Recognising Christ the mediator

So what is the difference between a person who follows Christ and that same person before they were called? In chapter 5 of The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer emphasises that what Christ effects when he calls us is not a gradual change, but a radical break with the past:

We must face up to the truth that the call of Jesus does set up a barrier between man and his natural life. But this barrier is no surly contempt for life, no legalistic piety, it is the life which is life indeed, the gospel, the person of Jesus Christ. (p.49)

What is lost, rather, is “all immediacy with the things of this world” (p.49, emphasis added). It is not that Jesus blocks us off from all things, but rather that he “wants to be the centre” through which “all things shall come to pass”:

He is the Mediator, not only between God and man, but between man and man, between man and reality. … Since his coming man has no immediate relationship of his own any more to anything, neither to God nor to the world; Christ wants to be the mediator. (p.49, italics in original)

So what distinguishes the Christian from the non-Christian is not a different set of ideals, but the “fait accompli” of Christ the Mediator who stands between us and all things:

Between father and son, husband and wife, the individual and the nation, stands Christ the Mediator, whether they are able to recognize him or not. (p.50)

This means we can neither repudiate the things of the world nor “return to the world and enjoy our direct relation with it with a good conscience”. Rather, our relationship with these things is now mediated through Christ:

What has not been given to me for Christ’s sake, does not come from God. … Anything I cannot thank God for for the sake of Christ, I may not thank God for at all; to do so would be sin. (p.51)

More positively, the mediation of Christ provides a means by which I can reach my neighbour in a new way, overcoming the “unbridgeable gulf of otherness and strangeness” which blocks the way from one person to another:

Christ stands between us, and we can only get in touch with our neighbours through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbours, and corporate prayer, offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship. (p.51)

So that is the difference between a person before and after Christ calls them; between a person as a non-Christian and that same person as a Christian. The Christian is neither the same as they were before Christ’s call, nor merely in possession of a new set of ideals or legal obligations. Rather, they now recognise Christ as the mediator between them and all things:

  • between us and God;
  • between us and other people;
  • between us and the rest of creation;
  • between us and the fulfilment of the law (see chapter 8 of Discipleship).

And in each case, Christ is not merely a barrier between us and those things, but also the door to them. We cannot get to any of them without Christ, but the moment we are in Christ we cannot escape our connection with any of them.

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19 Responses to Recognising Christ the mediator

  1. steve martin says:

    That’ nice.

    How are you doing?

    – Steve

  2. John H says:

    Steve: this has to be seen as something we are freed in Christ to recognise, not something we are obliged to live up to.

    In other words, our state now we are in Christ is objectively that we are brought into new relationships with all these things through Christ the mediator. We can either live consistently with that state or inconsistently. The new person wants to live consistently with what we are in Christ; the old person doesn’t.

    So how am I doing? Well, like someone who needs to drown the old person daily and have the new person arise in righteousness daily through repentance.

  3. steve martin says:


    Good answer. Actually, that was the only decent answer that anyone could give.

    As I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of using the law (anything that we should, ought, or must be doing) to achieve any kind of performance as far as our Christian lives are concerned.

    Being brought into any state with regard to our behavior is either the work of the Spirit, or it is our work…whether for the sake of salvation or not, it makes no difference. Performance is performance, and law is law.

    When Luther was asked about this preaching of free grace and how it might affect the floodgates of iniquity that they might be opened wide. He said, “Let ’em open!”
    Better to have Christians live free in their sin than to have them be captive to the law.

    It is a subtle thing, this matter of behavior, but it is an important thing. As I’ve also said, if you can’t trust in the Spirit of God for these things than you certainly can’t trust the inconsistancies of man along with his filthy motives.

    Besides, even heading down this road a few steps can certainly lead towards a festering legalism. I see it over here in the States all the time in these Baptist/Non-Denominational churches. Thay say all the time that they know full well that they are saved by grace alone. And then get copious amounts of the law for ‘betterment’, as biblical principles for living. It’s tantamount to law preaching and it’s a load of horse manure being sold as green tea.

    Thanks much, my friend, and thanks for your wonderful and thoughtful blog!

    – Steve M.

  4. John H says:

    Steve: I agree that the law cannot motivate, but once we are motivated by being in Christ and being assured of salvation by the promises of the gospel, then the law does have a place in showing us the way to go. That is both scriptural and confessional, even if we have to be alive to the dangers of a “biblical principles for living” approach.

    As the psalmist says, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.”

    And that I think is Bonhoeffer’s point. We are not motivated by the law and we do not earn anything by following the law. Rather, we are called to be aware of what we are and have in Christ, and the new person within us will then want to live accordingly, even if we then find that “the old Adam swims well”, as Luther put it.

    As for Luther and the “floodgates of iniquity”: I’d want to see more of the context. Like “sin boldly”, his comment here has its place, but I do not think it is the only, or last, word that the writer of the Small and Large Catechisms had to say on this subject.

  5. John H says:

    The mistake we have to avoid is that made by Google when I searched for the psalm reference for “I run in the path of your commands”. The search results said:

    “Did you mean: i run in the path of your comments

    Well, the new person didn’t, but the old person probably did, yes… 😉

  6. steve martin says:


    If we are not motivated by the law, then there should be no problem. If it is not the law that motivates us… then it is love. Love needs no handbook. Loves needs no comparisons to anyone…it just acts.

    I believe (correct me if I am wrong) what you are referring to is commonly tagged ‘the 3rd use of the law’…as a guide. To say that a person, grabbed a hold of by Jesus Christ Himself, would not know how to live out his life in love for the neighbor, is, in my mind, wrong. After all, the law is written upon all of our hearts. We know exactly what to do. We just flat out refuse to do it. And if I were to agree upon your take on this, I would still flat refuse to do it, in the same way that you are refusing to live as Jesus wants you to as well.

    If the law kills (aside from the civil use), as St. Paul states, then of what purpose would it have for the Christian? It kills…all the time, not just some of the time.

    Your assertion that the law is a guide for Christian living in scripture is debatable. Once again, we must do theology to come up with an answer. Romans 10:4 clearly states that, “Christ is the end of the law for all those who have faith.” It doesn’t say the end (except for this and that).

    John, don’t you see it? To have the real freedom that Christ has won it has to be a true freedom?
    It can have no one, putting ANY demands on you. To trust in that freedom and that the gospel and the Holy Spirit will be all the motivation needed for action is very liberating and scriptural.

    With your way, you have people focusing on their performance and looking at others perfprmances, knowing nothing of what is in their heart. Pride, despair, and or phoniness is the logical outcome.

    With my way, the belliever is free to act…or not. No one can ask the question, “How are you doing?”
    I’d answer, “not too well, but then again, I don’t have to.”

    Who will you allow to tell you that whatever it is you are doing doesn’t cut it? You’d look pretty pathetic alongside the likes of a St. Francis or a Mother Teresa, wouldn’t you. Who’s going to let you know that that 3rd use is pretty much being ignored? The pastor, another church member, me,?

    What is the 3rd use of Jesus’ demand that we sell everything we have, otherwise we can’t be His disciple? (Luke 14:33) How is it going with that demand of God?

    Don’t bother answering that one, John, I’m sure you are doing just about as well with that one as I am. That law kills us, and no amount of tipping our hats to it every now and then by giving a couple of pounds to a street person will satisfy Jesus on that score.

    Lutherans have disagreed on this score for hundreds of years and you and I won’t figure it out today. But your way opens the door to legalism and my way opens the door to laziness. I’ll take the laziness outcome everyday of the week. (Luther’s floodgates remark)

    I really do appreciate the opportunity to speak about this with you. I have been reading your blog for awhile, and I really do think you are a terrific Christian thinker.

    It is from guys like you that I have learned most of what I know. Thanks!


    Steve M.

  7. I think we’ll all agree here that it is not the absence of “good works” that damns a man, nor the presence of sin (Rom 4:5), but what a sends a man to hell is the rejection of Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the substitute for our righteousness. Without Christ, we sit under God’s Holy Wrath.

    So with that said, if we see a nominal Christian who would rather go the way of the world, the worst thing we could do is use the Law as a guide because he won’t care, at that point we need to use the Law as a mirror to break him down, and from here we need to give our nominal Christian the Gospel. As our confessions say, when we preach the Gospel to him, we will preach “faith into his heart”. What I’m getting at is this, if someone is “hardly working” more than “working hard”, the worst thing we could do is tell him to “Work harder”, because in reality, its not works that he lacks, no, what he lacks is a deep rooted faith in Christ Jesus.

  8. So I’ll clarify, it’s not a lack of works, but rather a lack of faith. Out of out that living fellowship with Christ, we are free from teh coercion and condemnation of the law.

  9. steve martin says:

    “So with that said, if we see a nominal Christian who would rather go the way of the world, the worst thing we could do is use the Law as a guide because he won’t care, at that point we need to use the Law as a mirror to break him down, and from here we need to give our nominal Christian the Gospel.”

    Well put, Cat 95…I like that.

    – Steve M.

  10. John H says:

    Yes, that is indeed true, but I’m not quite sure how it relates to my post.

    My post wasn’t about “nominal” Christians and how one goes about kickstarting them back into following Christ rather than the world. I entirely agree that the second use and the gospel are the tools for that task.

    What I was talking about, rather, was the fact that any Christian is, by faith in Christ and as a result of Christ’s mediation, not through any works, brought into contact with God, other people and creation in a new way. Yes, it is love not law that is to motivate us, and what my post was about is that it is the mediation of Christ that provides us with the setting in which to exercise that love for God, others and creation.

    To put it bluntly, I am utterly bewildered by the idea that by saying this I am setting people on the path to legalism, peddling horse manure or making a futile attempt to set myself up as a new Mother Teresa.

  11. Oh no, I wasn’t insenuating that. I was just trying to find common ground for us all because I’m reading your comments, and I’m reading Steve’s comments and I don’t think either of you are truly disagreeing with each other.

    The Spirit of Christ is who brings forth obedience, and holiness in our lives, and if we are to become more holy, we don’t necessarily do “holy workds”, but instead we dig ourselves deeper into the “Holy one” Jesus Christ. And out of that living communion, good and pleasing works flow out.

  12. steve martin says:


    I appreciate your last comments. I see your point and as I re-read your post I can see how I may have over-reacted a bit with respect to our showing, or having to show some sort of radical change in our lives.

    Bonhoeffer wrote his ‘ The Cost of Discipelship’ amidst a climate of great change and uncertainty (to say the least). He also was a part of a very staid Lutheran Church in Gemany and was commenting on the lack of fire in the bellies of Lutheran Christians.

    So when Bonhoeffer writes these things that call for a radical break in the lives of Christians, he wants to see some evidenceof their conversion.

    Christians come in all sizes and flavors. In one that was living a life of debauchery the change will be quite evident after Christ gets a hold of him. In one who was born and raised in the Church(as were most of Bonhoeffer’s contemporaries) the change that Christ brings might be undetectable.

    So context is important here also.

    Whenever one speaks of evidences of the Christian life, the natural leap is to performance. And performance requires perception. And then the trouble starts. Who’s rules, who’s changes, who’s the judge?

    The Lutheran Confessions are wonderful documents, but they are not scripture. Melancthon was primarily the one that put all the third use stuff into the Confessions because (of course) Luther couldn’t be there to help write those documents. But as far as the third use goes, I’ll side with Luther, who hardly ever mentioned it. In the course of his preaching and teaching Luther seemed to argue for only two uses (parroting Paul).

    What’s the point? My point is that when we start to talk about change (Bonhoeffer), we inevitably slide towards the law.

    Please forgive me, John. I have been called a “hyper-Lutheran” because of my great desire to keep the law out of the sanctification process of the Christian. I guess maybe they are right. If the shoe fits….

    Next time I’ll do my best to stay right on line and not try to look too far ahead.


    Steve Martin

  13. steve martin says:

    John, Cat95,

    This is a pretty good article that is germain to some of the points we’ve been raising…

    – Steve

  14. steve martin says:

    John, Cat95,

    Here is a snippet from another good article (germane to our discussion)…

    “Not surprisingly, given the differences emerging between Luther and
    Melanchthon, the new proposal came under direct attack. When he took
    up the ensuing conflict, Luther called the proposed phrase “the very theology of Erasmus” and said “nothing could be more contrary to our
    doctrine.”‘3 By this time, it had become evident that Melanchthon was
    behind Cruciger’s experiment. The two of them agreed to withdraw the
    phrase – Melanchthon after several conversations at Luther’s table.
    But the force of the revised definition of the law remained unabated. With Luther
    gone, however, Melanchthon brought the argument for the law’s necessity
    to salvation back once more in the Majoristic strife of the 1550s.
    Luther’s comment suggests one possible source of Melanchthon’s
    movement on the doctrine of law. When Erasmus was dying in 1536,
    Melanchthon wrote him a letter saying that he “had attempted to follow
    him [Erasmus] in all that he had taught.” In another comment, which
    Wilhelm Pauck took as programmatic, Melanchthon, toward the end of
    his own life, told his first biographer that he had striven, in everything that
    he had done, to contribute to the actual improvement of public life. The
    increased emphasis on the sigrvficance and value of the law may then
    reflect Melanchthon’s humanism.
    But there is an additional possibility. In the later 1530s and early 1540s,
    just as the most dramatic changes in the Loci Communes were underway,
    Melanchthon had undertaken a sweeping reappraisal of Aristotle. That by
    itself could account for the shift to a more structural understanding of the
    law, putting a premium on its eternal and all-cohesive qualities.”e to our discussion)…

    That from an article at

    Thanks guys!

    – Steve M.

  15. Josh S says:

    This is very similar to Walther’s concept of “Gospel admonition.” In a rather underappreciated section of Law and Gospel, Walther asserts that admonishing Christians to good works is in fact not Law preaching at all. It’s Gospel, and for a similar reason Bonhoeffer gives–the sense “This is who you are as a new creation in Christ,” not “This is what God demands if you don’t want to die.”

    All that “third use stuff” in the Confessions was put there by Chemnitz, Andrae, Brenz and company. Melanchthon didn’t write the Formula of Concord. Also, the Large Catechism doesn’t fall neatly into “first use,” “second use,” or “third use,” especially the exposition of the First Table. However, by the FC’s definition of “third use,” Luther is engaging in “third use” preaching whenever he is telling Christians what God wants them to actually do as Christians, which he frequently does in the Large Catechism. You really can’t pit Luther against the Augsburg Confession, either, as the thoroughly approved of it. Also, neither Luther nor your interpretation of him are Scripture…so I don’t see where you’re going by saying “The Confessions aren’t Scripture–so I just go with Luther.”

  16. Bryan says:

    Great post. Thanks!!

  17. I’ve been reading elsewhere on a website resource for Lutheran confessions concerning the “3rd use”, and I think they have a point. When we talk about the “Third Use” it’s not as though the preacher can decide which aspect of the law he wants to use, as if he could say, “Ok, that was the 2nd use…now for a little of the ‘3rd use of the law'”, as if he was some kind of magician and he could say, “For my next trick….”, to do anything else would be an attempt at placing ourselves above the Holy Spirit who brings a knowledge of “Sin & righteousness”. In reality, the law comes as a package, when you’re using it to it’s fullest extent the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd use are proclaimed at the same time (curb, mirror, AND guide NOT curb, mirror, OR guide). And even while the 3rd use is directed towards the “new man”, at the same time the 2nd use is right there cursing and condemning our “old Adam” because we will always be found lacking against the righteous will of God.

    Here is an excellent excerpt from the article where I was gathering my thoughts. I think it would all do us a little good if we thoroughly paid attention to to this excerpt from Pastor Lange:

    Careful attention to the terminology and distinctions of Article VI demonstrates that the “Third Use” was not set forth as a particular way for the preacher to wield the law. This, of course, does not deny that there are many different approaches to law preaching. For instance, the law can be preached as imperative or prohibition, as exhortation to holy living or as a positive description of the new creation to name just a few. However, the Formula denies support for the notion that any one of these methods correspond either exclusively or even predominantly to any particular “Use” of the law. *So, for instance, a preacher who uses the indicative mood to describe the new creation in Christ must not assume that he has thereby preached the “Third Use” in isolation from the other uses of the Law. For even the sweetness of this description curses and condemns the Christian according to his old Adam that does not measure up.* As true as this is of the indicative mood, the hortatory subjunctive is even less likely to guide without accusing. Regardless of the intent and demeanor of the preacher, a string of “let us” phrases will always coerce the Christian according to the old Adam to do that which is against his will. This is always true of law preaching regardless of its location in the sermon outline. No matter which form of speaking is chosen to proclaim the law, it is and remains proclaimed law that is always superfluous for the Christian qua Christian while serving to curb, to condemn and to instruct the Christian in concreto.

    The “Third Use” of the law is not the preacher’s to use. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit’s to use. It is the Holy Spirit who uses the law according to all of its uses whenever and wherever it is preached. The “Third Use” simply denotes one of several different ways that the proclaimed law functions in the heart of the hearer. This does not mean that the Holy Ghost preaches the “Third Use” apart from the oral Word proclaimed and heard. For the law that the Holy Ghost uses is precisely that law that is preached and none other.

    Regarding that which is proclaimed by the preacher, one can only conclude that it is the same law that is preached to the Christian and non-Christian alike–complete with all the curses, threats and punishments that always accompany the preaching of the law. A preacher is not called to use or apply the law according to its various uses. That task is left to the Holy Spirit to accomplish as He will wherever the law is preached in its full force. Any attempts to speak of the “Third Use” as if it was the preacher’s use are contrary to the intended sense of the Formula. The wording of the Solid Declaration must stand unqualified, that “it is just the Holy Ghost who uses the written Law for instruction” (SD VI 3). *Only in this way, will one make proper use of the Evangelical Lutheran doctrine of the “Third Use” of the law.*

  18. steve martin says:


    Did it ever occur to you that Luther might be using the law ‘to kill'(to expose who and what we really are?), in the Catechism?

    That’s what I think he’s doing.

    In so much of Luther’s works, he is a two uses guy.

    And like I said earlier, and I’ll stand by it, the Lutheran Confessions are not scripture.

    “For freedom, Christ died for us.”

    Whenever there is controversy in the Church it usually revolves around freedom and someone trying to take it away from us.

    I’ll stick with St. Paul, and with Luther, when it comes to the freedom of the Christian.

    Like I said earlier, reasonable people can and will disagree here, and maybe that is just how it will be.

    Thanks Josh!

    – Steve M.

  19. Rob says:

    Josh wrote:

    This is very similar to Walther’s concept of “Gospel admonition.” In a rather underappreciated section of Law and Gospel, Walther asserts that admonishing Christians to good works is in fact not Law preaching at all. It’s Gospel, and for a similar reason Bonhoeffer gives–the sense “This is who you are as a new creation in Christ,” not “This is what God demands if you don’t want to die.”

    I think the identity bit is critical here. St. Paul’s theology especially absolutely hinges on this point. Many of his passages that appear to be out-and-out “get with it our get out” are exhortations which spring from a foundation of baptismal identity. Similar threads run very strongly throughout the Gospel of John. I wrote a bit about this here a while back and would appreciate any feedback.

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