“Believing Christians have something to say not only about their guilt, but also something equally important about their innocence and righteousness,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote. In exploring the Psalms as a guideline for prayer the theologian, who we read yesterday, explains:
Most psalms presuppose complete certainty of the forgiveness of sins. That may surprise us. But even in the New Testament the same thing is true. Christian prayer is diminished and endangered when it revolves exclusively around the forgiveness of sins. There is such a thing as confidently leaving sin behind for the sake of Jesus Christ.
It is often particularly striking and objectionable to the Protestant Christian that in the Psalter the innocence of the pious is spoken of at least as often as is their guilt. Here seems to be evidence of a residue of the so-called Old Testament righteousness through works, with which the Christian can have nothing more to do. This point of view is completely superficial and knows nothing of the depth of the Word of God.
The reality of “leaving sin behind for the sake of Jesus Christ” brings striking balance to the prayers of the Psalms. In Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible Bonhoeffer shows that for each Psalm of confession there is another Psalm proclaiming righteousness.
Recalibrating our own prayer life to this balance of confession and celebration is not just a matter of changing our language—but all allowing Christ to heal and restore our hearts and minds. Bold trust in grace rebukes self-condemnation, rooting our identity in the rich soil of Christ’s work. Bonhoeffer concludes:
To have faith as a Christian means that, through the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, the Christian has become entirely innocent and righteous in God’s eyes—that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And to pray as a Christian means to hold fast to this innocence and righteousness in which Christians share, and for which they appeal to God’s Word and give God thanks.
If in other respects we take God’s action toward us at all seriously, then we not only may, but plainly must, pray in all humility and certainty: “I was blameless before God, and I kept myself from guilt”; “If you test me, you will find no wickedness in me.” With such a prayer we stand in the center of the New Testament, in the community of the cross of Jesus Christ.