Barth’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)
‘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)
‘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)
[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