Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

September 01, 2004

Confession: Breakthrough to Certainty

Bonhoeffer's 4th breakthrough of confession is the breakthrough to certainty. To the certainty, that is, that we are indeed forgiven. That our sin has been removed as far as the east is from the west, and that its ultimate consequence, death, has been defeated by the sheer forgiving love of God.

We know all this in principle, but sin continues to afflict us, and when we sin, though we may ask God to forgive us, yet we feel unclean, guilty, burdened by the memory of what we've done and the knowledge that we remain weak, it seems even helpless, in regard to sin. Simply put, we don't "feel" forgiven.

The problem here, in my opinion, is not that we fear the condemnation of God, but that we continue to condemn ourselves even though God does not. We keenly feel our own unworthiness, and lacking the faith to trust in God's forgiveness, we replace God (who forgives us) with Self, from whom we also now require forgiveness.

Am I being clear? I don't want to offend anyone. Many people I know and love have defined their own struggle with sin as the struggle to forgive themselves. But this is a real predicament. Since they sin often, they require this self-forgiveness often. And it is difficult. It's difficult to be a forgiving judge, when the offender is returned to your bar again and again, each time having committed the same offense, each time crying for mercy and promising never to do it again.

This is what God has been impressing on my heart lately: whatever is of the self is destined to wither like grass: and that's including even the forgiveness that is of the self. We dare not place our own judgment regarding sin above God's. What God has taken away, we dare not reclaim. He has taken away our guilt, at the cost of His Son, and we dare not take that guilt back. It is as if to say, the blood of Jesus may have been enough for you, God, but not for me?

I fear I might offend someone here, and I don't want to. I know many people who struggle with this problem. I want to say to them: when you pray, don't ask God to help you forgive yourself. Ask Him to help you receive and trust in His forgiveness. To trust that forgiveness is to walk it out. To know and experience it in your own spirit and then to live your life in that light.

Bonhoeffer says:

"And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness? Self-forgiveness can never lead to a breach with sin; this can be accomplished only by the judging and pardoning Word of God itself."

Confessing our sins to one another is one way we actually "walk out" our faith. After all, is not our faith a faith in the forgiveness of God. And so we are not afraid to say to a brother or sister in the Lord, "I have sinned. My guilt is always with me, I can't escape it. I need to hear again the word of forgiveness."

It is as if our sin smeared its muck over our faith. In times like this we need a brother or a sister to come beside us and say, "Though your sin is great, the love of God is greater. Be at peace. The Lord your God has removed the guilt and washed you clean again. The blood of Christ has accomplished this. Rise and walk."

In our uncertainty, our confusion, our blindness, "mutual brotherly confession is given to us by God in order that we may be sure of divine forgiveness. . . . Who can refuse, without suffering loss, a help that God has deemed it necessary to offer?"


This is the last of my Bonhoeffer posts for a while. I hope my readers have been aided in some way. I hope I've been able to shed some light in a few dark corners for them. I'll be moving on, in the next few posts, to some other matters, but Bonhoeffer's Life Together is going to continue to inspire me in the knowledge that to live life to the fullest in the Kingdom of God is to live, to walk it out, with others. Brothers, sisters, you are not alone!


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