Unity in a Divisive Age: Oneness with Christ

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Unity in a Divisive Age: Oneness with Christ


In a divisive age, dare we speak of unity?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words encourage me, especially today. His writings have strengthened believers over the centuries and stand ready to speak to our time.


John W. Doberstein introduces Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s small but weighty tome, Life Together, by calling him “a writer of profound theological and Biblical insight and yet close to contemporary life and sensitive to reality, a witness who saw the way of discipleship and walked it to the end.”

It seems to me that this is what’s needed today. One who:

is close to contemporary life and sensitive to reality;

sees the way of discipleship and walks it to the end.

A look at Bonhoeffer’s writings on unity can edge us closer to those around us and prompt us toward discipleship that will speak loudly.


In Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, he examines three aspects of the believer’s unity —

  • the believer’s oneness with Christ,
  • the believer’s unity with fellow believers, and
  • the unity of the life hidden in Christ.

Welcome to a three-part series examining these three aspects of the believer’s unity.


The Believer’s Oneness with Christ


Our unity with fellow believers is the easiest of these aspects to see. Clearly, we are united with the believers around us and even around the world – but this is only because of our common belief in Jesus Christ.


It is foundational to our faith that we are one with Christ — joined to him.

Bonhoeffer reminds readers of John’s words that Christ died to gather us together in him (John 11:52). Until then, Bonhoeffer writes, “God’s people remain scattered, held together solely in Jesus Christ, having become one in the fact that, dispersed among unbelievers, they remember Him in the far countries” (28). This oneness with Christ is so foundational that Bonhoeffer writes that “we belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ” (21); “Jesus Christ alone is our unity” (39).

Just as all of us were created with a body, so “the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual-physical creatures” (20). We have oneness with Christ now and for eternity.

As Christ came to earth, Bonhoeffer writes, he took on our nature along side his own. “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” (24). His death and resurrection open the door to fellowship with him. Our oneness in Christ is clear in our need of him.


Our oneness with Christ is seen in our need.

Our oneness with Christ is perhaps most clearly expressed in our need for salvation and deliverance that is found in Christ alone. Bonhoeffer makes clear that, as creatures who are one with Christ, we live not by our own claims and justifications, “but by God’s claims and God’s justification,” by God’s Word pronounced upon [us], whether that Word declares [us] guilty or innocent” (22).

Even though we would like to think that our lives are determined by our own resources, this is not the case. The Christian “finds both [death and life] only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him” (22).

Bonhoeffer puts it most aptly as he writes, “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” (22).

Our need for Christ unifies us with him; we live only through him when he is our peace, our mediator.


Our oneness with Christ opens not only the way to God, but the way to our brother and sister.

This oneness with Christ leads us to our oneness with fellow believers.

It is only through Christ that we come to others, for “the way is blocked by our own ego” and is only opened up through Christ (23). Once we acknowledge this ego and surrender it through life with Christ, we can embark upon his work.

Once we recognize that our work is God’s work, a part of the life God has given us, we are able to “allow ourselves to be interrupted by God” (99). We are to be as humble as He, with “hands not too good for deeds of love and mercy” (100), mirroring the One who humbled himself for us.

Christ alone is our unity, our work is given by him, and through Christ, we stand ready with humble hearts to be one with fellow believers.


Unity will be visible today as we become those who:

are close to contemporary life and sensitive to reality;

see the way of discipleship and walk it to the end.


Understanding the believer’s oneness with Christ moves us closer to this goal, helps us to signal grace to those around us.

Stay tuned as, in parts two and three of this series, we examine Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the believer’s unity with fellow believers and the unity of the life hidden in Christ.


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