Posted by: Billy Marsh | March 6, 2008

Bonhoeffer: Christians On Earth Live As Aliens

Dietrich BonhoefferI read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship about a month ago for the very first time. Needless to say, I quickly realized why this book has become a timeless classic and a must-read for any Christian. The book is steeped heavily with both sound theological content as well as forceful and convicting exhortations to live out holy and obedient lives to and for Christ. Bonhoeffer leaves the believer zero wiggle room for coasting or mediocre daily Christian discipleship. This point is clearly stated in his maxim: “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes (63).” Of course, this sounds fairly obvious, yet his purpose seeks to open up a whole new world for the everyday believer as to just what it means to be obedient to Jesus Christ and transformed by his gospel. As John Piper so often passionately preaches in many of his sermons, there is no second-rate discipleship. The Bible only conceives of one form of Christian living which is sufficiently summed up in Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

The Cost of Discipleship ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One of the chapters towards the end of the book entitled, “The Visible Community“, contains an amazing discourse on the identity of Christians on earth as sojourners and aliens with a heavenly citizenship. Once you start reading that section, you realize immediately that this was something that Bonhoeffer felt deeply about and believed to be the reality. In keeping with the overall theme of my blog, I wanted to give you his words on this topic. His thoughts are very inspiring. Listen to the voice of a man who now awaits us in that great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1-3):

Thus the life of the Christian community in the world bears permanent witness to the truth that “the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor 7:31), that the time is short (1 Cor 7:29) and the Lord is nigh (Phil 4:5). This thought fills them with joy unspeakable (Phil 4:4). The world is growing too small for the Christian community, and all it looks for is the Lord’s return. It still walks in the flesh , but with eyes upturned to heaven, whence he for whom they wait will come again. In the world the Christians are a colony of the true home, they are strangers and aliens in a foreign land, enjoying the hospitality of that land, obeying its laws and honouring its government. They receive with gratitude the requirements of their bodily life, and in all things prove themselves honest, just, chaste, gentle, peaceable, and ready to serve. They show the love of God to all men, “but specially to them that are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10; 2 Pet 1:7). They are patient and cheerful in suffering, and they glory in tribulation. They live their own life under alien rulers and alien laws. Above all, they pray for all in authority, for that is their greatest service. But they are only passing through the country. At any moment they may receive the signal to move on. Then they will strike tents, leaving behind them all their worldly friends and connections, and following only the voice of their Lord who calls. They leave the land of their exile, and start their homeward trek to heaven.

Amid poverty and suffering, hunger and thirst, they are meek, merciful, and peacemakers, persecuted and scorned by the world, although it is for their sake alone that the world is allowed to continue, and it is they who protect the world from the wrath and judgment of God. They are stangers and sojourners on earth (Heb 11:13, 13:14; 1 Pet 2:11). They seek those things that are above, not the things that are on the earth (Col 3:2). For their true life is not yet made manifest, but hidden with Christ in God. Here they see no more than the reflection of what they shall be. Here all that is visible is their dying, their secret daily death unto the old man, and their manifest death before the world. They are still hidden from themselves, and their left hand knows not what their right hand does. Although they are a visible society, they are always unknown even to themselves, looking only to their Lord. He is in heaven, their life is with him, and for him they wait. But when Christ, who is their life, shall be manifested, then they too shall be manifested with him in glory (Col 3:4).

They wander on earth and live in heaven, and although they are weak, they protect the world; they taste of peace in the midst of turmoil; they are poor, and yet they have all they want. They stand in suffering and remain in joy, they appear dead to all outward sense and lead a life of faith within.

That is the Church of the elect, the Ecclesia, those who have been called out, the Body of Christ on earth, the followers and disciples of Jesus (269-71; emphasis in bold is mine).

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