Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an influential theologian who truly helped shape and change the world. Just who was he though, and how did he change the world?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident. As a founding member of the Confessing Church, his writings influenced what people view as Christianity’s role in the secular world.
He also wrote the book, The Cost of Discipleship which has been called a modern-day classic. These Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes about discipleship come from that book and several other of his written works.
His work and writings were influential for Christians, but his resistance to the Nazi regime was also critical. He was exceptionally vocal when it came to his opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews.
He spearheaded an underground seminary in Finkenwalde for training Confessing Church pastors, as the Nazis continued to try and suppress them. Bonhoeffer’s teaching credentials at the University of Berlin were revoked after he was denounced as a “pacifist and enemy of the state.”
Despite these consequences, Bonhoeffer continued to preach and express his views, as you can see in these Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes.
Don’t forget to also check out these Viktor Frankl quotes on life, suffering, and success.
Short Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes that are powerful enough to get you thinking about life
1. “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
2. “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
3. “There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
4. “Time is the most valuable thing that we have, because it is the most irrevocable.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters, and Papers from Prison
5. “One act of obedience is worth a hundred sermons.” ― Deitrich Bonhoeffer
6. “This is the end. For me the beginning of life.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
7. “It is worse for a liar to tell the truth than for a lover of truth to lie.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
8. “Against stupidity we are defenseless.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison DBW Vol 8
9. “Simplicity is an intellectual achievement, one of the greatest.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters Papers from Prison
10. “Genuine love is always self-forgetful in the true sense of the word.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes about discipleship and grace
11. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
12. “When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
13. “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.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
14. “Grace is represented as the Church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
15. “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
16. “The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the division which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his word until the end.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
17. “The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
18. “But discipleship never consists in this or that specific action: it is always a decision, either for or against Jesus Christ…Christ speaks to us exactly as he spoke to them.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
19. “Discipleship can tolerate no conditions which might come between Jesus and our obedience to him.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
20. “The promise of grace is not to be squandered; it needs to be protected from the godless. There are those who are not worthy of the sanctuary. The proclamation of grace has its limits. Grace may not be proclaimed to anyone who does not recognize or distinguish or desire it.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes about suffering, judgment, and justice
21. “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.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
22. “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.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
23. “There is his commission, his work. The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared (Luther).” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
24. “Things do exist that are worth standing up for without compromise. To me it seems that peace and social justice are such things, as is Christ himself.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
25. “Sanctification means that the Christians have been judged already, and that they are being preserved until the coming of Christ and are ever advancing towards it.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
26. “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means passio passiva, suffering because we have to suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
27. “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.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
28. “The cross is not the suffering tied to being natural existence, but the suffering tied to being Christians. The cross is never simply a matter of suffering, but a matter of suffering and rejection, and even, strictly speaking, rejection for the sake of Jesus Christ, not for the sake of some other arbitrary behavior or confession.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
29. “The most astonishing observation one makes today is that people surrender everything in the face of nothingness: their own judgment, their humanity, their neighbors. Where this fear is exploited without scruple, there are no limits to what can be achieved.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
30. “Suffering means being cut off from God. Therefore those who live in communion with him cannot really suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes on marriage and community
31. “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
32. “In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts…” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
33. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
34. “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
35. “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
36. “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
37. “It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
38. “How would you expect to find community while you intentionally withdraw from it at some point? The disobedient cannot believe; only the obedient believe.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship
39. “Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to His glory, and calls into His kingdom.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
40. “Where a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is; there is never loneliness.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
41. “We can never achieve this ‘wholeness’ simply by ourselves, but only together with others…” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes about hope, gratitude, and love
42. “But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
43. “In normal life, we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
44. “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community
45. “In me there is darkness, But with You there is light; I am lonely, but You do not leave me; I am feeble in heart, but with You there is help; I am restless, but with You there is peace. In me there is bitterness, but with You there is patience.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
46. “The biggest mistake you can make in your life is to be always afraid of making a mistake.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
47. “God does not give us everything we want, but He does fulfill His promises.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
48. “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
49. “Only he who gives thanks for the little things receives the big things.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
50. “Love asks nothing in return, but seeks those who need it. And who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of love.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
What did you learn from these Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes?
Here is a timeline of Bonhoeffer’s resistance against the Nazi regime before his death in 1945.
In February 1938, Bonhoeffer initiated contact with members of the German Resistance. His brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnányi, facilitated the introduction between Bonhoeffer and a group seeking to overthrow Hitler at Abwehr.
It was at this point that Bonhoeffer learned that war was imminently approaching and he feared being conscripted. He was a pacifist who openly opposed the Nazi regime and could not swear an oath to Hitler, nor fight in the army.
However, if he refused he could be charged with a capital offense, not to mention the repercussions that action could have for the Confessing Church. He decided to leave for the United States in June 1939. He regretted that decision and returned after two weeks saying:
I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people … Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.
In April 1943 the Gestapo arrested Bonhoeffer and imprisoned him at Tegel prison for a year and a half, before being transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was then accused of being an accessory to the July 20th plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
The trial was held quickly and included other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office). He was hanged on April 9th, 1945 and his last words were, “This is the end—for me, the beginning of life.”
What’s your biggest takeaway from these Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes and sayings? Do you have any other favorite quotes to add? Let us know in the comment section below.