Jesus Christ

Growing in Christ - Meditation


"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45

Romans 3:27(ESV): Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.

Karl Barth took a strong interest in the Book of Romans. Part of his commentary on the above verse is as follows: "Only faith survives: faith which is not a work, not even a negative work; not an achievement, not even the achievement of humility; not a thing which exists before God and man in its own right. Faith is the ground, the new order, the light, where boasting ends and the true righteousness of God begins." [1]

What does this mean? Theologian John Bowden has written at great length about Karl Barth and tries to understand him in a non-sentimental way. One of the most basic questions of theology is the epistemological question, or "how do we know?" and specifically "how do we know God?" To understand Barth, we must understand what he rejected-that God could be known through scientific, historical, psychological or other ways of thinking.[2] Bowden summarizes as follows: "With all these roads blocked off, Barth saw only one possibility left. If man is to have knowledge of God it can only be a result of the gift of God. In the end, man only knows God because God allows him to. Theology, belief, rest on a miracle."[3]

This view seems consistent with the basic principles of Reformed theology. All glory goes to God for our salvation. We are saved through faith, not works, and faith itself is a gift from God, not a "work." This I believe is safe ground for our understanding. Has Barth really said anything new? There is an emphasis and a power in his writing that tends to shake up the reader, even one who is confident in his knowledge of the doctrine of justification by faith. There will always be unanswered questions about the role of free will. If God has so powerfully given us the gift of faith, do we really have any say in the matter? Can we say we are free as we endeavor to serve God? This question bothers some people more than others. We may never feel completely comfortable as to whether we can understand how our free-will actions can and do fulfill God's plans-but the minute we start taking credit for our own salvation, our own faith, or that of anyone else; we know we will be on shaky ground.

Is there any way to draw help out of all this theoretical discussion? The following is a fictional exploration of an exhausted man of faith:

A man sat his desk one day and put his head down onto his hands. He was worn out. He was discouraged. He was a man of faith, or so he believed. For years, he had tried very hard to be of service to God, using the best of his Christian understanding. His faith had survived many tests, or so he thought. Lately he had felt overcome by doubts, by pain and by apathy. How could he keep on going? A close friend had recently died. Another was in hospital, in pain. There were others he had known and loved who had died in recent years and he feared for their salvation. His witnessing, his example, had rarely had the effects for which he had hoped. Had he even come close to fulfilling God's expectations?

He decided to do something different. He needed rest from the life of faith. Faith was sometimes too hard. He said a prayer: "Lord, if you don't mind, I need a little rest from the life of faith. For the next 24 hours I will be suspending all faith-related thoughts and activities. I'll just be human. Then I'll snap out of it and be back to normal, OK?"

The man waited, expecting to feel a release from pressure. He waited, expecting to feel a little freer. He waited. Where was that exhilaration he was hoping for? He waited and felt the same way he always did. Then suddenly he knew he could not abandon his faith any more than he could climb out of his own skin. His love of God was inseparable from the love that God had for him. His faith was the inadequate word he used to describe this relationship with God.

He then felt it, God's love for him, entering into his heart as powerfully, as relentlessly, as eternally as the human mind could grasp. There was nothing to do, but to carry on, humbly, with his God. And so he did.

Praise the Father, praise the Son, praise the Holy Spirit.

In faith and fellowship,

Patrick McKitrick

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[1] Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th ed., trans. Edwyn C. Hoskins, (London: Oxford University Press) 1933, p.110.

[2] John Bowden, Karl Barth (London: SCM Press Ltd.)1971, p.109.

[3] Bowden, p.109.