19 Influential Quotes by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Insights on the Christian life from a theologian, pastor, and modern-day martyr

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, killed by Nazis.

Walter Sanders / Getty Images

These discerning Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes provide a thought-provoking, theological feast of knowledge from three of this modern-day martyr's greatest works. Meditate on some of Bonhoeffer’s valuable insights regarding genuine Christian discipleship, the nature of life in the Christian community, and private reflections from his last days in prison.

'The Cost of Discipleship' (1937) Quotes

"When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

"Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."

"Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are."

"Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'Ye were bought at a price,' and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us."

"To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial can say is: 'He leads the way, keep close to him.'"

"Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called upon to suffer. In fact, it is a joy and a token of his grace. The acts of the early Christian martyrs are full of evidence which shows how Christ transfigures for his own the hour of their mortal agony by granting them the unspeakable assurance of his presence. In the hour of the cruelest torture they bear for his sake, they are made the partakers in the perfect joy and bliss of fellowship with him. To bear the cross proves to be the only way of triumphing over suffering. This is true for all who follow Christ, because it was true for him."

'Life Together' (1938) Quotes

"Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work."

"We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them."

"The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community."

"We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions."

"I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me."

"God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth."

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone."

'Letters and Papers from Prison' (1953) Quotes

"The Church is the Church only when it exists for others ... not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others."

"The Church is her true self only when she exists for humanity. As a fresh start, she should give away all her endowments to the poor and needy. The clergy should live solely on the freewill offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling."

"We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer."

"We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key, a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune."

"The God of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what God, as we imagine him, could do and ought to do. If we are to learn what God promises, and what he fulfills, we must persevere in quiet meditation on the life, sayings, deeds, sufferings, and death of Jesus."

"Simplicity is an intellectual achievement, one of the greatest."