The Image of God as the Basis of Discipleship

Over the last year, His Words His Ways Fellowship has adopted 4 principles of discipleship to ensure that we are making disciples of Jesus according to words and ways of Jesus and the rest of Scripture. These principles (with the scriptural references in footnotes) 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]

We have received some great feedback, critique, and requests for clarification. Specifically, the critique has been that emphasizing these four principles is dogmatic; and the requests for clarification have been for how this looks in the everyday life of both individual church members and the church body collectively.
These are welcomed critiques and requests; however, a full response will take more than one article. So, I will attempt to spread the answer out over 4 articles, addressing each principle in an individual article (this first one will be a longer than the rest due to the introduction).
First, we must address the critique that emphasizing these principles is dogmatic. Dogmatic is defined as “inclined to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true.” That is to say that we are putting forth these principles as undeniable and indisputable.
Our response is that is exactly what we are doing. We have provided a plethora of scripture and historical ecclesiastical support for these principles (here). And we have not yet received any critiques that these principles are unbiblical or illogical.
Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are by nature dogmatic; and we are arguing that these principles are both. If there is an argument that they are not, we would love to hear it and be given the opportunity to respond to it.
Moreover, as we have argued elsewhere, if these principles are scriptural, then they should be presented in every church that claims to believe, preach, and teach the entire witness of Scripture. More importantly, if these principles are as foundational as we argue they are, then to fail to preach and teach and emphasize these principles is to exclude extremely important scriptural truth from the life of the church (and then the question must be asked as to why one is reluctant to teach these principles in their church).
What if someone were to critique, “You are being dogmatic by emphasizing Jesus’ death on the cross”?
Hopefully, you would have a serious discussion with them.
Then why would we consider it unnecessarily dogmatic to emphasize what Jesus died on the cross to accomplish?
Why would we consider it unnecessarily dogmatic to emphasize specifically how glory is brought to God?
Why would we consider it unnecessarily dogmatic to emphasize the discipleship model that Jesus devoted His life and ministry to establishing?
That is to ask, if Jesus died on the cross so that the image of God within mankind might be rescued and redeemed, so that they might render unto God the glory He is due; and the specific process by which that is accomplished is men imitating Jesus as His disciple by knowing and keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example within a relational discipleship environment (through the supernatural enlighten and empowerment of the Holy Spirit); why would we consider it unnecessarily dogmatic to emphasize doing so?
That stated, let us move on to how principle #1 is implemented in the life of the church and in individual disciples of Jesus:
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.
In the life of His Words His Ways Fellowship this is THE foundational principle. Everything we do has this in mind as both the basis and end goal. When we preach, it is to this end. When we disciple believers, it is to this end. When we witness to unbelievers, it is to this end.
If you are a believer interested in joining our church, this is probably the first thing we will tell you. Our point is to let you know what you are signing up for. If you have never made a decision to follow Jesus, and one of us are inviting you to do so, we will let you know that this is the end toward which you will be following Him.
What this does is set a collective standard of expectation for spiritual maturation. Every single person involved with His Words His Ways Fellowship understands that they are following Jesus on a discipleship journey of constantly being re-conformed into the image of God that they were originally created to be.
Moreover, every person involved with His Words His Ways Fellowship understands that they are not only to facilitate their own maturation process, but that they are here to facilitate the maturation process of everyone else involved.
Everyone understands that one year from now, each of us should think and act more like Jesus than we do now; and that the process will continue year after year until it is completed on the day we step into glory. Each of us understands that we are as much responsible for the maturation of others as we our ourselves.
And each of us understands that we are collectively responsible for the entire body of the church being conformed into the image of Jesus as His physical representation on the earth until He personally, physically returns.
By emphasizing this principle, we establish that we will do nothing as a church that does not contribute to it. This gives us a standard by which we judge whether what we are doing as a church is effective and necessary. It has been agreed that anything that does not contribute to this end will not be pursued as a church.
But the ultimate reasons that we emphasize this principle as a church is because Scripture emphasizes it, and being reconformed to the image of God is how we specifically render unto God the glory that He is due.
The effects of emphasizing this principle as a church then extends into the individual life of each disciple of Jesus who is a member (and vice versa). We view our daily lives through this lens. We do not measure our lives against the average American Christian standard of good; but rather as a disciple of Jesus, we measure our lives against the image of God that we were created to be (as seen in Jesus).
We do not see ourselves just as “good people” living “good lives.” But rather, we are fallen images of God that have been rescued and redeemed by the life, death, and resurrection of our Master, Jesus Christ; so that we may be restored by Him and His Holy Spirit into that which He originally created us to be, His image which brings Him glory.
Thus, until the day we walk into paradise and are glorified completely into His perfect image, we all have room for improvement. Everyday, we consider not only our actions, but our thoughts. We ask ourselves the question of how does Scripture and the teachings of Jesus reveal where I think differently from Him about the people and situations around me?
The goal is not to simply accomplish external conformity to the actions of Christ, but rather to experience internal re-conformity (through the supernatural enlightenment and empowerment of the Holy Spirit) so that my actions are ultimately an outpouring of the mind and Spirit of Christ within me.
The spiritual disciplines of Christ that we practice (both individually and collectively) are not an end unto themselves, but rather the medium through which the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit supernaturally work to accomplish re-conformity to their image. Thus, we are not simply satisfied with daily Bible reading and prayer; but whether through our daily Bible reading and prayer we are being re-conformed into His image.
When we gather together in small groups, we all understand that the purpose of the small group is not simply that we “do life together,” but that each of us is re-conformed to the image of God. This fundamentally changes how we interact within the small group. We are not just there to learn something about God or the Bible.
Perhaps the most noticeable effect of emphasizing this principle in our daily lives is in how we interact with other human beings outside of church functions. Not only do we see ourselves as fallen images of God in need of re-creation; but we view all other humans as those who have inherent value as image-bearers, and thus they also possess the potential to bring Him glory by being re-conformed functionally into His image.
And Just as God has temporarily suspended the full measure of His wrath and judgement against fallen men so that He might rescue and redeem His image within them; as those who are being re-conformed to His image, we do not act as agents of wrath and judgement but rather we act as agents of mercy, grace, love, forgiveness, redemption, restoration, and re-creation in the lives of other fallen image bearers. It is not our place to crush and condemn them. It is our place as the image of God to treat them as Jesus the perfect image of God would treat them in an effort to rescue and redeem them.
And as we have always stated, we are not the first people to argue for this principle; many church leaders throughout the 2000-year history of the church have taught this principle.
Ignatius wrote:
“For as there are two kinds of coins, the one of God, the other of the world, and each of these has its special character stamped upon it, [so is it also here.] The unbelieving are of this world; but the believing have, in love, the character of God the Father by Jesus Christ […}.”
Justin Martyr wrote:
“And we have been taught, and are convinced, and do believe, that He accepts those only who imitate the excellences which reside in Him, temperance, and justice, and philanthropy, and as many virtues as are peculiar to a God who is called by no proper name. And we have been taught that He in the beginning did of His goodness, for man’s sake, create all things out of unformed matter; and if men by their works show themselves worthy of this His design, they are deemed worthy, and so we have received — of reigning in company with Him, being delivered from corruption and suffering.”
Irenaeus wrote:
“For in times long past, it was said that man was created after the image of God, but it was not shown; for the Word was as yet invisible, after whose image man was created. Wherefore also he did easily lose the similitude. When, however, the Word of God became flesh, He confirmed both these: for He both showed forth the image truly, since He became Himself what was His image; and He re-established the similitude after a sure manner, by assimilating man to the invisible Father through means of the visible Word.”
Clement wrote:
“The view I take is, that He Himself formed man of the dust, and regenerated him by water; and made him grow by his Spirit; and trained him by His word to adoption and salvation, directing him by sacred precepts; in order that, transforming earth-born man into a holy and heavenly being by His advent, He might fulfil to the utmost that divine utterance, ‘Let Us make man in Our own image and likeness.’ And, in truth, Christ became the perfect realization of what God spake; and the rest of humanity is conceived as being created merely in His image.”
Athanasius of Alexandria wrote:
“For as, when the likeness painted on a panel has been effaced by stains from without, he whose likeness it is must needs come once more to enable the portrait to be renewed on the same wood, for the sake of his picture, even the mere wood on which it is painted is not thrown away, but the outline renewed upon it; in the same way also the most holy Son of the Father, being the image of the Father, came to our region to renew man once made in his likeness, and find him, as one lost, by the remission of sins.”
Gregory of Nyssa wrote:
“The sky was not made in God’s image, not the moon, not the sun, not the beauty of the stars, no other things which appear in creation. Only you were made to be the image of nature that surpasses every  intellect, likeness of incorruptible beauty, mark of true divinity, vessel of blessed life, image of true light, that when you look upon it you become what He is, because through the reflected ray coming from  our purity you imitate He Who shines within you. Nothing that exists can measure up to your greatness. God is able to measure the whole heaven with his span. The earth and the sea are enclosed in the hollow of His hand. And although He is so great and holds all creation in the palm of His hand, you are able to hold Him, He dwells in you and moves within you without constraint, saying that ‘I shall live and walk for them’ (Lev. 26.2).”
John Chrysostom wrote:
“As the word ‘image’ indicated a similitude of command, so too ‘likeness,’ with the result that we become like God to the extent of our human power—that is to say, we resemble him in our gentleness and mildness and in regard to virtue.”
Augustine of Hippo wrote:
“To what hope the Lord has called us, what we now carry about with us, what we endure, what we look forward to, is well known […] We carry mortality about with us, we endure infirmity, we look forward to divinity. For God wishes not only to vivify, but also to deify us. When would human infirmity ever have dared to hope for this, unless divine truth had promised it?”
Basil of Caesarea wrote:
“…for what is set before us is, so far as is possible with human nature, to be made like God.”
John Calvin wrote:
“Since the image of God had been destroyed in us by the fall, we may judge from its restoration what it originally had been. Paul says that we are transformed into the image of God by the gospel. And, according to him, spiritual regeneration is nothing else than the restoration of the same image.”
“Hence, too, we learn, on the one hand, what is the end of our regeneration, that is, that we may be made like God, and that his glory may shine forth in us; and, on the other hand, what is the image of God, of which mention is made by Moses in Genesis 9:6, the rectitude and integrity of the whole soul, so that man reflects, like a mirror, the wisdom, righteousness, and goodness of God. He speaks somewhat differently in the Epistle to the Ephesians, but the meaning is the same. Paul, at the same time, teaches, that there is nothing more excellent at which the Colossians can aspire, inasmuch as this is our highest perfection and blessedness to bear the image of God.”
John Wesley preached:
“Man knows not that he is a fallen spirit, whose only business in the present world, is to recover from his fall, to regain that image of God wherein he was created.”
A.W. Tozer wrote:
The purpose of God is to save us and make us like Christ and to make us like God. God will never be done with us until the day we see His face, when His name is on our foreheads; and we shall be like Him because we shall see Him as He is.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
The image of God should be restored in us once again. This task encompasses our whole existence. The aim and objective is not to renew human thoughts about God so that they are correct, or that we would subject our individual deeds to the word of God again, but that we, with our whole existence and as living creatures, are the image of God. Body, soul, and spirit, that is, the form of being human in its totality, is to bear the image of God on earth. God is well pleased with nothing less than God’s own perfect image.”
If there is something that we have not answered and addressed yet, please reach out to us at
We will gladly answer and address any questions and concerns.
Here is the next article in this series:
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[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.