... is the incoming of the Holy Spirit to the help of the man who is praying. It is the Spirit's sighing, which, to be sure is in our mouth; yet as his groaning, who creates out of the man who is sober or drunken or finical [finicky], or even religious [in the negative sense] who has utterly collapsed (I mean by that, the man who prays in himself and to himself); out of a man of that kind, the Holy Spirit makes a person who actually, really prays. (p. 68)
It pleases our Heavenly Father to take our rather feeble groaning and sighing--which are placed in our heart by the Spirit--together with the burdens that have led us to prayer, upon himself. Indeed, this is the ministry to us of the Spirit of the Promise, our Redeemer.

And with that thought in mind, we pray, Come Holy Spirit, gives us God's own knowledge, and lead us to share in Jesus' grateful obedience, including his life of prayer!

And so ends our examination of Barth's lecture on the Holy Spirit and the Christian life. Next time we'll continue the series on Christian ethics. A full list of posts in this series is found by clicking here.