The Bible speaks of sin. It also speaks of salvation. The gospel is directed toward ‘the restoration of the image of God’. In this connection, Berkouwer cites Eph. 4:24 and Col. 3:10 which speak of ‘the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’, ‘the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator’. Concerning the relationship between creation and salvation, Berkouwer writes, “the restoration and renewal of the image will throw light upon the meaning and content of the original creation of man in the image of God.”3
When we consider man’s creation in the light of his salvation, we find ourselves underlining the contrast between pride and faith. In his book, Divine Election, Berkouwer stresses that the Bible story is a ‘history of salvation (which) does away with any personal glory’. This history of salvation reaches its high point in Jesus Christ. Here, we have the low point for human pride, since ‘in Christ’ we have ‘the exclusion of all human merit’. This is the point which Paul makes in 1 Cor 1:31 and 2 Cor. 10:17 – ‘Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord’. We are to ‘glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh’ (Phil. 3:3). The gospel presents us with a challenge. We are to turn from our sinful pride and put our faith in Christ. Human pride does not surrender easily to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The gospel’s call for faith can be resisted.
Such resistance to Christ has drastic effects: The gospel does not leave unchanged the person who does not listen and remains disobedient… unbelief can lead only to progressive hardening of the heart.There is no way out of the bondage of sinful human pride, other than the way of faith in Jesus Christ. Berkouwer makes this point well: Hardening can never be broken by man in his own power. There is no other therapy that can bring about a change except the divine healing in Christ and the superior power of the Spirit.4
Central to Berkouwer’s exposition of salvation are his books, The Person of Christ and The Work of Christ. In both of these books, Berkouwer draws the contrast between pride and faith. In The Person of Christ, commenting on Mt. 16:16-17 (Peter’s confession, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’, and Jesus’ reply: ‘…flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’), he writes: the confession of the church touching Jesus Christ can never be a knowledge such that, with it, the church can elevate itself above the world. It is precisely within the church that people will have to remind themselves that this knowledge is a gift and a miracle which did not arise out of flesh and blood.5
In The Work of Christ, discussing the theme ‘reconciliation’, Berkouwer writes, “it is the marvel of the work of the Holy Spirit that those who really respond to the proclamation of reconciliation claim no merit whatsoever for that response, but rather find the essence of their joy in God, who reconciled us unto himself.”6
The change which takes place when we trust Jesus Christ is not only a change in our view of Christ. Through Christ, we look differently at both God’s creation and our own circumstances. In his books, General Revelation and The Providence of God, Berkouwer explores the Christian’s view of creation and circumstances. Since our view of creation and circumstances is bound up with our faith in Christ, there can be no room for any self-centred pride. Emphasizing that our experience of salvation changes our view of creation, Berkouwer writes: “man in and by the salvation of God is delivered from the tenacity of the egocentric and commences to sing of the glory of God. It is this salvation that opens doors and windows toward God’s handiwork.”7
In his exposition of The Providence of God, Berkouwer stresses that we are not concerned here with any mere human optimism in which man himself can take pride: “in the doctrine of Providence we have a specific Christian confession exclusively possible through faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is no general, vague notion of Providence. It has a concrete focus: ‘If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?’ (Rom. 8:31, 32).”
Citing an earlier Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam, Herman Bavinck, Berkouwer emphasizes the centrality of the cross in the doctrine of providence: ‘In the cross’, writes Bavinck, ‘the Christian has seen the special Providence of God. He has, in forgiving and regenerating grace, experienced Providence in his heart. From this new, positive experience in his own life, he looks out over his entire existence and over the whole world, and sees there the leading of God’s fatherly hand.’8
3 Man: The Image of God, (Grand Rapids, 1962), 103, 21, 27, 122, 131-2, 135, 143, 144, 87-9.
4 Divine Election, (Grand Rapids, 1960), 72, 143, 149, 249-50, 252.
5 The Person of Christ, (Grand Rapids, 1954), 14.
6 The Work of Christ, (Grand Rapids, 1965), 294.
7 General Revelation, (Grand Rapids, 1955), 131.
8 The Providence of God, (Grand Rapids, 1952), 45, 47, 41.
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