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Chapter 23: God’s Redemptive Work in the Lives of Christians

Question A: How do fallen men and women enter into Jesus’ redemptive act by making faith in him their fundamental option?

1. By freely accepting death, Jesus establishes the new covenant. To make his sacrifice redemptive for sinners, he enables them to enter into it. We have seen (22‑G) some of the ways in which Jesus presents sinners with the new opportunity to repent and fresh grounds for the hope without which one cannot live a good life in this fallen world.

2. If sinners accept the new option Jesus offers, they not only repent and undertake to live a good life but enter into the community of the new covenant. To enter into this community is to accept the relationship with God present in it. To accept God’s revelation in Jesus is the act of Christian faith. Faith as a human act is a free choice one makes (20‑D). This free choice is a commitment to Jesus and his covenant community, as well as to the human goods for which this community cooperates.

3. First among these goods is the good of religion itself—friendship with God. But all the goods which fulfill human persons are included as well, for all of them will be realized in the fulfillment of everything in Jesus. Thus, the commitment of Christian faith is a basic one: It is a commitment to all human goods and persons, to integral human fulfillment (8‑I). This basic commitment, considered as conversion from sin and acceptance of membership in the covenant of Jesus, is a fundamental option (16‑G).

4. As mediator between God and humankind, Jesus is unique. His gospel provides a unique reason for repentance and hope. Thus, Christian faith must be a personal faith in Jesus, an immediate relationship with him. The fundamental option of faith really does unite Christians immediately with Jesus because in making it they enter into the covenant community, the Church, in which he is personally present. The gift of faith is received in baptism, which will be treated (in 30‑H).1

5. The new covenant of Jesus is far superior to the old covenant (21‑D). Those who share in the new covenant are not merely God’s loyal servants, but his adopted children, whom the grace of the Spirit enables to follow Jesus in living as children of God should (see Rom 8.12–17). The reality of the Christian’s sharing by adoption in divine life will be treated more fully (24‑C).

By faith in Jesus one accepts God’s offer of a share in his life. “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life” (Jn 6.40; cf. Jn 1.11–12). Jesus mediates a personal relationship which begins with himself but extends beyond him: “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And he who sees me sees him who sent me” (Jn 12.44–45). Thus, Christians are God’s adopted children (see Rom 8.15–17), begotten by God. The source of power for their rebirth is the Incarnate Word (see Jn 1.12, 14).

6. In sum, sinners are redeemed by being united with Jesus. This unity is threefold: in divine life, in human acts, and in bodily life (19‑C). This threefold unity with Jesus is the full and exact meaning of “entering into his redemptive act.” Since the present work focuses on the moral dimension of Christian life, our primary interest is in Christians’ unity with Jesus in human acts. Unity in action is cooperation. The primary and best example is found in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Therefore, the next question will consider how the Mass unites Christians with Jesus in a single cooperative action.

Vatican II begins its teaching on the Church by calling attention to God’s methods of redemption:

  At all times and among every people, God has given welcome to whosoever fears him and does what is right (cf. Acts 10.35). It has pleased God, however, to make men holy and save them not merely as individuals without any mutual bonds, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges him in truth and serves him in holiness. He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto himself. With it he set up a covenant. Step by step he taught this people by manifesting in its history both himself and the decree of his will, and by making it holy unto himself. All these things, however, were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant which was to be ratified in Christ, and of that more luminous revelation which was to be given through God’s very Word made flesh.
  “Behold the days shall come, saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. . . . I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart: and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. . . . For all shall know me, from the least of them even to the greatest, saith the Lord” (Jer 31.31–34). Christ instituted this new covenant, that is to say, the new testament, in his blood (cf. 1 Cor 11.25), by calling together a people made up of Jew and Gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. (LG 9)

This passage explicitly mentions three aspects of the life of a Christian which follow from its being life within the covenant. First, the Christian lives within the covenant community, the Church; one’s Christian life is not primarily that of an individual before God. Second, one enters into the new covenant not by the flesh (by birth as a Jew) but by the Spirit (by the grace of justification which gives living faith). Third, in the new covenant, one receives a law which must be lived, and it is all the more effective because it is written on the heart of every Christian, not merely inscribed on stone or in the Torah.

1. On faith and baptism in Scripture, see F. X. Durrwell, C.Ss.R., The Resurrection: A Biblical Study, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960), 311–19 and 332–38.