In a beautiful paragraph from Church Dogmatics IV.3.2, Barth states carefully the dual truth that,
1) Jesus Christ accomplishes the work of salvation without the cooperation of any other human; and yet,
2) We are not simply “passive receptors” without a significance or will of our own.
Read this portion carefully. If it is difficult to follow, just read the underlined portions in sequence to get the flow.
We now turn to what must be thought and said concerning this union of [Christ’s] with Christians from their standpoint. There is, of course, no one, apostle, saint or the Virgin, who can contribute in the very slightest to what is accomplished for all by the one Jesus Christ in His life and death. In relation to His high-priestly and kingly work even a Paul can only know what has been done for us by God in Him (1 Cor. 2:12). But those to whom He reveals and makes known this life and death of His as the act of God for their salvation and His own glory do not confront this act of revelation, this work of atonement in its prophetic dimension, as hearers and spectators who are left to themselves and ordained for pure passivity. What kind of vocation, illumination and awakening would it be, what kind of knowledge, if they were merely left gaping at the One who discloses Himself to them? No, as surely as He does not will to tread alone His way as the Proclaimer of the kingdom, so surely they for their part must be with Him, companions of the living One who are made alive by Him, witnesses in His discipleship to that which He wills to reveal to the world as having been effected in Him, namely to the reconciliation accomplished and the covenant fulfilled in Him. This is what He makes them as He calls them to Himself, as He does this really and totally, as He does not leave them to themselves, as He does not remain outside them, as He gives Himself to them, as in the divine power of His Spirit He unites Himself with them. That they may become and be those with whom He unites Himself by His Word; that they may be those who are born again from above by His presence and action in their own lives; that they may be continually nourished by Him—this is, from their standpoint, the ratio of Christian existence. (Church Dogmatics IV.3.2, p. 542)
In short, Barth brings Christian discipleship fully into the work of salvation, not as something subsequent and secondary to reconciliation.
All too often I detect and am bothered by a sense of “human passivity” in certain monergistic accounts of salvation where one is left feeling that the human is “saved” in complete passivity. The old Keswickian “Let go and let God” slogan so common in the evangelical mind betrays this kind of human passivity.
But Barth insists our reconciliation to God is simultaneously wholly the work of God and the active engagement of the human in discipleship from the very first. In other words, I think Barth’s way of putting it helps us to avoid having to choose between the false dichotomy of “monergist” and “synergist” accounts of salvation, for though salvation is entirely the work of God, it is a work, from the get-go, that makes us spiritual partners with him, even in the event of reconciliation itself.
HT: Dustin Resch for “unknowingly” pointing this passage out to me…