“I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ,” (page 35).
“Only in the Holy Scriptures do we get to know our own story,” (page 36).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition).
I once preached at a church that had a bronze plaque on the top of the pulpit that only the preacher could see, it was a quote from the Gospel of John, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Having never been to that church before, I was taken aback in a good and sobering way when I read the words and I thought that there could be no better words to remind a servant of the Gospel why he was standing behind a pulpit.
The truth in Bonhoeffer’s words, “I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ,” are words that the church needs to recover in this age of Therapeutic Deism and the exaltation of the self; an age in which sermons and lessons and books are pointed not to Christ but to me; an age in which many of the songs we sing are not songs of exaltation and praise, nor songs of the Cross and resurrection and the hope that lives within us, but rather songs in which we stand at the center, songs in which we are the reference point.
On page 34 Bonhoeffer argues that “the Scripture is a corpus, a living whole,” and that the Biblical books should be read in context, thereby drawing believers into God’s dealings with His people from Genesis to Revelation, “The community of believers is drawn into the Christmas story, the baptism, the miracles and discourses, the suffering, dying, and rising of Jesus Christ. It participates in the events that once occurred on this earth for the salvation of the whole world…For those who want to hear, reading the biblical books in a sequential order forces them to go, and to allow themselves to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of human beings,” (pages 34 - 35).
As I have observed in previous posts, if Biblical illiteracy was a problem in Bonhoeffer’s day, how much more so is it in our own time? I suppose that there has never been such a sheer volume of “Christian” books published, and yet we do not read the Bible and therefore – contrary to our protestations – we do not know the Bible.
In the Scriptures eternity touches earth, in the Bible God walks and talks with men and women and families and peoples. In the Bible God peals back the heavy atmosphere of earth’s sin and rebellion and shines His light on mankind. In Jesus Christ the Word is made flesh and lives with us, in Jesus Christ God’s light comes into the world. In the Bible a Divine portal opens and we traverse the path of God on earth, from the past through the present and into the future…and beyond the future into that in which time is no more. In the Bible we find our story for our story can only be found in the story of Jesus Christ.
“It is not that God’s help and presence must still be proved in our life; rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ…The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important that the fact that I will die. And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, will be raised on the day of judgment. Our salvation is “from outside ourselves”…I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ,” (page 35).
I seldom meet a Christian who reads the Bible. When I ask someone if he or she reads the Bible the answer is either, “I know I should but I don’t,” or “Yes, I try to read it every day.” When I follow up the latter response with, “What do you read?” Then the answer is a verse here and a verse there, either directly or within a daily devotional. When I ask whether they read through books of the Bible the answer is “No”. How can this be?
If we are to go and make disciples of all peoples, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:18 – 20), how can we do this without reading the Bible and teaching others to read the Bible? Can we not see the inherent contradiction and problem with Biblically illiterate pastors and congregations who profess to follow the person and teaching of Jesus Christ? How can we profess to follow someone’s teaching when we do not know what that teaching is? Is not repentance, metanoia, inextricably linked (in literate societies) to reading, knowing, and obeying the Bible? For repentance is far more than confessing one’s sins, it is a change of mind, it is following Jesus – and how can our minds be changed other than by the Spirit of God working in and through the Word of God, and how can we follow the Jesus who is revealed in the Bible except we know the Bible that reveals Him?
Cheap grace results in Biblical illiteracy because it does not demand repentance, it only meekly requests that we accept Jesus into our hearts and that we confess our sins, or at the least admit that we are sinners – it does not call us to metanoia, it does not command that our minds change – it does not insist that repentance be consummated in obedient faith in Jesus Christ. Cheap grace punches a salvation ticket that we put in our pockets and bids us live as we choose, of course we are told it we would be better off if we lived godly lives, but the important thing is that we have accepted Jesus and the matter is settled.
Is the matter settled? How can the matter be settled without repentance, without metanoia? Have we not read the Parable of the Sower? What false assurance have we foisted upon others?
How have we become so deaf and so blind as not to see that God’s people must know God’s Word? How have we come to live in this opium den? What insanity has led us to defending Biblical illiteracy? How have we lost our passion for the Word of God – a passion that has cost many a life down through the centuries? Men and women have died for that which we relegate to a footnote in our corporate worship and in our lives. That which has been deemed precious is now mundane and vulgar – that which was once protected and treasured is now an afterthought, an option, an elective – something that we will get to when and if we can, for it certainly is not necessary.
Paul writes that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but because they seek their own desires and have itching ears that they will “heap up for themselves” false teachers, that people “will turn their ears away from the truth” (2 Timothy 4:1 – 5). If turning away from the Bible is not a picture of this, what is?
Paul’s emphasis on Scripture in 2 Timothy is in the context of encroaching darkness within and without the professing church. Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on Scripture is in the context of a society and church enveloped in darkness. We ignore the warnings of these saints at not only our peril, but at the peril of those we love, at the peril of all those around us.
“I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ.”