Life Theology

Discipleship and Image

It is clear from the Bible that all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Gen. 9:6; James 3:9). Yet by nature and choice, man has fallen and now carries in himself a broken image (Gen. 3; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 3:9-20, et al.). The image of God in man is broken because of his sin nature and consequent sins. This implies that people do not simply do sins they are sinners. Their identity comes before action.

The gospel gives sinners a new identity. This new identity is “disciple.” This new gospel identity motivates disciples to action. What is required for a person to receive this new identity? Repentance and belief in Jesus (Mark 1:15). In other words, people are commanded to abandon old allegiances and follow Jesus. At the foundation, this is a gift of God’s sovereign grace; also, by God’s design, man is responsible to respond to this grace. This continues to be the case as the Christian life progresses. Therefore, the abandoning of old allegiances and striving to follow Jesus is not a one-time event; it is a grace-driven, faith-fueled, disciplined, continual effort to the end.

With all of this in mind, someone recently said to me, “Disciples are created in the image of God, yet fallen, redeemed, and choosing to learn.” For the most part, this is a quality statement that teaches us at least three things. Those who have professed faith in Christ and have therefore become disciples are:

  • Made in God’s image. All people are made in God’s image, however, unlike the rest of humanity, Jesus’ disciples are being renewed and one day they will be fully restored into God’s image (2 Cor. 4:16-18; 1 John 3:2).
  • Fallen and Redeemed. Disciples must not forget that they are sinful and do not move on from the gospel. It is the gospel that saves them, keeps saving them, and will ultimately save them on the last day. Disciples are thus always dependent on the finished work of Christ and his continuing work through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This reminds a disciple that he is not yet perfect and (Phil. 3:12-16) and that he must trust God to work in him (Phil. 2:12-13).
  • Choosing to Learn. Disciples must willfully and continually follow Jesus. Discipleship is an act of the will. Disciples are not made or matured by accident. A disciple must “count the cost” (Luke 14:25-30) and work hard (1 Cor. 15:10; cf. Phil. 2:12). Nevertheless, the disciple knows that he is not alone in his journey. It is the grace of God that upholds, sustains, and equips him to finish his course as a faithful servant (cf. 1 Cor. 15:10; Phil. 2:13; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 1:5; Jude 24-25).

The last bullet brings up the question, “What are disciples learning?” Honesty, probably too much to remember! In all seriousness, however, they learn what it means to be remade into the image of God. In Jesus’ words, they are learning how to: love God and people (Matt. 22:37-40; Mark 12:28-33); serve God rather than other masters (Matt. 6:24); deny themselves and follow Jesus (Matt. 10:38-39; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23; 14:27); do the will of the Father (Matt. 12:50); treasure God above all things (Matt. 13:44); and be true worshipers (John 4:21-24). In Paul’s words, disciples are learning how to: walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26); renew their minds (Rom. 12:2); put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14); put off the old self and put on the new self (Rom. 8:12-13; Col. 3:5-17); live by faith in the Son of God (Rom. 4; Gal. 3-4; Phil. 3-4).

It is not small task to be a disciple. But once you count the cost, you will realize there is no greater joy in all the world to follow Jesus, your Master.