Editor's note:

In Life Togeth­er Bon­ho­ef­fer makes crys­tal clear the fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence between rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian fel­low­ship and the com­mu­ni­ty of nat­ur­al desire. With sad­ness I have had to rec­og­nize that the very way we arrange our lives in Amer­i­ca effec­tive­ly excludes us from life togeth­er. To take Bon­ho­ef­fer seri­ous­ly would mean such a total rethink­ing of the life of faith that the entire socioe­co­nom­ic struc­tures of our lives would be revolutionized.

Life Togeth­er is a salty book to dig into if you are tired of sweet­ness and light for God’s lit­tle flock” and are pre­pared for cost­ly grace.”

—Richard J. Foster
Renovaré Founder

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

1. In and Through Jesus Christ 

Chris­tian­i­ty means com­mu­ni­ty through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, sin­gle encounter or the dai­ly fel­low­ship of years, Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty is only this. We belong to one anoth­er only through and in Jesus Christ. 

What does this mean? It means, first, that a Chris­t­ian needs oth­ers because of Jesus Christ. It means, sec­ond, that a Chris­t­ian comes to oth­ers only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been cho­sen from eter­ni­ty, accept­ed in time, and unit­ed for eternity. 

First, the Chris­t­ian is the man who no longer seeks his own sal­va­tion, his deliv­er­ance, his jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in him­self, but in Jesus Christ alone. He knows that 

God’s Word in Jesus Christ pro­nounces him guilty, even when he does not feel his guilt, and God’s Word pro­nounces him right­eous, even when he does not feel that he is right­eous at all. The Chris­t­ian no longer lives of him­self by his own claims and of his own jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, but by God’s claims and God’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. He lives whol­ly by God’s Word pro­nounced upon him whether that Word declares him guilty or innocent. 

2. Alien Righteousness 

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. The Reform­ers expressed it this way: Our right­eous­ness is an alien right­eous­ness,” a right­eous­ness that comes from out­side of us (extra nos). They were say­ing that the Chris­t­ian is depen­dent on the Word of God spo­ken to him. He is point­ed out­ward, to the Word that comes to him. 

The Chris­t­ian lives whol­ly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. 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 sal­va­tion and right­eous­ness. He is as alert as pos­si­ble to this Word. Because he dai­ly hungers and thirsts for right­eous­ness, he dai­ly desires the redeem­ing 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 and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bring­ing redemp­tion, right­eous­ness, inno­cence, and blessedness. 

3. Christ in the Word of Another 

But God has put this Word into the mouth of oth­ers in order that it may be com­mu­ni­cat­ed to us. When one per­son is struck by the Word, he speaks it to oth­ers. 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. The Christ in his own heart is weak­er than the Christ in the word of his broth­er; his own heart is uncer­tain, his brother’s is sure. 

And that also clar­i­fies the goal of all Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty: they meet one anoth­er as bringers of the mes­sage of sal­va­tion. As such, God per­mits them to meet togeth­er and gives them com­mu­ni­ty. Their fel­low­ship is found­ed sole­ly upon Jesus 

Christ and this alien right­eous­ness.” All we can say, there­fore, is: the com­mu­ni­ty of Chris­tians springs sole­ly from the Bib­li­cal and Ref­or­ma­tion mes­sage of the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the long­ing of Chris­tians for one another. 

4. Christ Opened the Way 

Sec­ond, a Chris­t­ian comes to oth­ers only through Jesus Christ. Among peo­ple there is strife. He is our peace,” says Paul of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:14). With­out Christ there is dis­cord between God and man and between man and man. Christ became the Medi­a­tor and made peace with God and among men. 

With­out Christ we should not know God, we could not call upon him, nor come to him. But with­out Christ we also could not know our broth­er, nor could we come to him. The way is blocked by our own ego. Christ opened the way to God and to our broth­er. Now Chris­tians can live with one anoth­er in peace; they can love and serve one anoth­er; they can become one. But they can con­tin­ue to do so only by way of Jesus Christ are we one, only through him are we bound togeth­er. To eter­ni­ty he remains the one Mediator. 

5. We Are in Him 

Third, when God’s Son took on flesh, he tru­ly and bod­i­ly took on, out of pure grace, our being, our nature, our­selves. This was the eter­nal coun­sel of the tri­une God. Now we are in him. Where he is, there we are too, in the incar­na­tion, on the Cross, and in his res­ur­rec­tion. We belong to him because we are in him. That is why the Scrip­tures call us the Body of Christ. 

But if, before we could know and wish it, we have been cho­sen and accept­ed with the whole Church in Jesus Christ, then we also belong to him in eter­ni­ty with one anoth­er. We who live here in fel­low­ship with him will one day be with him in eter­nal fellowship. 

He who looks upon his broth­er should know that he will be eter­nal­ly unit­ed with him in Jesus Christ. Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty means com­mu­ni­ty in and through Jesus Christ. On this pre­sup­po­si­tion rests every­thing that the Scrip­tures pro­vide in the way of direc­tions and pre­cepts for the com­mu­nal life of Christians. 

6. Made Ready to Forgive 

But as touch­ing broth­er­ly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye your­selves are taught of God to love one anoth­er.… but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more” (1 Thess. 4:9, 10, KJV). God him­self has under­tak­en to teach broth­er­ly love; all that men can do to add to it is to remem­ber this 

divine instruc­tion and the admo­ni­tion to excel in it more and more. When God was mer­ci­ful, when he revealed Jesus Christ to us as our Broth­er, when he won our hearts by his love, this was the begin­ning of our instruc­tion in divine love. 

When God was mer­ci­ful to us, we learned to be mer­ci­ful with our brethren. When we received for­give­ness instead of judg­ment, we, too, were made ready to for­give our brethren. What God did to us, we then owed to oth­ers. The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more mea­ger our broth­er­ly love, the less were we liv­ing by God’s mer­cy and love. Thus God him­self taught us to meet one anoth­er as God has met us in Christ. Where­fore receive ye one anoth­er, as Christ also received us to the glo­ry of God” (Rom. 15:7KJV). 

7. The Basis of Our Community 

In this wise does one, whom God has placed in com­mon life with oth­er Chris­tians, learn what it means to have broth­ers. Brethren in the Lord,” Paul calls his con­gre­ga­tion (Phil. 1:14). One is a broth­er to anoth­er only through Jesus Christ. I am a broth­er to anoth­er per­son through what Jesus Christ did for me and to me; the oth­er per­son has become a broth­er to me through what Jesus Christ did for him. 

The fact that we are brethren only through Jesus Christ is of immea­sur­able sig­nif­i­cance. Not only the oth­er per­son who is earnest and devout, who comes to me seek­ing broth­er­hood, must I deal with in fel­low­ship. My broth­er is rather that oth­er per­son who has been redeemed by Christ, deliv­ered from sin, and called to faith and eter­nal life. 

Not what a man is in him­self as a Chris­t­ian, his spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and piety, con­sti­tutes the basis of our com­mu­ni­ty. What deter­mines our broth­er­hood is what that man is by rea­son of Christ. Our com­mu­ni­ty with one anoth­er con­sists sole­ly in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not mere­ly at the begin­ning, and though in the course of time some­thing else were to be added to our com­mu­ni­ty; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. 

I have com­mu­ni­ty with oth­ers and I shall con­tin­ue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more gen­uine and the deep­er our com­mu­ni­ty becomes, the more will every­thing else between us recede, the more clear­ly and pure­ly will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one anoth­er only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one anoth­er, whol­ly, and for all eternity. 

That dis­miss­es once and for all every clam­orous desire for some­thing more. One who wants more than what Christ has estab­lished does not want Chris­t­ian broth­er­hood. He is look­ing for some extra­or­di­nary social expe­ri­ence which he has not found else­where; he is bring­ing mud­dled and impure desires into Chris­t­ian broth­er­hood. Chris­t­ian broth­er­hood is not an ide­al which we must real­ize; it is rather a real­i­ty cre­at­ed by God in Christ in which we may participate. 

Excerpts tak­en from Devo­tion­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings for Indi­vid­u­als and Groups (Richard J. Fos­ter & James Bryan Smith, Edi­tors. Harper­Collins, 1993.) Orig­in­tal­ly from Life Togeth­er, first pub­lished in Ger­man in 1939 and in Eng­lish in 1954.

Originally published December 1938

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