I read the post I put up yesterday (link) hand in hand with Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church (Col.2:17). Here are some thoughts which came out of that reflection.
It helps to understand that Christian character and Christian identity – as individuals and as a group within the Commonwealth of Christ (Barth’s term for the Church), is qualified (Col.1:12) by the gracious “Yes” of God in Jesus the Christ. This doesn’t mean the Bible preaches a “forgive and forget” fallacy. Nor does it support abandoning the reality of our pain, or that we can write-off the pain we ourselves might have caused in our neighbour. On the contrary the bible is full of discussions and examples about how God’s mercy and judgement both meet the sinner.
For instance, Paul tells us both that ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness’ (Col.1:13-14), and yet ‘the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong done, there is no partiality’ (Col.3:25).
In one sense this means that:
‘what lies before the one whom God pardons is the forgiven sin, the sin recognised in the light of forgiveness, which drives one to repentance. The pardoned sinner’s thinking then is in accord with God’s reconciling yes to the sinner and God’s irreconcilable no to evil’ (Busch, 2008 Loc.1201-1980).
The world, identified as dogma; human opinion; ideology, informs rather than forms Christian identity. This distinction between inform and form is important to recognise. Primarily because the Holy Spirit, present and dynamic, is active in our formation. More precisely, the Spirit empowers us to conform our hearts and minds, to the heart and mind of God (Rm.12:2/1 Peter 1:13 & 14).
Not that we become God, but that through this process we become fully human, participants with God (2 Pet.1:4). Therefore the Church must not surrender its theology to ‘worldviews which take over the freedom of the Gospel and instead hold the gospel in critique of all ideologies’ (Gorringe, 1999:3 & 33).
One significant reason for this is that this Spirit empowered reformation is restorative. Viewed as such because ‘grace is the secret of ethics’ (Gorringe, 1999:63). It is a call, or as Barth puts it, a summons to relationship with the God who does not want be without us.
Barth rightly points out that this relationship is grounded in the reconciler who reveals himself as himself, the Father, Son and Spirit, three, yet one alone (CD 1.1 & Col.1:15 ‘the pre-eminence of Christ’).Our response is insisted upon by the life of, and the blood-spilt by the Christ. He invites us, as-we-are, to become who-we-are now in Him.
The opposite to this is, on its own, is a degenerative dehumanization. This is because ‘pride distorts our appreciation of freedom, turning on the presumption that humanity is the sole and only ground of its own being’ (Elshtain, 2000:42, see also Proverbs 3:5-8).
One might consider here the arrogant reductionism found layered into the text on many a social media site. Such as the discounting of the Christian faith, thought and practise through the fallacy of ad hominem. The aim which Jean Bethke Elshtain points out, is to get people to engage in a ‘politics of displacement’ – identity politics which promotes and limits rhetorical boundaries in order to enslave us to an idea of who we are, what we can only ever be, and why change is deemed impossible by the majority who hold that opinion over us.
It is worth introducing at this point Paul’s words from prison to the Colossian Church, words which are also relevant to Christians today.
‘Let your living (word & deed) spill over into thanksgiving. Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly’ (Peterson Col. 2, The Message italics mine)
‘Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted’ (Peterson, The Message)
Christ becomes our identity because in Him, ‘God made us alive together with Him’ (Col.2:13).
This suggests that whatever others might say about who, or what we are has been negated by the Cross of Christ. We can now choose to live differently and are empowered to do so (Col.1:14-15; 3:5-10).
Paul warns: ‘let no one disqualify you’ (Col.2:18, ESV) since ‘a corrupt mind may disqualify us’ (2 Tim.3:8).
Our pasts may haunt us, but if we are in Christ they cannot destroy us. Words may sting like a whiplash. They often do, but the covert put downs, the passive aggressive-snide remarks mean squat in light of the fact that ‘God qualifies you’ ( Col.1:12).
This example from the 3rd Century highlights my point:
Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast.
While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution.
‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or water pot or whatever?’
‘Yes, I do’, said he.
And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’
And he said: ‘No.’
‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’
At this my father was so angered by the word ‘Christian’ that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.
(For more about Perpetua’s eventual martyrdom click here)
God’s acceptance of us presupposes our acceptance of Him.
We properly hear this and act. Or we don’t. Reacting against it. Wrongly leaning on the lies of self-justification (Torrance 2009:105).
A good example of response comes from something else I read recently:
‘Leah’s heart went from pain and suffering to praise. Somewhere along the way, she surrendered her will, her wants, her deepest desires and decided to praise the Lord.
May our eyes be turned to this God, praising Him for His amazing goodness.
Fall to your knees and spend the rest of your life rejoicing…
Saying: “This time. I will praise the Lord”…(Genesis 29:35)’ (DS, 2013 italics mine).
We begin to apply all of this when we hear in Paul, Perpetua and Leah’s words the call to acknowledge the God, who has made the painstaking effort to acknowledge us.
In sum, the world does not get to define the Christian. Christ does. Our substance belongs to Him (Col.2:17).
Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics, 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers
Busch, E 2008 Barth (Abingdon Pillars of Theology) Kindle for PC ed. Abingdon Press.
Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are we? Critical reflections and Hopeful Possibilities Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Grand Rapids
Elshtain, J.B 1995 Democracy On Trial BasicBooks, Perseus Books Group
Gorringe, T.J 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Oxford University Press
Peterson, E. 2002 The Message: The bible in contemporary language NavPress Publishing Group
The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas sourced 29th October 2013 from http://web.archive.org/web/20031206113609/http://www.bu.edu/religion/courses/syllabi/rn301/perpetua.htm
Torrance, T.F 2009, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, InterVarstiy Press
Unless otherwise stated, all biblical references are from the English Standard Version