I’ve been re-reading one of the first things I ever read from Karl Barth, which remains to this day my favorite of all his writings. This is volume IV.1 from the Church Dogmatics. It’s amazing now after coming full circle, after studying many other aspects of Barth’s theology, I find myself back at the center with the doctrine of reconciliation (atonement). It is a dense volume, but also a very devotional, even worshipful volume in praise of God’s grace.
Today I wanted to share a delightful section that outlines one of the most important aspects of the gospel. This is the death of Christ as the end of the old man, the resurrection as our new beginning, and the resurrection to come as our future and God’s. (All references are to the Hendrickson edition of 2010.)
The Death of the Old
In and with the man who was taken down dead on Golgotha man the covenant-breaker is buried and destroyed. He has ceased to be. The wrath of God which is the fire of His love has taken him away and all his transgressions and offences and errors and follies and lies and faults and crimes against God and his fellowman and himself, just as a whole burnt offering is consumed on the altar with the flesh and skin and bones and hoofs and horns, rising up as fire to heaven and disappearing.
In virtue of this word, i.e., in the power of this event, the existence of man as a sinner and all his transgressions are now behind him. Whatever else he may be, he will no longer be this man, the transgressor. (CD IV.1 P. 93-4)
The death of Jesus Christ as the forgiveness of sins is not an abstract transaction of legal fiction. The death of Christ was the destruction of the old man with all his sin. The gospel says not only that our sins are wiped away, but the sinner we used to be as well. God in Christ joined Himself to mankind, reaching the root of our existence, to undo our fallen nature by destroying it and giving us new life in Him. This is the accomplishment of the cross. It belittles the cross to make it purely an act of forensic, legal exchange. It is much, much more profound and significant to see that in Christ we have died, and now in Christ we live (Gal. 2:20).
Continuing this though, Barth writes as well about the state of mankind after the cross, that we are no longer transgressors of the law. To deem ourselves as sinners is to live an illusion, to be self-deceivers.
In Him a new human subject was introduced, the true man beside and outside whom God does not know any other, beside and outside whom there is no other, beside and outside whom the other being of man, that old being which still continues to break the covenant, can only be a lie, an absurd self-deception, a shadow moving on the wall–the being of that man who has long since superseded and replaced and who can only imagine that he is man, while in reality he is absolutely nothing. (P. 89)
The old man is gone. Any shadow of this man is an illusion, an absurd self-deception. Such a man has been forgotten, and lost forever in the death of Christ.
The New Life of Mankind
But God has not left mankind to live in this nothingness, to live in non-existence. Instead, God has claimed man as His own, as His possession. We belong to God.
By the grace of God, therefore, man is not nothing. He is God’s man. He is accepted by God. He is recognized as himself a free subject, a subject who has been made free once and for all by his restoration as the faithful covenant partner of God. (P. 90)
God has chosen not to be without man, to exist for mankind as His partner, Father, Lord, and friend. As such God has upheld the covenant in Himself through the grace of Jesus Christ.
We now are a new creation in Christ Jesus. Our old life has been removed and Christ has become our life. In Him we live and move and have our being. We have been reconciled to God.
Whatever we have to think and say of man, and not only of the Christian man but of man in general, at every point we have to think and say it of his being as man reconciled in Jesus Christ.
We speak of man reconciled in Jesus Christ and therefore of the being which is that of man in Him… The grace of God in which it comes and is made over to us is the grace of Jesus Christ, that is, the grace in which God from all eternity has chosen men (all men) in this One, in which he has bound Himself to man–before man even existed–in this One. He, Jesus Christ, is the One who accomplishes the sovereign act in which God has made true and actual in time the decree of His election by making atonement, in which He has introduced the new being of all men. (P. 91-2)
In CD II.2 Karl Barth brilliantly argues a new understanding of election as election in Jesus Christ. (See this article for more.) Here Barth shows how God from all eternity elected mankind in Jesus Christ, and in time Jesus Christ has enacted this election through reconciliation. From all time God desired mankind, longed for our participation in His life. The resurrection has made way for this in that God has created a new being for man in Jesus Christ!
Opening Eyes to See
But how does all this work together? Is this universalism? No! Because while it is true that all mankind has been reconciled to God, that the transgressions of man have been taken away, or, as John put it, ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’, this does not mean universalism. Because, simply, not all people are awake or aware or thankful for this reconciliation. All our included, yet not all are taking part.
I used an analogy of a dance in my book, We Belong. It’s an analogy that I first learns from Robert Capon, but that Karl Barth here implements as well. Essential, although mankind has been included into the party, into reconciliation, not everyone is truly enjoying the party or taking part in the dancing. Some are blind to it, others are rebelling against it, but all are included. Again, this doesn’t mean that all will be saved. But this does mean that all have been reconciled, whether they know it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not.
Jesus Christ is God’s mighty command to open our eyes and to realize that this place is all around us, that we are already in this kingdom, that we have no alternative but to adjust ourselves to it, that we have our being and continuance here and nowhere else. In Him we are already there, we already belong to it. To enter at His command is to realize that in Him we are already inside.
…That is why we use the word direction–we might almost say the advice or hint. It is not a loud and stern and foreign thing, but the quiet and gentle and intimate awakening of children in the Father’s house to life in that house. (P. 99-100)
An Eschatological Note
The way of mankind has been altered and taken up into the way of Jesus Christ. Our future is not our own. Our future belongs to this Man Jesus Christ. It is His future and it is our future in His.
The future of mankind is not found in mankind, in our failings or potential for destruction. The future of mankind is found in Jesus Christ, the one who in becoming man has taken up our cause as His own and altered our history and our destiny. He is our Lord, our Savior, and our Future.
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