Confess your sins to one another… – James 5:16
Those who remain alone with their evil are left utterly alone… For the pious community permits no one to be a sinner. Hence all have to conceal their sins from themselves and from the community. We are not allowed to be sinners. Many Christians would be unimaginably horrified if a real sinner were suddenly to turn up among the pious. So we remain alone with our sin, trapped in lies and hypocrisy, for we are in fact sinners.
However, the grace of the gospel, which is so hard for the pious to comprehend, confronts us with the truth. It says to us, you sinner, a great, unholy sinner. Now come, as the sinner that you are, to your God who loves you. For God wants you as you are, not desiring anything from you – a sacrifice, a good deed – but rather desiring you alone. God has come to you to make the sinner blessed. Rejoice! This message is liberation through truth. You cannot hide from God. The mask you wear in the presence of other people won’t get you anywhere in the presence of God. God wants to see you as you are, wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and to other Christians as if you were without sin. You are allowed to be a sinner. Thank God for that; God loves the sinner but hates the sin.
Christ became our brother in the flesh in order that we might believe in him. In Christ, the love of God came to the sinner. In the presence of Christ human beings were allowed to be sinners, and only in this way could they be helped. Every pretense came to an end in Christ’s presence. This was the truth of the gospel in Jesus Christ: the misery of the sinner and the mercy of God. The community of faith in Christ was to live in this truth. That is why Jesus gave his followers the authority to hear the confession of sin and to forgive sin in Christ’s name. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
When he did that, Christ made us into the community of faith, and in that community Christ made the other Christian to be grace for us. Now each stands in Christ’s place. In the presence of another Christian I no longer need to pretend. In another Christian’s presence I am permitted to be the sinner that I am, for there alone in all the world the truth and mercy of Jesus Christ rule. Christ became our brother in order in order to help us; through Christ other Christians have become Christ for us in the power and authority of Christ’s commandment. Other Christians stand before us as a sign of God’s truth and grace. They have been given to us to help us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45), Life Together, 108-9.