Trust and Obey

I have been thinking a lot lately about obedience and grace.

The first piece in this train of thought was the sermon at our grad chapel, and the speaker said that praying for forgiveness should be part of our daily discipline as Christians, to remind us of our need for grace.

When Matt preached on Sunday, he talked about Jesus being accused of breaking Sabbath, and one of the verses in that story really struck me:
Matthew 12:5
“Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?”

It stuck out to me because I have been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biography, and he experienced such deep moral dilemmas during the Nazi rule in Germany, including participating in a plot to assassinate Hitler. Many in the church supported Hitler because they assumed he had been allowed to have authority by God, and who were they to challenge that? Even for those who saw the necessity of challenging Hitler, it was a broad and deeply gray area what specific form that challenge should take, and especially whether his murder could be an acceptable course of action.

From his biography by Eric Metaxas:
“For Bonhoeffer, the relationship with God ordered everything else around it. A number of times he referred to the relationship with Jesus Christ as being like the cantus firmus of a piece of music. All the other parts of the music referred to it, and it held them together. To be true to God in the deepest way meant having such a relationship with him that one did not live legalistically by “rules” or “principles.” One could never separate one’s actions from one’s relationship to God. It was a more demanding and more mature level of obedience, and Bonhoeffer had come to see that the evil of Hitler was forcing Christians to go deeper in their obedience, to think harder about what God was asking. Legalistic religion was being shown to be utterly inadequate.” (366-367)

He joined the Military Intelligence and worked undercover as a pastor to be a spy, although his position as an intelligence agent was in fact a cover for his participation in a conspiracy against Hitler. So he was a pastor who helped to scheme against Hitler, pretending to pretend to be a pastor so he could move freely and continue his ministry much better than if he had openly rebelled.

“Bonhoeffer was not telling little white lies. In Luther’s famous phrase, he was “sinning boldly.” He was involved in a high-stakes game of deception upon deception, and yet Bonhoeffer himself knew that in all of it, he was being utterly obedient to God.” (370)

I have been reading in 2 Chronicles in my devotions, and this passage struck me as so relevant to all the things I have been thinking.

2 Chron 30:18-20
“For a majority of the people… had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them saying, “May the good LORD pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

This is the attitude that I see echoed in Dietrich Bonhoeffer (again, from his biography):
“Bonhoeffer knew that to live in fear of incurring “guilt” was itself sinful. God wanted his beloved children to operate out of freedom and joy to do what was right and good, not out of fear of making a mistake… He knew that to act freely could mean inadvertently doing wrong and incurring guilt, but if one wished to live responsibly and fully, one would be willing to do so.” (424-425)

This is a very challenging view for me. It seems so easy to slip into a cheap perspective of grace in which God tritely forgives us for whatever we do and pats us on the head for trying our best, but I know this runs deeply contrary to what Bonhoeffer meant. It is also helpful for me to understand these quotes in the context of his whole biography and know that he never rushed to a decision or made a choice before bringing it to God. Freedom and grace are no excuses for mental or moral laziness.

God cares about the choices we make and wants us to live well, to make good decisions, and these decisions must often be courageous and sacrificial. But we cannot become so self-important that we are paralyzed at the idea of imperfection. It is God’s jurisdiction to convict or to pardon, and he does not always act according to human expectations.

Yet another book I am slowly reading is The Gospel According to Job. In the chapter I read the other night, this theme YET AGAIN came up, and I think the author puts it well: “God’s delight is not in a life lived in undeviating virtue, but rather in seeing the most twisted and chaotic life turned in humble expectation towards Him.”

This is why it is good to pray daily for forgiveness, not because I am the wormiest of worms but because I need forgiveness daily, and by committing myself to God’s grace I am free to live without fear of messing up. Yes, I will mess up, and even my obedience to God may bring me through uncertain moral territory, but Jesus did not say to follow his rules; he said to follow Him. As Christians we must obey God and trust that he will lead us AND forgive us when we need it.

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