It was a sobering moment when I realised I had become complacent with my faith.
I was sitting in bed, reading late on a Thursday night by the feeble glow of my bedside lamp. A friend had recently convinced me to read The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Wincing at the heavy-sounding blurb, I half-heartedly picked up the book – not knowing that it would change my life and my relationship with God forever.
Christian complacency can look like different things for different believers. Maybe for you, it’s that you attend church every Sunday because it’s what you’ve been doing for the last 25 years. What else would you do on a Sunday?
Or maybe prayer is such a part of your daily routine that you’ve forgotten why you pray every morning and who you pray to. The gift of communing personally with God has lost its awe-inducing status for you, and you simply pray for the sake of praying. ‘It’s just what I do as a Christian.’
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Whatever form complacency takes in your life, I encourage you to reflect upon it. Today, however, I wanted to focus on complacency when it comes to our sinfulness.
I did not expect to find this revelation about my complacency towards sin within the pages of Bonhoeffer’s book. From my knowledge, Bonhoeffer was a brilliant man, but one far removed from my 21st-century Christian life. What could I possibly learn from him? I was quickly proved wrong.
As I got further into the book, I found myself cut to the heart.
Even just reading the short memoir introduction to The Cost of Discipleship, I was blown away by his incredible faith and life story. The epitome of modern martyrdom, Bonhoeffer adamantly remained firm in his beliefs during the Second World War. Dedicated theologian-turned-spy in the conspiracy against Hitler, Bonhoeffer spent the last years of his life imprisoned in Nazi jails and concentration camps – proclaiming Jesus until his execution just three weeks before the war ended.
As I got further into the book, I found myself cut to the heart. In the second chapter, Bonhoeffer reflects upon the gift of grace and the presence of sin in our everyday lives. According to him, before God’s great grace, we are ‘always and in every circumstance sinners’.
“Yet that grace seeks us and justifies us, sinners though we are. Take courage and confess your sin … do not try to run away from it but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it.”
What does this actually mean? Here, Bonhoeffer encourages us to recognise our sinfulness regularly and routinely. Every single day we encounter barriers that hinder us from following Christ. And every single day we cave to sin, and fall short of God.
However, rather than hearing these words as a condemnation, Bonhoeffer means to encourage us with renewed vigour to follow Christ. Yes, he says, be troubled by your daily faithlessness and sin. But because of this, don’t be discouraged, instead seek Christ more boldly!
I was entirely moved by my need for God in the face of the unbearable weight of my sin.
I was so shaken by this because it made me realise that I had grown complacent about my sin. I had been taking God’s grace for granted, forgetting to reflect upon just how much I need it as a sinner who screws up ‘again and again every day’. As I read these words, written by a man who died over 75 years ago, I was entirely moved by my need for God in the face of the unbearable weight of my sin.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t stop there. As Christians, we don’t have to be overcome by a weight we could never possibly carry. Why? Because even though we don’t (and could never) deserve it, Jesus Christ died on the cross so that we could be wiped clean of our sin.
Paul sums this up nicely when he writes, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25)
Even when confronted with our own wretchedness, we can be thankful that we have been delivered through Jesus’ death for us.
I hope that, through these reflections on my own wake-up call, you’re encouraged to address whatever complacency you see in your own faith, so that you can follow Jesus more boldly today!
Emma Pritchard is one of Bible Society Australia’s 2023 interns. Emma is studying to be a high school English teacher at the University of Sydney and attends church in Manly.