I remember when I first realized that the Christian life was not about doing. Up until that point, and even now I find myself reverting ever-so-often to this line of thinking, I was convinced that we had to do things in order to be reconciled and to live in relation with God. Now, while there is certainly some truth to this it is vital that we get the emphasis on the right note. Any “doing” of the Christian life is secondary and derivative of Christ’s own doing. This is one of the greatest lessons which I have learned over the last few years from the likes of T.F. Torrance, the great Scottish theologian and student of Karl Barth. Torrance is known, among other things, for working out in much detail the vicarious nature of Christ’s humanity. Of course, we are familiar that in Christ God is acting towards us, in forgiving our sin and reconciling humanity and all of creation to Himself. That is but one side of the coin, however. The other side of the very same coin is that Christ Jesus is the true human who lives in proper and full obedience to God on our behalf. In other words, Jesus Christ fulfils the God-human covenant from both sides, from the side of God and the side of humanity. He is ultimately for us what we cannot be for ourselves and this is just as much a part of God’s redemptive work as any reconciling that Christ does from God’s side. Torrance puts it this way:
The act of God in Christ for us, and the act of man in Christ for us, are inseparable, in an atonement of substitutionary nature. It is not only that as Son of God, or Apostle from God, Christ has done for us what we could not do, but that as High Priest in our humanity He has done for us what we could not do. He has once and for all offered to God our obedience, our response, our witness, our amen. He became our brother man and He offered on our behalf a human obedience, a human response, a human witness and a human amen, so that in Him our human answer to God in life, worship, and prayer is already completed. He is in the fullest sense our homologia.
We do have a response of course. But our response is secondary to Christ’s. Indeed, Christ’s response displaces our response so that all we have to rely on is Christ acting in obedience on our behalf. Torrance again is helpful:
It can only be ours, therefore, if it involves the setting aside of the obedience, response, witness, amen, and even the worship and prayer which we offer on our own. The radical significance of Christ’s substitutionary Priesthood does not lie in the fact that His perfect Self-offering perfects and completes our imperfect offerings, but that these are displaced by His completed Self-offering. We can only offer what has already been offered on our behalf, and offer it by the only mode appropriate to such a substitutionary offering, by prayer, thanksgiving and praise.
Another way of thinking about all of this would be to say that Christ Jesus is both God’s Word to us and our Amen to that Word.
Human creatures are not left with nothing to do, of course. However, our doing finds it’s place in response to Christ’s doing for us. Thus, our doing is primarily a thank-offering. Our response is to say Amen to Christ’s Amen on our behalf. So, next time we gather together for worship, be that a meal with friends or the celebration of the Eucharist on a Sunday morning, may we recall Christ’s life of obedience lived for us and be thankful that Christ is risen and his life and ministry continues on in our midst and that we are invited to participate in the very life of the risen Christ in our offering of thanks.
*Both quotes taken from T.F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood: A Theology of Ordained Ministry.
**The picture is of St. Athansius’ who Torrance relied on for much of his theology in this area.