A Response to “Evangelism or Discipleship?”

You may have noticed at His Words His Ways Fellowship that we emphasize what we call “The Four Principles of Discipleship.” These Principles are:
 
  1. The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship. The ultimate goal of the Gospel is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be.[1]

 

  1. The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple. The goal of men being re-conformed to the image of God is accomplished by men imitating Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) as His disciple; through the empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.[2]

 

  1. The First Century, Biblical Understanding of Discipleship. Imitating Jesus as His disciple begins (but does not end) with specifically learning and then keeping the words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave during His earthly ministry. It is simply impossible to imitate someone without knowing what they said and did.[3]

 

  1. Biblical Discipleship in a Relational Environment (Relational Discipleship). Being conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating Him as His disciple is not a passive process, but an active/interactive process that occurs within a relational environment; which was established and demonstrated by Jesus during His earthly ministry.[4]

 

These principles in and of themselves are nothing of great importance, they are simply an outline used to organize information. What is important about The Four Principles is the information which they organize.
 
The information that The Four Principles organize are what we feel are the most important scriptural truths that the Evangelical church in America has failed to communicate to people while teaching them to be disciples of Jesus.
 
That is to say, The Four Principles are what we feel clears up much of the confusion that surrounds being a disciple of Jesus in America. These are answers to the hardest and most important questions that we asked while we were learning what it means to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciples.
 
Questions such as:
 
“Why is it so necessary that we imitate and obey Jesus as His disciples?”
 
“Why can’t we just be saved?”
 
“What does being a disciple of Jesus have to do with salvation?”
 
“What if people who claim to be saved refuse to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple?”
 
“How exactly do we imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple?”
 
These were questions this that we asked, and that we were asked by others, that led us to outline The Four Principles of Discipleship. But what we also discovered is that we were not the first people to ask and attempt to answer these questions. What we found was that these questions were both answered directly in Scripture and had been answered by well-know church leaders throughout church history.
 
In one form or another, men such as Irenaeus, Athanasius, John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and others all argued that the end goal of the Gospel was that men were bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be, by being joined to Jesus through being His disciple.
 
Interestingly, you could come to this conclusion by simply reading the Wikipedia page on The Image of God.
 
But the problem we found is that this information is not being shared by those leading the major discipleship movements in the Evangelical church in America. The result is that people are frustrated and confused at being told that they must be and make disciples of Jesus without being given the primary Scriptural argument as to why it is so important that they do so.
 
For example, I closely follow discipleship.org as it is one of the leading disciple-making organizations in America. Recently, discipleship.org posted an e-book, Evangelism or Discipleship: Can They Effectively Work Together?, written by Bill Hull & Bobby Harrington (who are two of my favorite authors on discipleship).
 
In their introduction they give the following bullet points as to why Jesus is the Gospel, and thus the importance of being a disciple of Jesus:
 
  • CREATION: God is holy and loving; He created us for Himself in paradise.
  • FALL: We rebelled against God, under Satan’s influence. We are now all separated from Him, gravitating to sin in thought, word and deed; yet God graciously promised Abraham that He would bless the world through him. Abraham believed God and became the father of the nation of Israel and God’s promises, including a future kingdom that would never end.
  • REDEMPTION: God sent Jesus into the world to establish His kingdom as the Messiah of Israel and our King. This incarnational move fulfilled the promise to Abraham and the prophecies in the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus took the penalty for our sin on the cross, rose from the dead, and defeated Satan. He is The Way we restore our relationship to God and enter the kingdom. Jesus ascended to heaven, where He now reigns. He is the Savior, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
  • RESTORATION: Jesus redeems those who turn from their sin (repent), trust and follow Him, and obey all of His teachings (by faith). They enter His kingdom now. He will come back to judge the living and the dead and will take His obedient children into His eternal kingdom, the renewed created order or paradise of God.[5]

 

Everything in this list is true. But notice the difference if we incorporate some of the information from The Four Principles of Discipleship:
 
  • CREATION: God is holy and loving; He created us for Himself in His image to magnify and reflect His glory for all eternity in a perfect paradise.
  • FALL: We rebelled against God, under Satan’s influence. In doing so, we lost our ability to perfectly fulfill our purpose as the image of God for which we were originally created (see the correlations between Genesis 1:26-28 and 3:16-19). In the language of the book of Romans, “For all have missed the mark (of being the perfect image of God) and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10).
  • REDEMPTION: God sent Jesus into the world to establish His kingdom. On the cross, Jesus took the penalty of us having missed the mark and having fallen short of the glory of God. He then rose from the dead, defeating and destroying the deception of Satan. He is The Way by which we are restore to our original purpose for which God created us, and by which we ultimately enter into His perfect kingdom. Jesus ascended to heaven, where He now reigns. He is the Savior, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
  • RESTORATION: Jesus redeems those who turn (repent) from having missed the mark, and who instead, by faith, imitate and obey Him as His disciple. By imitating Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) His disciples are conformed to His image; and are thus also re-conformed to the image of God that they were originally created to be; thereby rendering unto God the glory He is due. By doing so, they enter into His kingdom here and now. Ultimately, Jesus will come back to judge the living and the dead, and will take His obedient disciples who have been completely perfected into His image into a re-created perfect paradise, which is the eternal kingdom of God.
 
If you were a potential or new disciple of Jesus, which gives the clearest explanation of why it is necessary to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple?
 
Which one gives a clearer explanation of why we can’t just be “saved” without also being a disciple of Jesus?
 
 
To their credit, Hull and Harrington do not completely leave conformity to the image of Jesus out. They wrote:
 
“Too often, we teach and share a transactional gospel that does not explicitly necessitate obedience to Jesus and a life of being formed into His image.”[6]
 
“The invitation is salvation and life under His kingship, where we are transformed.”[7]
 
“We do not just think about converts, but about developing Christlike people.”[8]
 
“He wants to save us and remake us in His image.”[9]
 
“Christlike people are the point, the primary strategy for reaching others and fulfilling the Great Commission.”[10]
 
“This equipping continues until the saints individually and corporately meet the standard of Christlikeness.”[11]
 
 
They also quote Dallas Willard who wrote:
 
“The leader’s task is to equip saints until they are like Christ, and history and the God of history waits for him to do this job.”[12]
 
 
But do you notice the problem?
 
While Hull and Harrington mention in passing that the purpose of discipleship is to be conformed to the image of Jesus, but they do not emphasis it. It gets lost in all of the other information. Nor do they ever mention that the ultimate purpose of being conformed to the image of Jesus is that we are supernaturally empowered to fulfill our original purpose of magnifying and reflecting God’s glory by being re-conformed to His image.
 
In doing so, they fail to mention the most important aspect, the ultimate purpose, of imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple.
 
Ultimately then, Hull and Harrington give a lot of good answers to a lot of questions about discipleship. The problem is that they fail to answer the most important ones; the important ones that people are asking.
 
But to be clear, Scripture does not fail to answer these questions.
 
Hull and Harrington quote Ephesians extensively. However, they stop quoting Paul before he reaches his main point in Ephesians 4. Paul wrote:
 
“That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:20-24).
 
 
And this is not the only time Paul made this point:
 
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:28-29).
 
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
 
“And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:49).
 
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
 
“Since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).
 
 
In fact, almost every letter of Paul, and the majority of the books of the New Testament, either directly reference or allude to being conformed to the image of Jesus/God.[13]

 

To be fair, Hull and Harrington do give some good reasons as to why we should be disciples of Jesus. Reasons such as:
 
  • When we make a commitment to believe in Jesus, we are entering into a covenant with God to obey Jesus as His disciple.[14]
  • The church and its’ leadership have been given the task of equipping the saints for the work of ministry.[15]

 

(If Hull and Harrington give more reasons than these as to why we should be and make disciples of Jesus, then I missed them.)
 
However, ask this question:
 
“In comparison to being rendering glory unto God by being re-conformed to the image of God that man was originally created to be, are these reasons primary or secondary?”
 
 
Obviously, I would argue that they are secondary. Moreover, I would argue that given the ubiquitous nature of the passages quoted and cited earlier, Scripture presents rendering glory to God through re-conformity to the image of God as the primary reason we are to be and make disciples of Jesus.
 
This then raises some hard questions:
 
“If Paul and the other authors of the New Testament (and great men in the history of the church) consistently answered that the end goal of imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple was that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed to the image of God (that they were originally created to be); then why are the leaders of the modern discipleship movement in America not doing the same?”
 

“Why are they not answering the most important questions that people are asking with the answer that Scripture clearly gives over and over again?”

 
 
 
For more information on The Four Principles of Discipleship and why it is so important to obey and imitate Jesus as His Disciple, start here and follow the links at the end of each article:
 

 

 
 
Footnotes:
 
[1] Genesis 1:27, 1 Corinthians 11:7, Matthew 5:48, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 3:9-10, 2 Peter 1:4.
 
[2] Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:2-3, 2:9-10, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12, Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 1:3, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2-21, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17.
 
[3] Matthew 7:24-29, 10:24-25, 11:25-30, 12:41-42, 13:16-17, 13:34-35, 17:5, 24:35; Mark 4:24-25, 4:33-34, 6:34, 8:38, 9:7, 13:31; Luke 6:46-49, 9:35, 10:24, 10:38-42, 11:31-32, 17:10, 19:47-48,  John 3:31-36, 4:25-26, 4:40-42, 5:24, 5:38-39, 5:46-47, 6:28-29, 6:63, 6:66-69, 8:31-32, 8:51, 9:26, 10:27, 12:48, 13:34-35, 14:12, 14:15, 14:23-26, 15:7-17, 15:20-24, 16:6-8. 
 
[4] Acts 2:42-47, 1 Corinthians 14:40, 2 Timothy 2:2.
 
[5] Bill Hull and Bobby Harrington, Evangelism or Discipleship: Can They Effectively Work Together? (discipleship.org, 2014), p. 17, https://discipleship.org/download-evangelism-or-discipleship.
 
[6] Hull and Harrington, p. 16.
 
[7] Ibid., p. 19.
 
[8] Ibid., p. 22.
 
[9] Ibid., p. 24.
 
[10] Ibid.
 
[11] Ibid, p. 42.
 
[12] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship (New York: HarperOne, 2006), p xi; quoted in Bill Hull and Bobby Harrington, Evangelism or Discipleship: Can They Effectively Work Together? (discipleship.org, 2014), p. 35, https://discipleship.org/download-evangelism-or-discipleship.
 
[13] Matthew 5:48, Romans 8:29, 1 Corinthians 11:1,  11:7, 15:49, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:4, Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 4:22-24, 5:1, Colossians 1:15, 1:28-29, 2:2-3, 2:9-10, 3:9-10, Philippians 2:1-5, 3:7-11, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12, Titus 3:4-6, Hebrews 1:3, 6:1, 12:1-3, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:1-4, 2-21, 2 Peter 1:4, 3:18, 1 John 2:6, 3:3, 4:17.
 
[14] Hull and Harrington, p. 19-24.
 

[15] Ibid., 41-43.