Barth on Horrified Repentance

Commenting on Philippians 3.7 (Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ [NRSV]), Karl Barth writes well.

“To repent – one surely turns here involuntarily to this concept – does not mean to be liberalized, to become indifferent to what we formerly were, to the former objects of our devotion and the former conduct of our lives, but to be horrified by it all.  Not realizing that it means nothing but that it means evil.  Spinoza does not become a Reformer, but Luther does.  The Pharisee Gamaliel does not become an apostle, but the Pharisee Saul does.”

This repentance means realizing that

“The heights on which I stood are abysmal.  The assurance in which I lived is lostness; the light I had, darkness.  It is not that nil takes the place of the plus, but the plus itself changes to a minus.”

Quoted from Barth’s Epistle to the Philippians (Louisville: WJK, 2002), 97.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 Replies to “Barth on Horrified Repentance”

  1. This gets at the biggest stumbling block for those of us who have had the privilege of being raised in the church. We sang the right songs, memorized the right passages, followed the law better than most, helped the poor, prayed for/against the wicked, etc. Our tendency is to forget that these are actions of gratitude and instead they become components of our own righteousness; and if we have our own righteousness, why do we need another’s?

    It’s easy to see where the born again addict, thief, and murderers have a past to be horrified about, but not us! We’re too good for that!

    In this sense, Paul’s writing to early Jewish Christians is just as relevant to people like me. Calvin’s comment on this same verse bring this theme out:

    “Now he [Paul] speaks chiefly of his own righteousness, for we are not received by Christ, except as naked and emptied of our own righteousness. Paul, accordingly, acknowledges that nothing was so injurious to him as his own righteousness, inasmuch as he was by means of it shut out from Christ.”


    1. Nice Calvin there. Barth actually mentioned the “naked and emptied” phrase Calvin used (but the Latin sounds much better!).

      Thanks, CW. Amen!



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