Chapter 13: The Image of Christ

Romans 8:18-30

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.


Bonhoeffer moves towards a beautiful vision of the disciple transformed into the Image of Christ in the final chapter of the book. To get there, he sweeps through history from the moment of God’s creation to the act of salvation in Jesus Christ. Starting at the beginning, Bonhoeffer offers a different interpretation of the fall of humanity, that the original sin of Adam and Eve was to try and make themselves to be like God through their own actions when God had already created them to be like God, to be in the image of God. In this rejection of the Image of God given by God, humanity chooses instead an image of God that is, in fact, in their own likeness and devoid of God. The divine image that had been given to us in creation is thus lost to us.

It would remain lost to us until God became like us in the person of Jesus. Because we had been made in the Image of God until we lost it, God makes God’s self into our image, God assumes our image, in order that we might once again be in the Image of God. As Bonhoeffer so succinctly puts it, “God seeks the divine image in us, in order to love it. But God cannot find it except by assuming, out of sheer mercy, the image and form of the lost human being. God must conform to the human image, since we are no longer able to conform to the image of God.” (DBW IV p.282).

The astute reader may note that in this interpretation, Bonhoeffer places the act of salvation not in the exclusive domain of the crucifixion and resurrection, but in the entirety of the incarnation. This would be more in line with Eastern Orthodox teachings than with strictly Lutheran ones, and Bonhoeffer does then spend some time trying to emphasize the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection in the work of salvation, but it remains a part of the whole of the incarnation.

Finally, in the closing words of the book, Bonhoeffer brings it full circle back to the idea of simple obedience. The disciple who has become, inevitably, the image of Christ, likewise becomes able to follow in Jesus’ deeds with simple obedience, and thus also live a life in the likeness of Christ.


Reflection Questions

Bonhoeffer writes that the disciple, beholding the image of Christ, finds themselves being transformed into the image of Christ. Have you ever had the experience of witnessing this transformation in another person?

Bonhoeffer shares a different way of understanding God’s work of salvation in this chapter than the usual one of Jesus dying for our sins. How does it or does it not resonate for you? What are some other ways of understanding the work of salvation that you have encountered?