Bonhoeffer on Earthly Righteousness

Disciples live with not only renouncing their own rights, but even renouncing their own righteousness. They get no credit themselves for what they do and sacrifice.

The only righteousness they can have is in hungering and thirsting for it. They will have neither their own righteousness nor God’s righteousness on earth. At all times they look forward to God’s future righteousness, but they cannot bring it about by themselves. Those who follow Jesus will be hungry and thirsty along the way. They are filled with longing for forgiveness of all sins and for complete renewal; they long for the renewal of the earth and for God’s perfect justice.

This quote from Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s writings resonated with me because I’ve long known I have no righteousness of my own. That realization grew within me as a Catholic kid, about the time I took my First Confession and Communion. I didn’t care what the priest told me; I was guilty as charged, ‘cause I knew that as soon as I had swallowed the wafer and wine, it was life as usual.

Repentance? I knew that meant change, turning away from my sin, turning over a new leaf, but I wasn’t too good at leaf-turning. I’m still not. So Praise God for his marvelous grace!

While Bonhoeffer’s quote above resonated with me in part, he made one statement with which I have to take issue: “They will have neither their own righteousness nor God’s righteousness on earth.” Knowing what he suffered for righteousness’ sake, I couldn’t believe he meant exactly what he said, but I looked it up in the Bible and found these passages:

And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — Philippians 3:9

Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. — Galatians 2:16

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, … — Romans 4:3-5

For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” — Romans 1:17

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … — Romans 3

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.— Romans 8:1-4

I could keep going, but the Scriptures have made the point for me: We have nothing to offer God but our sin-guilt. But Jesus died to take away that guilt, and he returned to life to give us new life: His life, the life of the only Son after God’s own kind. And what kind is that? Divine life, righteous life, separated from sin as far as the East is from the West.

Can you still sin? Unfortunately, yes, but if you’re committed to following in Christ’s Way you won’t want to. First John chapter one says: This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Biblically, “walking in darkness” is living the same lie, the same sin, that Satan successfully sold to Eve in the garden. It’s the same lie we swallow when we try to impress God with our own righteousness or religiosity. It’s the same lie as when, “we say we have not sinned,” and “we make him a liar,” because, “his word is not in us.”

If you’re convinced you’re good enough for God, without Jesus’ divine life residing within, think again. God does not easily bear with fools.


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