“Wake me up inside…” (part 3b): Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Reconciliation (iv.1.58)

(iv.1.58.2 cont.) Secondly, Love: In love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian […]

(iv.1.58.2 cont.) Secondly, Love: In love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian is placed under and accepts the divine direction. The divine direction is the directing of humanity into freedom: by eliminating the old humanity and bringing to life the new humanity, humanity has peace with God, and, thus, is directed toward the kingdom of God. In the atoning work of Jesus in the act of reconciliation, humanity is told first, who they are and are not, and, second, “where we belong, where we have to be and live”. This being under and accepting of the divine direction is not synonymous to “obedience to the law”, because this term and its ilk “so easily give the impression of something which has not been already done, which has still to be done by the decisions and act which are demanded of man himself”. While there is “activity” required of the person in Christ as a new being and with a new direction, that person already exists in the kingdom of peace with God; thus, the person follows and confirms what has already been accomplished by God, accepts that they begin and end in this place, they “choose what has already been chosen and actualized”. This kingdom is the true kingdom of ends, ends not in themselves but in another, Jesus Christ (Contra Kant). In this kingdom we are directed outward (passionately, out of gratitude) toward another in whom (only) we have life and direction. Maybe Kant was not completely wrong, had he shifted his subject from us to Jesus he may have been right, for it is only Jesus who is the means and the ends in himself; to assign to humanity this trait is to deify (negatively) humanity and negate God. “…because it is in him that we are really free, He is Himself our direction, our guiding into freedom, our awakening to life in that freedom, our guidance to make use of it, our lord and King, and therefore in this sense too our reconciliation with God, the One who fulfills our conversion to Him”.

This process of being placed under the divine direction is typically understood as Sanctification. “Sanctification is the claiming of all human life and being and activity by the will of God for the active fulfillment of that will”. Sanctification cannot be separated from justification as if one could self-sanctify in order to fulfill one’s justification. Thus, sanctification and justification are found in the same source: Jesus Christ. It is only in Jesus Christ and being placed under the divine verdict and accepting the divine direction that one can take steps, do good works, even having a Christian ethic, all of it must bare witness to the atonement by Jesus Christ (not by man); none of it is sourced within us but within He who has already accomplished and chosen it. And just as faith is the proper response to God’s justifying action in Jesus Christ’s atoning work, love is the proper response to being put under and accepting the divine direction. Following justification and seeing and hearing and believing the negative and positive meaning and content of the divine verdict, the Christian, in the process of sanctification, is directed toward the one who does this reconciliation on their behalf, toward the one who passionately first sought after them, and is moved to great gratitude and love for the one who has done this.

“In general terms Christian love is the active human recognition of this proof of the love of God. It recognizes it by following it, imitating it, modeling itself upon it. It is the attitude in which man gives himself to reflect the divine attitude. That he can do this, that he can love, is his sanctification, his breathing and living in the place and atmosphere of freedom, his keeping of the covenant as a faithful partner. That he can love is the work of the Holy Spirit which makes man a Christian.

Humanity, in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, imitates the one who has loved them first and because they in turn love Him.* Like a child putting the phone to his ear and mimicking or imitating what his mother does when she is on the phone, so acts humanity in Christ. The child adores his mother, watches her, examines her, and imitates her; and so does the Christian. When one is in love with Jesus, they will be hard-pressed not to imitate his activity; for God is active and humanity in Christ will be active, too. If God’s activity is made known to us by His ardent love for humanity, in imitation the person will reflect this love back toward Him (vertical) and outward to others (horizontal). “Christian love is at one and the same time love to God and love to the neighbour—and it is love to the neighbour because it is love to God”. Both the love directed vertically toward God and horizontally toward the neighbor by the Christian, is “free” and “pure” love (it is not done out of duty but out of gratitude). In other words, it is a one-way love, free from expectation and desire to manipulate the object of the love. It is love “just because” which does not seek any gain or posses ulterior motives, and it is this “just-because” one-way love that fulfills the law in Mark 12:29 and Romans 13:10. “It is obedience to God’s direction, the keeping of covenant faithfulness by man, the meaning of the whole ethos of the man reconciled and converted to God in Jesus Christ”.

*Great article by John Webster on imitability where he attempts to proffer a ‘middle ground’ between those who argue for being ‘able’ to do good works and those who argue that we are ‘not able’ –he essentially says yes to both and offers ‘imitation’ as a solution: our works attempt to imitate Jesus (what Jesus did), we imitate Jesus because we love him and in imitating him we acquire some of His ‘characteristics’; yet it is to be certain that we imitate Him out of our love for Him and not out of duty or obligation. See: “Christology, Imitability and Ethics”. Scottish Journal of Theology. Vol 39: 309-326.

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5 responses to ““Wake me up inside…” (part 3b): Karl Barth’s Doctrine of Reconciliation (iv.1.58)”

  1. Michael Cooper says:

    This may be the best of the Barth series yet, Lauren. Seems to me that he is talking about the "active" Christian life of love that is birthed and sustained by the "passive" receipt of God's love to us in Christ. This is not a formula, but a bone-deep reality that is beautifully illustrated in the child's imitation of its mother. What must be remembered, I think, is that the child FIRST and ALWAYS imitates the mother because it is loved before, after and in the face of its failure to imitate, and not because the mother challenges the child to imitation as a proof of its love.

  2. L.R.E. Larkin says:


    Thanks! Your right, that is exactly what he is talking about. I love your addition (the child loves because it was first loved and imitates out of love for the mother apart from any challenge from the mother). I agree, it's important to remember and I think that thought ties in nicely to Barth's understanding that sanctification is not, in anyway, to be understood as 'obedience to the law'. At some point in this section, and I can't remember where, but he describes 'sanctification' as that growing more and more aware of one's desperate need for the Cross. Again, thanks for commenting!

  3. Splinter Faction says:

    Thanks so much for posting the Barth excerpts. Makes me wish someone would publish a lower-cost edition of KD.

  4. Todd says:

    SF – http://www.christianbook.com/church-dogmatics-14-volumes/karl-barth/9781598564426/pd/564426?item_code=WW&netp_id=795708&event=ESRCN&view=details

    Lauren, this post is wonderful and makes me want to read more Barth. Now if only my CD would get here…

  5. L.R.E. Larkin says:

    SF: Glad that you are enjoying it.

    Todd: November will be here VERY soon…**sigh**…

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