Archives For God’s grace

neonbrand-463099-unsplashGrace shows humanity God’s commitment to humanity. This commitment isn’t the result of our empty attempts to placate a bored King who has everything. God’s commitment to us has nothing to do with any human sycophantic transaction. It is a totally aware, pure, turning towards creation by its Creator.

God’s commitment picks humanity up from its failure to fulfill its own commitment towards Himself. Even when rejected, God’s commitment remains unchanged. It cannot be undone. The follow through of grace means that human commitment is fulfilled. God has done it. What is left is the human response to the completed work.

That human commitment fulfilled by God necessitates a turning of the creature back towards the Creator. Hearts and minds are directed back to the memory of His act on our behalf. Humanity is graciously shown the way and firmly commanded to follow.

For Karl Barth, ‘all that [then] remains for me to do is to let my eyes rest on Him, which really means to let my eyes follow Him. This following is my faith. But the great[er] work of faith has already been done by the One whom I follow […] To abide in; to trust in God (Ps.91:1) to believe is to stand in in the communion of saints; who has received, receives and will receive the forgiveness of sins, who hastens towards the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life […] His faith is the victory which has overcome the world.  But that it is this victory does not rest with [the believer], but solely with Him in whom he [may] believe.’ [i]

Human commitment is empowered by God’s grace to be lived out. That humanity is empowered  towards commitment means that whilst God’s act of grace is immutably superimposed, it is not forcefully imposed. We are simply shown the creation and opening of a door where there was none before. God has an exit plan. He spells it out with the letters e.n.l.i.s.t. This is the response to the call of grace: ‘grateful obedience’ (Barth, 2/1 p.229). The commitment of the ‘free man to the free God.’ (Barth, 2/2 p.561) is empowered by God’s revolution; a revolution no man or woman can lie about to control or trump.

This is confronted by God’s act and claim on humanity, to humanity, for humanity vs. humanity’s self-justification and rejection in its counter-claims about God.

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men and women by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12, ESV)

No other can lay claim to being this truth; fact; Christ event: God’s revealing of Himself in Jesus Christ. No other can lay claim to being the source of goodness; ethics, right and wrong. No other can claim to be the sole hope and promise of our future. Come Nero, hashtag riot, Hillary, Trump, unjust law, illness, closet-oppressive utopian idea, rainbow ideology or Hitler,

“The subject of theological ethics is not the Word of God as it is claimed by humanity, but the Word of God as it claims humanity. It is not man as he is going to make something of the Word of God, but the Word of God as it is going to make something of man* […]The grace of God is always this: Jesus Christ. It is from what God has done for us that we must learn to read what God wants with us and of us. We must seek the command of God only where it has itself torn off the veil of all human opinions and theories about the will of God**” [ii]

This is the chief reason for why we Christians call the Gospel, Good News. God lives and He speaks!

‘A Christian is one who knows that God has accepted him in Jesus Christ, that a decision has been made concerning him in Jesus Christ as the eternal Word of God, and that he has been called into covenant with Him by Jesus Christ as the Word of God spoken in time.’ [iii]

Summed up by Barth, in true Barth fashion:

‘We hear the Gospel as we obey it. For Jesus Christ is the basis in which we may believe in God, the Word in which dwell the light and force to move us to this event. He Himself is the Gospel. He himself is the resolve and the execution of the essential will in which God willed to give Himself to us. The grace of God, of the God in whom we may believe, is this. In Jesus Christ the eternal Word became flesh. Without ceasing to be who He is in Himself, God became as one of us.’ [iv]

As Karl Barth repeatedly remarks, God wills to be with us & wills that we should not be without Him:

‘Death could not hold Him [Jesus Christ], & therefore it cannot hold us. In the midst of death we have in Him no future but that of resurrection and eternal life. The grace of God decides and has already decided concerning our human existence. What then does it mean to be human now that this decision has been reached by the grace of God? It means to be one who stands and walks and lives and dies within the fact that God is gracious to us, that He has made us His own.(Gal. 2:19)’ [v]

The human response to the question of God’s grace, is ‘our answer to this Word. It is a free action bound by commitment’ (Barth, 2/2:546 paraphrased).

In other words, life with God, begins with, God with us.

Jesus Christ is the Gospel (Barth). He is the author, recipient and standard of both the Shema Yisrael and Lord’s Prayer:

“Hear O, Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy, 6:4-5, ESV)

 


References:

[i] Barth, K. 1942 The Basis of the Divine Claim, CD 2/2 Hendrickson Publishers (p.559)

[ii] Ibid, p.546* & pp.560 & 559**

[iii] Ibid, p.547

[iv] Ibid, pp.557 & 558

[v] Ibid, pp. 558-559

[the words wrapped in parenthesis are my own]

Originally published 7th November 2016.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018

GnadeBarth’s main starting point in his discussion on the Holiness of Grace, is that the freedom of God is framed by Jesus Christ. [i]

The freedom of God is His love actualised for us in covenant and Christ. E.g.: promise, fulfilment, and promise of future fulfilment.

God’s love and holiness are inseparable characteristics of grace.

On one, rests, ‘love: grace, mercy and patience. On the other, freedom: holiness, righteousness and wisdom.’ (p.352); ‘To say grace is to say the forgiveness of sins; to say holiness, judgement upon sins’ (p.360).

According to Barth, ‘grace shows its power over and against sin. It reckons with it, but does not fear it. It is not limited by it. It overcomes it, triumphing in this opposition and the overcoming of it’ (p.355)

More significantly:

‘Where God is revealed and objective, He is always the gracious God’ (p.356) […] ‘He is so even when He is the God who is denied and hated by us, and therefore provoked against us. He is so even as the God against whom we sin and who therefore judges and punishes us. We know and rightly understand our sin only when we have realised it to be enmity against the grace of God. And we turn from our sin only when we return to the grace of God’ (p.367).

God, in covenant and Christ, reveals himself as both firm and approachable.

What God does comes from who God is[ii]: ‘God makes Himself the gift, offering fellowship to us’ (p.354); ‘Grace is how God loves. This is how He seeks and creates fellowship between Himself and us’ (p.357)

It’s important to Barth that we understand why ‘we may distinguish, but we shall certainly not separate between God’s grace and God’s holiness’ (p.360). Because the ‘holiness of God is not side by side with, but in His grace, and His wrath is not separate from but in His love (p.363). The law which slays and the Gospel which makes alive are interwoven in the most astonishing way: God is as gracious as He is holy and holy as He is gracious’ (p.365)

Through this we can come to understand that ‘only where God’s love is not yet revealed, not yet or no longer, can there be a separation instead of a distinction’ (ibid).

It’s this point that Barth wants to emphasise:

The ‘command then to be Holy as I am Holy[iii], is a not a command by which God urges sinful humanity to secure for themselves a status or merit in His presence. But as God’s command it is quite simply the command to cleave to His grace.’ (p.364)

However,

‘that God is gracious doesn’t mean that He surrenders Himself to the one to whom He is gracious… to accept God’s grace necessarily means, therefore to respect God’s holiness; [His gracious and loving “yes” and “no” – Proverbs 3:12]. It means accepting God’s grace in thankfulness, to be contentedly replenished by it.’ (pp. 361 & 367)

The holiness of God’s Grace is actualised in the act of correction. Any rejection of God’s grace is also a rejection of instruction.

Applied to today, it might serve us to seek out where there might be a separation of holiness from grace?

As Barth suggests, if there is, then, perhaps we’ve created an idol; something other than God.

Grace cut off from God’s holiness is a grace transformed into what we want grace to be. It is nothing other than cheap grace. It denies the reality of Jesus Christ.  Cheap grace is mistaken for being God’s actual grace. It’s transformed into a ‘positive optimism’, tethered together by an unteachable arrogance and blissful ignorance. It’s weak, but sells well. Its future is bleak, but cheap grace is easily reinvented. It’s easily manipulated.

Cheap grace is the master of all disguises. Made up primarily of inoffensive fragments picked out from an offensive grace. God’s Word is sanitised.  As a result, God’s true nature and being is compromised; obscured from us. Even though we are slowly and subtly dragged back into darkness by a Frankenstein of our own making.This new understanding is celebrated as a revolution.

Still, God is not numb to our reality. Barth interprets the mainstay of the Biblical text: Rescue and remedy. God does not and has not abandoned us.

He loves us despite the rejection and counterfeit grace that is confused with real grace.

Examples of this include the “progressive” salesperson, who, sells a new tolerance and yet demonises anyone who questions, challenges or outright opposes them. This is humanity supported by God’s achievement; held firmly by God’s grace, but it is humanity choosing to bathe in the presumed glory of its own independence and sovereignty. The part of modern humanity that is hell-bent on buying and selling others into destruction and despair, because the fear of seeming intolerant or offensive towards our neighbour has hindered us from actually being able to love our neighbour. Which requires both a responsible “yes” and a loving “no.”

Men and women following crowds that proudly claim God’s grace, yet quietly erase God’s holiness and by default His freedom, make it all the more important to hear Barth when he says:

‘The holiness of God’s grace is this: “For whom the Lord loves He corrects; as a Father to a child” (p.361)

Notes:

[i] Pages 351 to 368 of Karl Barth, 1940 Church Dogmatics II/1, Hendrickson Publishers

[ii] Ibid, p.334 ‘The Perfections of God’

[iii] 1 Peter 1:16/Leviticus 20:26