The Good News that We Are Sinners: The Incarnation is Greater than Sin

Jesus is our life; He is God’s humanity all the way down. ‘He who knew no sin assumed sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’ Our sin is ever before us, but it is only now before us in the glorified face of Jesus Christ. We can never deny that we were, and continue to be (in this in-between) sinners, insofar that the humanity of God bears witness of this reality to us all our live long days. But it is this grace of God that has shown up for us in these last days that anchors our souls by His, by His in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. And in His victory, while underscoring our failure, we come to participate in the power of His resurrection, of His re-created humanity, as our new humanity, just as sure as it is His humanity for us as the imago Dei (cf. Col. 1.15ff). Thus, even in our sin, even as we stand justified before God in Jesus Christ (simul iustus et peccator), whether we live or die, we stand in the standing of God for us. This is the beauty of the incarnation of God, the Word enfleshed (Logos ensarkos); it tells us that we are not our own, that we have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus Christ. It indicates that our humanity is gifted to us moment by moment, afresh anew, by the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit continuously bonds us to the resurrected humanity of Christ, just as sure as the Spirit continuously bonds Christ’s humanity to ours, as ours. And it thus can be said, ‘by His poverty we have been made rich.’

Karl Barth has his own way of explicating the themes I was just referring to:

It was and is His good will to give us in Him our Head and Advocate; to establish and ordain our whole relationship to Him in His relationship to His person, and therefore to reveal the truth of our existence in His. As this happens, as from all eternity, an in what God has done in Him at the heart of time, we are those who are loved and known by God in Jesus Christ, all self-judgment to which we might submit ourselves is absolutely subordinated to His judgment. Any reconstruction of our actual meeting with Him can be only a reflection of the meeting with man which He has willed and accomplished in the person of His dear Son. In this meeting we are in truth what we are. And there is no escaping the truth of what we are in this meeting. Before the voice of this reality, the voice of denial, my voice as the voice of the transgressor, is necessarily silenced. In place of every weak theory of our relationship to God and to His command there comes the powerful theory of this practice—the theory of our actual relationship to God. And in this place of the weak self-judgment in which we cause ourselves to be exculpated there comes the powerful self-judgment in which we must and will declare that we are guilty, because we ourselves, as the sinners we are, can only repeat the divine sentence, adding to it not at all either for good or evil. There, on the cross of Golgotha, hangs the man who in His own name and person represented to me, my name and person, with God; and who again in His own name and person represented God to me in my name and person. Everything, therefore, that God has to say in His relationship to me is originally and properly said to Him; everything that I have to say to God in this relationship is originally and properly said by Him. All that I have to do, therefore, is to repeat what is already said in this conversation between God and the Son. But what takes place in this conversation is that in the person of Jesus Christ I am addressed as a sinner, a lost son, and that again in the person of Jesus Christ I confess myself to be a sinner, a lost son. In this conversation the voice of denial is absolutely silenced. For in the death of Jesus Christ, this conversation between the Father and Son is conducted with me and about me—with me and about me in His person as my Advocate before God. Even in the soliloquy and self-judgment which I cannot escape in face of the divine colloquy and judgment the voice of denial cannot be raised. I am not one who, as a hearer of this divine conversation, and a participator in this divine judgment, can either hear or make any kind of excuse. At the point where God deals with me, where He has sought and found me, at the cross of Golgotha, I am exposed and addressed as a sinner. Indeed, I have found and confessed myself to be this. I have nothing to add to what is said and confessed there, nor to subtract from it. The transgression in all transgressions, the sin in all sins, namely, that I should refuse the name of a sinner, can only die. The only thing that I can do is recognise that my sin is really dead—the sin from which I cannot cleanse myself, the sin which I cannot even recognise and confess, the sin which I could only see awakening, and myself awaken, to constantly new forms of life if it were not already dead in the fact that God has pronounced and executed His sentence on His beloved Son in my place, and that the latter has accepted it in my place. This is the execution of the divine judgment which takes place as God gives us His command; for He gives it as He is gracious to us in Jesus Christ, as He gives us this His beloved Son to be our Head and Representative, as by Him He speaks to us and causes us to speak to Himself, as by the Holy Spirit He accomplishes our unity with His Son, for which He has destined us from all eternity. In the same Holy Spirit, in which that divine conversation is conducted and divine judgment fulfilled at the cross of Golgotha, it is also true that they both happen in our name and in our place and that we are actually made participators in them, called to faith in Jesus Christ, awakened to the knowledge of our unity with Him, and therefore given a share in the confrontation with God. In this confrontation, there is no escaping, or trying to escape, the recognition and confession that we are transgressors. On the contrary, we are ready to live as those who are in the wrong before God, expecting every good from our continuance in this knowledge and confession, and fearing nothing more than attempts to remove ourselves from this position.[1]

This is the liberating reality of the Evangel, God in Christ constantly declares to us, in His Yes and Amen for us, that He first became God’s No for us, in His free election to be human. This No is always borne witness to by the fact of His scars and stripes for us, and yet, dialectically, it is by these that we are healed moment by moment. ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ ‘If we say we have no sin, we lie, and the truth is not in us.’ It is the indicative of the incarnation of God whereby, and ironically, our sin becomes the occasion for God’s righteousness to break through with the bright healing ‘Sun of His Righteousness.’ And thus, it is our freedom, in God’s freedom to be with us in this way, in the humanity of Christ, that we can freely admit, we can genuinely confess that we are sinners yet redeemed. It’s as if Martin Luther understood this when he spit at satan thusly: “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”[2]

[1] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2 §39 [750-51] The Doctrine of God: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2009), 175.

[2] Martin Luther, Reference.

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