Life Together: A Christian Needs Others Because of Jesus Christ
In the first chapter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Bonhoeffer makes the following three points about Kingdom community:
1) A Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ
2) A Christian comes to others through Jesus Christ
3) In Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.
What I’d like to do in the next few posts is look at each of these in more depth, and show how understanding these things can really help us in our relationships within God’s family.
First: A Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer begins his explanation of this point by recalling the fundamental Reformation doctrine of grace. We were helpless to save ourselves, but have been justified in Jesus Christ alone. Our own internal resources were not enough. Our physical prowess, our will, our supposed righteousness, our good intentions, our intellect, no internal attribute we call our own could ever be the grounds of our salvation.
No, our righteousness must come from the outside. As Bonhoeffer says: “The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him.” Then:
If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? He can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him of salvation and righteousness. He is alert as possible to this Word. And it can come only from the outside. In himself he is destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.Now, the thing is, this reality is lived by way of relationships. It must ever be this way, for it is by God’s design that His Word is communicated by people to people. In other words, the basis of all communication in the Kingdom of God is the offer of the living Word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in all our human interactions. Bonhoeffer says:
God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. . . . And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.That last point is so important, I want to repeat it for emphasis. Brothers and sisters in the Christian community “meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”
Get it? The bringing of the Gospel of salvation is not simply an act of evangelism to the world of unbelievers, but it is the fundamental and continuing nature of our relationships in the Body of Christ. When you speak to me, when I speak to you, we are to be bringing this message. The message of salvation through Jesus Christ here in the present moment. Wherever we happen to be on our path toward Christian maturity, this is the sum and substance of our relating with one another. We bring this message to our brothers and sisters: the message of salvation through the glory and goodness of Christ alone.
Finally, Bonhoeffer says, “this is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.” I long for you because I know that you are called to be a bringer, a vessel, of Jesus Christ and His Word of salvation even to me. And I am tremendously excited by the prospect of seeing Christ in you and hearing Christ from you. As Bonhoeffer says, “A Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.”