Bondslaves of God

"Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. I Peter 2:16

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident. You may very well know his story. For his outspoken opposition to Hitler's regime he was arrested and put to death at the Flossenburg concentration camp in 1945. Bonhoeffer was more than a leader of the Resistance under the Third Reich. He was a man of God and also a powerful voice for the church. Under persecution, Bonhoeffer discovered that, even though God's grace is freely given, it can also extract a high cost.

It was costly grace that led Bonhoeffer to leave a safe haven in America and return to Nazi Germany so he could be with his fellow Germans. Costly grace led him to openly teach and preach the word of God even though the Nazis tried to suppress his work. Costly grace led Bonhoeffer to stand against a turncoat church that mixed Nazi doctrine with Christian truth and to bravely establish (with Martin Niemoller and others) a new church, the Confessing Church. Costly grace led Bonhoeffer, as early as 1933, to speak boldly in opposition to the persecution of Jews (even sending a memorandum to Hitler himself) and to attempt to smuggle Jews out of Germany, even though that act led to his arrest.

Even in prison, Bonhoeffer's life radiated divine grace. He confronted other prisoners, who looked upon him as their chaplain. A fellow prisoner described him as "different, just quite calm and normal, seemingly perfectly at his ease...his soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison. He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom God was real and ever close to him."

On the morning of April 9, 1945, less than a month before Hitler was defeated, Bonhoeffer knelt and prayed, then followed his captors to the gallows. His prayer: "May God in His mercy lead us through these times; but above all, may He lead us to Himself."

The story of Bonhoeffer’s life took on a whole new, powerful meaning just this past September. My husband and I were on a walking tour in the picturesque town of Wertheim, in Bavaria in southern Germany. We had passed by many points of interest and had extended our walk to include a tour of Wertheim's Jewish Quarter.

During World War II Wertheim had lost many of its Jewish residents to the maniacal schemes of Hitler. There were about ten of us in our group. We walked up a steep hill to the old Jewish cemetery. Under some beautiful trees our guide asked if we had any questions. One person in the group said this, "We've been in Germany now for a week and have heard bits and pieces of history relating to the Holocaust. I need to much about Hitler, the Concentration Camps and the persecution did German citizens know?"

Our guide, probably about 60 years old, got a little bit quiet and then shared this: “I wasn’t alive back then. I grew up in a home where such things were never discussed. No one really talked about the neighbors who just disappeared. No one really asked questions or confessed any knowledge, but then it came time for me to go to high school. I got to go to the new academy that had just opened in Wertheim. The new school was named Dietrich Bonhoeffer HS. I didn’t know that name, I didn’t know why a school should be named for a man I had never heard of. As a young teenager I began to research Bonhoeffer’s life. I learned about this man and what he had done and where and how he had died. Through his life – and death, as a child of God and bondslave of Jesus Christ, I discovered Jesus for myself and became a believer. Now I know the Truth."

I praise God for the way that the Resurrection came so alive for me that day in Wertheim.

Christ’s death and resurrection – His “one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.” (Romans 5:18) – changed the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life of faith in Christ decades later drew our tour guide himself, to the Risen One.

… "even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ." Romans 5:17

by Connie Grosse