The Center of Ethics

Before I continue in this series of ethics I’d like to pause and revisit the cornerstone on which all Christian ethics stand. I cannot add to these wonderful words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so I will let them speak for themselves:

The origin and the essence of all Christian life are comprised in the one process or event which the Reformation called justification of the sinner by grace alone. The nature of the Christian life is disclosed not by what the man is in himself but by what he is in this event. The whole length and breadth of human life is here compressed into a single instant, a single point. The totality of life is encompassed in this event. What event is this? It is something final, something which cannot be grasped by the being or the action or the suffering of any man. The dark pit of human life, inwardly and outwardly barred, sinking ever more hopelessly and inescapably in the abyss, is torn open by main force, and the word of God breaks in. In the rescuing light man for the first time recognizes God and his neighbour. The labyrinth of the life he has so far led falls in ruin. Man is free for God and his brothers. He becomes aware that there is a God who loves him; that a brother is standing at his side, whom God loves as he loves him himself and that there is a future with the triune God, together with His Church. He believes. He loves. He hopes. The past and the future of his whole life are merged in one in the presence of God. The whole of the past is comprised in the word forgiveness. The whole of the future is in safe keeping in the faithfulness of God. Past sin is swallowed up in the abyss of the love of God in Jesus Christ. The future will be without sin, a life which proceeds from God (1 John 3.9). Life knows now that it is held in tension between the two poles of eternity, that it extends from the choice made before the time of the world to the everlasting salvation. It knows itself to be a member of a Church and a creation which sings the praise of the triune God. All this takes place when Christ comes to men. In Christ all this is truth and reality, and just because it is not a dream, the life of the man who experiences the presence of Christ is hence-forward no longer a lost life, but it has become a justified life, a life justified by grace alone.
Yet not by grace alone, but also by faith alone. That is the teaching of the Bible and of the Reformation. A life is not justified by love, or by hope, but only by faith. For indeed faith alone sets life upon a new foundation, and it is this new foundation alone that justifies my being able to life before God. This foundation is the life, the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Without this foundation a life is unjustified before God. It is delivered up to death and damnation. To live by the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the justification of a life before God. And faith means finding and holding fast of this foundation. It means casting anchor upon it and being held fast by it. Faith means founding my life upon a foundation which is outside myself, upon an eternal and holy foundation, upon Christ. Faith means being held captive by the sight of Jesus Christ, no longer seeing anything but Him, being wrested from my imprisonment in my own self, being set free by Jesus Christ. Faith is a passive submission to an action, and in this submission alone it is itself an action; yet these two words are inadequate to express the mystery which this implies. Faith alone is certainty. Everything but faith is subject to doubt. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith. My faith that my life is justified is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is therefore, no other means of access to the justification of my life than through faith alone.
But faith is never alone. As surely as faith is the true presence of Christ. So surely, too, is it accomplished by love and hope. It would be a false faith, a dissembling faith, a hypocritical and self-invented faith such as can never justify, if it were not accompanied by love and hope. It would be a vain repetition of articles of faith, a dead faith, if it were not accompanied by works of penitence and love. Not for a moment can faith and evil intention exist side by side.

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics

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