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.