Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Reformation Day!

It's finally here: this year's annual Reformation Day post! (You can all exhale now.) In case you haven't been reading this blog for years, every October 31st I celebrate the nailing of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses to the cathedral door in Wittenberg on All Souls' Eve in 1517, ultimately spurring many within the church to return to Scripture and to celebrate Jesus Christ alone as our All in All. This year's quote comes from a sermon of Dietrich Bonhoeffer titled "Justification as the Last Word" (c. 1940).* It's a bit lengthy, but well worth the patience.

All Christian living has its origin and existnece in one single happening which the Reformation called "justification by grace alone." It is not what the individual is in himself or herself, but what he or she has become by this happening which defines a Christian life. Here we have the length and breadth of human life in a nutshell, gathered together at one point; the whole of life is contained in this event. What happens here? An ultimate act of suffering which cannot be grasped by any human being. The darkness, which from within and without takes human life into the abyss of hopelessness is bound, conquered, and destroyed by the power of the Word of God; in the light of this deliverance, we see God and our neighbor for the first time. The bewildering labyrinth of the life we have lived so far is shattered. We are free for God and our neighbor. We begin to know in our heart that there is a God who loves us, accepts us, and that by our side is a brother or sister, whom God loves as he loves us. Also, we know now that there is a future with the triune God, who is present among his people. Now, the human being has faith, love, and hope. Past and future become as one in the presence of God. The whole of the past is gathered up in the word "forgiveness"; the whole of the future is in the safekeeping of the true God. The sins of the past are sunk into the abyss of the love of God in Christ Jesus and overcome. The future will be a life with God, without sin (see 1 John 3:9). Life, then, is revealed as detached from teh temporal and held fast by the eternal, choosing the way of eternal salvation ratherthan the ways of the termporal world, as a member of a community and of creation, which sings praises to the triune God. All this happens with theencounter of Christ with the human soul. All this is truth and reality in Christ. Because it is no dream, it is a dtruly human life, which is lived in the presence of Christ. From now on, it is no longer a lost life, but a justified life, justified by grace alone.

But not only "by grace alone," also "by faith alone." That is what both the Scriptures and the Reformation teach. Not love nor hope, but only faith justifies a life. Faith alone, indeed, sets life upon a new foundation and it is this new foundation alone that justifies it, so that I can live before God. The foundation, however, is the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without this foundation a life cannot be justified before God. It is left to the mercy of death and damnation. Only by living a life by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ can we be justified before God. But faith means finding and standing firm upon this foundation, to be anchored in it and thereby to be held firm by it. Faith means establishing one's life upon a foundation outside one's own self, upon and eternal and holy foundation, which is Christ. Faith means to be captivated by the glance of Jesus Christ, to see nothing other than him, to be torn out of imprisonment in one's own ego, to be set free by Jesus Christ. Faith is letting this action take place, which is an action in itself, but these two are not enough to explain the mystery. Only faith is certain, all else is doubt. Jesus Christ himself is the certainly of faith. I believe that my life is justified in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other way to the justification of my life than by faith alone. . . .


*Bonhoeffer, Werke, Vol. 15, pp. 492-98; as found in Edwin Robertson, ed., tr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), pp. 160-162.

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