The Purpose of Imitating Jesus as His Disciple

This is the second article in our series responding to the feedback we have received concerning His Words His Ways Fellowship’s four principles of discipleship. The first article is here. The four 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]

 

Another critique we have received is that emphasizing these four principles is overly direct. This is a step back from the critique that the principles are unnecessarily dogmatic in that it recognizes that these principles are Biblical and logical; and therefore, instead of taking offense with their content, takes offensive in how they are presented.
 
The short answer to this critique is that in certain situations, directness is absolutely necessary. When your house is on fire, you appreciate directness. When you have a life-threatening illness, you appreciate directness. It is not unloving to drag someone out of a burning building or to drag them to the doctor when they are seriously ill; but rather, it is the most loving thing to do.
 
We believe that the church in America (and especially in our context) is in that serious of trouble, and therefore being direct is not only warranted, it is in fact the most loving thing to do.
 
The long answer is that our specific culture demands a significant level of directness due to the fact that a significant percentage (I don’t know an exact number) of people in our local population are false believers. This is a residual effect of the cultural Christianity that once dominated the area, but is now giving way to secularism.
 
But here’s the even trickier part; many of these false believers thoroughly enjoying going to church and doing church stuff. They love going to Bible studies and talking about the Bible, about God, and about Jesus. They even love “doing life together” in relational discipleship… as long as they don’t actually have to give up control of their lives in order to follow Jesus as His disciple.
 
And this type of false believer has a tendency to throw a monkey wrench into everything the church tries to accomplish for the Kingdom of God.
 
As such, there needs to be some sort of direct way to identify, address, and filter out these false believers. Because, if you don’t deal with them directly, you will only go around and around with them in circles, never getting anything accomplished for the Kingdom of God. Which is exactly what Satan is attempting to accomplish by populating our churches with these false believers.
 
This is where the second principle of discipleship and directness becomes important (and offensive). In addition, this is also one of the ways that the second principle plays out in the daily life of the church and its members.
 
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.
 
Scripture warns us continually that there will be false believers in our churches who have been placed there by Satan to disrupt the mission of the church. Jesus said:
 
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23).
 
Paul warned:
 
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31).
 
Therefore, in order to protect the church and its mission, we need a direct way to distinguish between true believers and false believers. In the past this was assumed to have been accomplished through the test of “right theology.”
 
However, Satan has outsmarted American Christianity by infiltrating the church with false believers who mentally agree with the truth of orthodox theology; but are not willing to give up control of their lives in order to become disciples of Jesus who obey and imitate Him.
 
Also, notice in the Acts passage, that Paul stated that the purpose of these false believers is to draw true disciples away from true discipleship: “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”
 
And this can be very confusing because not only do these false believers hold correct theological beliefs… they can be really nice people…
 
That is, until you tell them that they must lay down control of their lives in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple by knowing and then keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example (through the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit); so that they might bring glory to God by being re-conformed to His image.
 
When you do that, they tend to become quite upset (and they tell you that you are being too direct).
 
But this directness is necessary to clarify what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus in our culture and context. Because, there is quite a bit of confusion as to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in our culture and context.
 
For example, over the last several years, as I have studied discipleship, I noticed that there seemed to be two main camps. The first camp is the restoration/sanctification/”God is changing you”/”Lean into Jesus”/”do life together” group.
 
This side focuses on God conforming/restoring us to the image of God/Jesus through faith, the power of the Holy Spirit, and relational discipleship.
 
The other camp is the strict obedience/spiritual disciplines of Christ/”imitate Jesus as His disciple” side.
 
This group tends to focus on the fact that Jesus and the Scriptures demand obedience to Him, and therefore imitation of Him, as His disciple.
 
As you can imagine, there can be a certain level tension between the two sides. However, interestingly I have also noticed certain Christian authors who will argue both sides; but without a connection between the two. The breakthrough for His Words His Ways Fellowship came when we were studying Ephesians 4:20-24. 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.”
 
You should notice that both camps are present in this passage. The first part of the passage references being a disciple of Jesus by obeying His truth. The last part then references being re-conformed and restored to the image of God.
 
But what initially got my attention in this passage was that it references being conformed to the image of God rather than the image of Jesus (as it is usually stated).
 
But this is logical in that Jesus is God the Son, and therefore if we are conformed to His image, then we would also be conformed to the image of God the Father that we were originally created to be.
 
Even more interesting, if we connect this idea back to the first part of the passage, we can see that there is actually no conflict between the two previously stated camps; but rather, that the two ideas are intrinsically connected.
 
That is to say, if we were to imitate Jesus as His disciple by knowing and then keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example (through the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit); then we would also be conformed to His image, and therefore, be restored to the image of God that we were originally created to be.
 
While all of this is ultimately accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit, there is no restoration into the image of God/Jesus without imitating Him as His disciple (through the power of the Holy Spirit). And the converse is equally true. Obedience and imitation within discipleship must have as their ultimate end goal conformity to the image of Jesus/God.
 
Please also notice the supporting passages for this principle listed in the footnotes. Conformity to the image of Jesus/God is not an obscure teaching in the Bible. The vast majority of the books of the New Testament (20+) include a reference or allusion to one or the other. That makes this one of the most widely taught principles of the New Testament; and moreover, the early church as well.
 
This then raises a few questions…
 
  1. Why has the modern church not been teaching re-conformity to the image of Jesus/God, through imitating Jesus as His disciple (through the supernatural empowerment and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit)?

 

  1. Who are the false teachers and false believers that we have allowed to convince us to withhold these truths from the church?

 

  1. Who are we afraid of directly confronting with these truths? Why are we afraid of them?

 

  1. How do you think God feels about us neglecting to teach this principle that is so clearly and commonly taught in Scripture?

 

In the everyday life of His Words His Ways Fellowship, we embrace this principle. We understand that our single purpose as both individuals and as a church is to bring glory to God, and that this is only accomplished by being re-conformed to His image.
 
Moreover, we understand that being re-conformed to His image is only practically accomplished by imitating Jesus as His disciple.
 
After giving His warning that many who call Him, “Lord, Lord” will not be welcomed into His kingdom on judgement day (in the passage from Matthew 7 quoted above), Jesus immediately then gives the standard by which the lives of men will either stand or fall on judgement day.
 
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27).
 
Only the lives of His disciples who imitate Him by knowing and keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example will withstand the great storm of His wrath and judgement on that day. Because, it will only be those disciples who have brought Him the glory He is due by being re-conformed to His image.
 
However, this is not salvation by conformity, but rather salvation unto conformity; as Paul wrote:
 
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
 
May God have mercy on us for failing to teach the full measure of His word.
 
 
Here is the next article in this series:
 
 
 
 
Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash
 
[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.