Why Are We Not Teaching This?

As I have studied and taught about being a disciple of Jesus over the better part of a decade now, there is something that keeps bothering me that I can’t let go. There is something that we are not teaching people that they need to know.
 
A.W. Tozer wrote in The Crucified Life:
 
“What a bunch of unworthy people we evangelicals have become, daring to stand up on our feet and preach to an intelligent audience that the essence, the final purpose and the cause of Christ is to save us from hell. How stupid can we get and still claim to be followers of Christ.
 
“The purpose of God is not to save us from hell; 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.
 
“What a cheap, across-the-counter commercial kind of Christianity that says, ‘I was in debt, and Christ came and paid that debt.’ Sure, He did, but why emphasize that? ‘I was on my way to hell and Jesus stopped me and saved me.’ Sure, He did, but that is not the thing to emphasize. What we need to emphasize is that God has saved us to make us like His Son. His purpose is to catch us on our wild race to hell, turn us around because He knows us, bring judgement on the old self and then create a new self within us, which is Jesus Christ.”[1]
 
Tozer also wrote in The Purpose of Man:
 
“This is the purpose of redemption: taking on the material of fallen man and by the mystery of regeneration and sanctification, restoring it again so that he is like God and like Christ. This is why we preach redemption. That is what redemption is; it is not saving us from hell, although it does save us from hell; but more importantly, it is making it so that we can be like God again.”[2]
 
In And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings from the Gospel of John, Tozer wrote:
 
“If we had more courage, we would preach more on the image of God in man. That does not mean that unconverted man is saved. He specifically is lost, and except he repent and be born again, he will never see the kingdom of God. If he dies unshriven and unforgiven, he will certainly go to hell. All that I believe, and the only reason a man can be saved is that God has put eternity in his heart.”[3]
 
Tozer of course was not the first or only person to teach this concept. Irenaeus, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, and others have all made similar arguments.
 
Simply stated, what they all argue is that believers are conformed to the image of Jesus (who is the perfect image of God), in order that they might bring glory to God by being re-conformed into the image of God which they were originally created to be.
 
This has been a consistently held belief for all of church history. Moreover, it is fully supported by Scripture:
 
“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 more recent church history, there has been an increased focus on being and making disciples of Jesus.
 
At its core, discipleship is about imitating, and thus being conformed to, the master of which one is a disciple.
 
Jesus said, “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master” (Matthew 10:25).
 
In a recent article on discipleship.org, Justin Gravitt wrote:
 
“Since Jesus was fully human, He is our example (1 John 2:6, 1 Peter 2:21, Luke 6:40, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Hebrews 2, et al). And since He is our example, we can be like Him. Theologian Ian Thomas captured this concept well by saying that Jesus, ‘became Man as God intended man to be.’”
 
“The disciples were first called into a disciple making relationship with Jesus. The Jewish practice of a rabbi selecting disciples was for the purpose of the disciple becoming just like the rabbi…and then to become a rabbi who would then teach other disciples. Become like the Rabbi Jesus first, then take on His mission of making other disciples.”
 
“It sounds simple, but perhaps it was meant to be; Jesus’ full humanity allows us to see that we are to become just like Jesus. He is our model, His mission is to be our mission, His methods are to be our methods.”
 
“So, the reality of Jesus’ humanity challenges me in profound ways. What could God do through me if I surrendered like Christ? What eternal impact could be wrought if I chose to be obedient in the little things?”[4]
 
Therefore, we have two related concepts:
 
  1. God saves us in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (who is the perfect image of God) so that we might render glory unto Him by being re-conformed to the image of God that we were originally created to be.
 
  1. It is God’s plan that we be conformed to the image of Jesus by imitating Him as His disciple.

 

If we do some simple addition, then we can combine those two concepts together into one:
 
The ultimate goal of discipleship is that believers bring glory to God by being reconformed to the image of God they were originally created to be; which is accomplished by being conformed to the image of Jesus, through imitating and obeying Him as His disciple.
 
And once again, this third concept is explicitly stated in Scripture. Paul wrote:
 
“You heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, […] 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 4:21-24)
 
But here is what is bothering me…
 
You can find the first concept being taught in the modern church, and you can find the second concept being taught in the modern church; but you cannot find the fuller third concept of the two being taught together in the modern church.
 
And as demonstrated, this third concept is explicitly stated in Scripture; and as Bible-believing Evangelicals we should be teaching everything that is taught is Scripture.
 
Moreover, this third concept is one of the most important concepts taught in Scripture!
 
Scripture opens with God creating man in His image in order that they might reflect and magnify His glory; and with man failing to do so.
 
The rest of Old Testament is God setting the stage in order to send Jesus to rescue and redeem man from their failure.
 
The Gospels are the story of Jesus setting the example that men are to follow in order to be re-conformed to the image of God they were originally created to be; then of Him paying the penalty of man’s failure to be the image of God they were originally created to be; and finally of Him overcoming death in order that He might also resurrect men through the power of the Holy Spirit into the image of God that they were originally created to be.
 
The rest of the New Testament then is the account and teachings of believers who are actually experiencing being recreated into the image of God that they were originally created to be by imitating Jesus as His disciple; and of them leading and teaching others to do the same.
 
Finally, Scripture closes with believers being completely restored into the image of God that they were originally created to be, and thereby fulfilling their purpose of reflecting and magnifying God’s glory in a recreated eternal paradise.
 
So why does it bother me so much that we are failing to teach this concept in the modern church (besides the fact that we are not teaching one of the most important concepts taught in Scripture)?
 
It bothers me because people need to hear it and know it if we expect them to be and make disciples of Jesus:
 
When we ask a pastor to risk his position, reputation, and livelihood in order to begin to lead his church in being and making disciples of Jesus who make more disciples of Jesus; he deserves to hear the best reason we can give him…
 
…that doing so is how he and his congregation will fulfill the purpose for which they were originally created; to reflect and magnify the glory of God as the image of God that they were originally created to be.
 
When we ask church members who have been Christians for 40+, 50+, 60+ years to change everything about their church in order to be and make disciples of Jesus; they deserve to hear the best reason we can give them…
 
…that doing so is how they will fulfill the purpose for which they were originally created; to reflect and magnify the glory of God as the image of God that they were originally created to be.
 
When we ask a believer or unbeliever who has written off the modern American church as being useless and fake to reengage with the church and begin to obey and imitate Jesus as His disciple; they deserve to hear the best reason that we can give them…
 
…that doing so is how they will fulfill the purpose for which they were originally created; to reflect and magnify the glory of God as the image of God that they were originally created to be.
 
Scripture clearly teaches this; the church and great men of God have historically taught it; we should clearly teach it as well.
 
 
For more information as to why it is so important that we be and make disciples of Jesus, start here and follow the links at the end of each article…
 
 
 
 
[1] A. W. Tozer, The Crucified Life, ed. James L. Snyder, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2013), pp. 130-210.
 
[2] A. W. Tozer, The Purpose of Man, ed. James L. Snyder, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2013), pp. 175.
 

[3] A. W. Tozer, And He Dwelt Among Us: Teachings from the Gospel of John, compiled and edited by James L. Snyder. ed. James L. Snyder, (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009), pp. 20.

[4] Justin Gravitt, “Jesus’ Humanity and Your Disciple Making Ministry,” discipleship.org, https://discipleship.org/blog/jesus-humanity/.