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Bonhoeffer on Forgiveness

This past weekend, we had our third annual Youth Winter Retreat. We were joined by some of the youth of Church of the Resurrection (PCA) in Flagstaff. We had a great time! The theme of the retreat was "The Gospel for Me and for You," and we discussed how the gospel changes us individually as well as in relationship with each other.

One talk I gave was about how the gospel gathers Christians into a new family. We are no longer scattered and divided by culture, language, or location; instead, we have been united as one family because we are all "in Christ" as brothers and sisters, which means we have some significant responsibilities toward each other. A key challenge is our responsibility to show forgiveness to each other, even as we have been forgiven by God in Christ (Eph 4:31-32).

But what does that forgiveness look like? How can I muster up the gumption to look past the hurt my brother has caused me and the bitterness I feel toward him in order to fulfill this command to forgive him? In the profound words of a seven year-old who was confused by this very struggle, "How can I love him when I hate him?!"

This is where Bonhoeffer's little book Life Together helpfully grounds our relationship to our new family of Christians in a fresh understanding of the gospel. Here is one quote that I read on the retreat. It still causes shivers to run down my spine. 

"Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably [beneficial], because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together—the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ."

How do you view the sins of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you thank God when they sin against you, not for the harm they've done, but as a testimony to our need for Jesus? Do you see their sins against you as an opportunity to show them grace? Do you realize that the unity of the body of Christ can only flow from that "one Word and Deed" which binds us together: the undeserved forgiveness extended to us through the substitutionary death of Christ?

Think about it.

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