Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke these words just over 74 years ago to this day as Nazi soldiers had approached him in his prison cell saying, “Make ready and come with us.” Bonhoeffer was then hanged exactly 74 years ago; one week before Nazi Germany was liberated by the Allies. You see, the Nazis obviously didn’t like anything about Bonhoeffer. He was the head of the Confessing Church, the largest Protestant resistors of the Nazis. He is most well-known for his works “Life Together,” and “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoeffer was in on an attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler, and was subsequently captured and placed into multiple differing confinement camps. He was hated because of his faith and whole-hearted commitment to Jesus, and was ultimately killed because of his conviction that he must resist the morally atrocious leadership of his nation. Ultimately, it was because Bonhoeffer knew Jesus was King over the Fuhrer that the Nazis just could not stand to allow him to continue living… He would not pledge his allegiance to a false god, and so even though his death meant the end of his Gospel presence in Germany and resistance to Hitler it also meant the beginning of eternity in heaven with Jesus.
Bonhoeffer’s legacy all these years later, and his most significant contribution to Christians today is his eternal perspective rather than a temporal one. In an age and era when “cheap grace” is the de facto religion of the American people (therapeutic, moralistic, deism) Bonhoeffer’s actions and words are prophetic. Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Compare his words with the watered down message I’ve heard so often “Come to Jesus who will never judge you for being who you are.” Certainly come to Jesus! But, when you come to him allow Bonhoeffer’s quote to point you to Jesus’ command on your life that you must “pick up your cross and follow Him.” We don’t come to Jesus on our own terms, but we come on his, and Bonhoeffer understood this in a way unique to his context. After all, Bonhoeffer also wrote, “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ.” Compare these words with the idea that you come to Jesus and as a result you get to “live your best life now,” and enjoy all the best things of this world. Bonhoeffer knew and understood that God is calling you and me to leave the false idols that rule our hearts so that we would cling to Christ alone. Bonhoeffer knew we must die to self if we would ever live in Christ. We must take off our temporal lenses, and understand ourselves in light of God’s eternal bliss and glory.
So, what would it look like for you and I to follow in the footsteps of Bonhoeffer as he followed in the footsteps of Jesus? Well, I’m not suggesting I’ve mastered what Bonhoeffer has taught but let me suggest three things… 1. Stop elevating gifts above giver, 2. embrace suffering for the sake of Christ, and 3. replace temporal glasses for eternal ones. Living in a wealthy context like America merely increases the temptation for us to claim we love Jesus while simultaneously loving other things more or as much as Him. This is called idolatry and it is at the root of all sins. We must learn to submit all gifts to the Lord over them all, and that is God who created them all in the first place. Secondly, in a society with relatively little oppression for Christians, and a lack of suffering “for the sake of” Christ we shouldn’t seek out oppression and persecution, but we should welcome it and indeed embrace it when/if it comes. Finally, Christians are called to view the world in an entirely different way than non-Christians. We all are born with naturally temporal views of the world because of sin, and this means sin causes us to be obsessed with the here and now. When we become believers we realize the here and now offers no lasting joy that will be experienced with the Highest Good (God) in heaven for eternity. When we begin to see the world through eternal vision then we begin to make a truly lasting impact since we act increasingly in a way that has eternal value, and not merely earthly value. Bonhoeffer’s life and death are wonderful teachers for you and me that storing up treasures on earth is merely a waste of time, because it’s wise to store up treasures in heaven where our true joy (Jesus) actually lives, reigns, and remains forever.