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Chapter 20: The Relationship between God and Sinful Humankind


The communion with God which is central to Christian life begins with his initiative of revelation, accepted by faith. Classical scholastic theology and the popular piety of former times both tended to subordinate revelation and faith to redemption. Sin loomed large in Christian consciousness, often larger than God’s plan for creation’s fulfillment in Jesus and humankind’s participation in divine fellowship. This tendency in Latin Christianity was only accentuated in Protestant thought. More recently, the pendulum has swung the other way. The reality and extent of sin and humankind’s need for redemption have been greatly downplayed.

If not pushed to its extreme, either view can be stated in an orthodox manner. Still, better than an orthodox version of either view is a balanced position which integrates both. In outline, this is not difficult to sketch. Fundamentally, God has created for his own glory, that is, to manifest his goodness. Sin and the overcoming of sin are only secondary aspects of his plan. However, Christian life must be lived in the world as it is, thoroughly conditioned by the reality of sin and the need for salvation. In this world, for us as for Jesus, glory presupposes the cross. For sinful humankind, both human fulfillment and fellowship in divine life require redemption. As matters stand, revelation is a call to repentance and faith a conversion from sin to justification.

This chapter will clarify the relationship which God initiates with humankind by revelation—the relationship into which we enter by faith. Although the relationship was antecedent to the fall of Man and so does not absolutely presuppose sin, nevertheless, given sin, God’s revelation is redemptive and the response of faith begins our cooperation in redemption. Therefore, after reflecting on revelation and faith, we shall consider the need for redemption and the form redemption takes. This chapter provides a basis for the close study, in chapters twenty-one and twenty-two, of our Lord Jesus and his life. Then chapter twenty-three will begin the treatment of specifically Christian life, whose essence is the following of Jesus.

Revelation is God’s personal self-communication. By it he invites human persons to intimacy with himself. Faith is our acceptance of this invitation. By faith we commit ourselves to living our lives in friendship with God. Given our sinful human condition, God’s revelation is redemptive. God allows us to share in his redeeming work.