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Karl Barth (1886 – 1968), see photo, was a well-known professor of theology at universities in Germany and Switzerland. His work, translated into English as Dogmatics (truths of the Christian faith) comprises 6 million words in 13 separate volumes.

In Basel, Switzerland, on August 14, 1955 he preached to inmates in a prison. He read the verse: By grace have you been saved (Eph. 2:5). Some of the things he said were the following: “Let me tell you quite frankly: we are all together great sinners. … Sinners are people who, in the judgement of God, and perhaps of their own conscience, missed and lost their way in life, who are not just a little, but totally guilty, hopelessly indebted and lost not only in time (life on earth), but also in eternity. We are such sinners. And we are prisoners. Believe me, there is a captivity much worse than the captivity in this prison. There are walls much thicker and doors much heavier than those closed upon you here. … All of us, the people outside and you within this prison, are prisoners of our own obstinacy, of our many greed, of our various anxieties, of our own mistrust and of our unbelief. We are all sufferers. … To be saved does not mean just to be a little encouraged, a little comforted, a little relieved. It means to be pulled out like a log from a burning fire.

            “You have been saved! ... This is so because Jesus Christ is our brother and, through his earthly life and death, has become our Saviour. He is the word of God for us. And this word is: By grace you have been saved! ... It means I was doomed but miraculously escaped and now I am safe! You ask: ‘Do we really live in such danger?’ Yes, we live on the brink of death. But we have been saved. Look at our Saviour. Look at Jesus Christ on the cross, accused, sentenced and punished instead of us! He is hanging there, for our sake, because of our sin, He is sharing our captivity, taking our suffering upon Himself! From this darkness He has saved us. A person who is not deeply moved after hearing this news may not yet have grasped the word of God: By grace you have been saved! … I was on the brink of death, but I am no longer there. In foolishness I lived, but I cannot and I will not do it again, never again. This happened, but it must not and it will not happen again. My sin, my captivity, my suffering are things of my past, not of the present nor of the future. I have been saved! … Our sin has no longer any power over us. (And we know that our old being has been put to death with Christ on his cross, in order that the power of the sinful self might be destroyed, so that we should no longer be the slaves of sin (Rom. 6:6).) The prison door of our lives is open. Our suffering from sin has come to an end. … When Jesus, the Son of God, sets us free, we are truly free. … One thing is certain: the bright day has dawned, the sun of God does shine into our dark lives … The door of our prison is open. (We are free from the captivity of sin).”

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23).

A reporter once asked Barth if he could summarize what he had said in all those volumes of his Dogmatics. Barth thought for a moment and then quoted from the world’s most famous children’s hymn: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

When Mao Zedong attempted to crush the church in China, things seemed very bad. In 1972 however, a message leaked out which simply said: “The ‘this I know’ people are well”. The Communist authorities did not understand the message. But Christians all around the world knew instantly that this referred to the words of the children’s hymn.

Karl Barth described sin as our reluctance to live within the freedom that Christ obtained for us. This is a liberation towards joy. To be one of ‘this I know’ people is to be joyful, to know that I am saved, saved by grace.


Lord Jesus, thank you that we may know that we are saved by grace. Sin needs not hold us captive anymore. On the cross You opened those prison doors for us. Amen.


Gert Berning