Grace Unto Obedience
My review of Adam Neder's Participation in Christ is beginning to collect some dust. I had written down a few excellent quotes in that process and would not appreciate them getting lost. So I am going to squeeze a post out of two quotations on the idea of grace and freedom in Jesus Christ. The first quote is from Neder and is in response Barth's quote (which comes second in this blog post),
"Jesus Christ's fulfillment of the covenant of grace eliminates any basis for human anxiety and despair, and it reveals that humanity has been 'set at rest'. But paradoxically the rest that it has been given is realized actively in obedience." (19)
One of the things that Barth brought to the theological forefront was dialectic speech. Many state this as a reason to disregard Barth. However, there are critical times where Christians need to speak in paradoxes (even the great enemy of Barth, Van Til, said such) — this is one of those good times. Working in this tradition, Neder's quote captures fully that we are saved through justification by faith alone. In Christ's fulfillment, "humanity has been at rest."
And yet, the crisis comes in how to speak about good works after justification. Is our relationship to Christ merely the "entrance" into a life apart from Him that is focused on obedience? Or in union with Christ are we also seeking obedience while resting in our Lord's completion of the covenant? The language of "rest" being "realized" not merely in faith but in "obedience" speaks to the truth of justification. Justification and rest aren't true "in obedience" — they are realized. So let it be stated, the finality of God's work in Jesus Christ is best manifest in our restful work of obedience. Which leads us to the original quote from Karl Barth,
"Confronted with the mystery of God, the creature must be silent; not merely for the sake of being silent, but for the sake of hearing…For obedience is the purpose and goal of hearing. Our return to obedience is indeed the aim of free Grace. It is for this that it makes us free. It is for this that it confronts us as a mystery" (19)
Silence — which is suggested at multiple points in the Scripture — is not fulfilled merely in a lack of speech. It is fulfilled in actually hearing the words spoken. And as any parent can tell you, no child has "heard" unless they have obeyed. This is one of the strange ways in which Barth spoke.
Man apart from God knows nothing of freedom. We normally speak today about freedom with respect to free will or determinism. For Barth — in this state of silence and sin — all men are incapable of being the man God made them to be. But in the freedom found in Jesus Christ and in the word of the gospel, man can be reunited to God and be obedient. In this obedience, man finds his first taste of true freedom.