‘It is only through God’s being made man that it is possible to know the real man and not to despise him. The real man can live before God, and we can allow the real man to live before God side by side with ourselves without either despising him or deifying him. That is not to say that this is really a value on its own account. It is simply and solely because God has loved the real man and has taken him to Himself. The ground for God’s love towards man does not lie in man but solely in God Himself. And again, the reason why we can live as real men and can love the real man at our side is to be found solely in the incarnation of God, in the unfathomable love of God for man.’
– Dietrich Bohnoeffer (Ethics, p. 76)
Bohnoeffers thought on ‘the real man,’ are interesting to me because he sees that man is supposed to be man, but can only be so by being conformed with the Incarnation – by union with Christ. The ultimate end for Bonhoeffer isn’t an abstract spiritual idea, it’s concrete: man is to be man. Man can be man by union with the Incarnation, Christ – who is what makes being real man possible. Conformity with the Incarnation results in the formation of the real man. ‘Formation comes only by being drawn into the form of Jesus Christ. It comes only as formation in His likeness, as conformation, with the unique form of Him who was made man, was crucified, and rose again.’ (Ethics, p. 81-82)
So the Incarnation – birth, death and resurrection – of Christ is what allows man to be man. God became man so that man might become man through conformation with Christ, the real man. Bonhoeffer makes this very crucial connection – that to be man, one must be united with the real man. Conforming with Christ by being in union with Him is what allows the formation of man and allows man stand before God as man.