A nice quote from Uncle Karl on justification:
[T]here is always something wrong and misleading when the faith of a man is referred to as his way of salvation in contrast to his way in wicked works, or his true way of salvation in contrast to his way in the supposed good works of false faith and superstition. Faith is not an alternative to these other ways. It is not the way which – another Hercules at the crossroads – man can equally well choose and enter, which he can choose and enter by the same capacity by which he might go any other way. Even in the action of faith he is the sinful man who as such is not in a position to justify himself, who with every attempt to justify himself can only become the more deeply entangled in his sin.
– Karl Barth, CD IV/1.616.
So Barth has a high view of humanity’s depravity or the homo incurvatus in se (inward curved). Indeed, as Thomas Torrance would say we are wicked and depraved ‘all the way down’ so the only cure is ‘grace all the way down’ in and through the vicarious humanity of Christ (pro nobis). It is wrong, according to Barth, to think of being saved as a Versus of being destroyed; they aren’t symmetrical, but asymmetrical realities. It isn’t as if we have chosen one way over the other in and from ourselves; for left to ourselves we would choose to be philanthropists or supererogatory agents, and believe that we have chosen the good over the evil, and thus we have been [self] justified, as it were. Instead, as Barth’s quip highlights, if we seek to commit Pelagius’ sin, we only reinforce the very thing that continues to damn us evermore (and yet this is our only alternative precluding the contradictory [to ourselves] act of Christ); as Augustine might have it our concupiscence (‘self-love’). Instead as Luther might suggest, pressed into the conceptual service of Barth, we are simul justus et peccator (simultaneously ‘just’ and ‘sinner’); and it is in this moment that the love of God is demonstrated toward us (coram Deo/Christi)—when we are still in our sins.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. ~Romans 5.6-11 (ESV)