By Curtis Erskine and Bobby Harrington
We want to keep bringing our focus back to the importance of intentionality this week.
The point of being intentional is to do something with purpose and not leaving the outcome up to chance or fate. Being intentional means that you have a specific outcome in mind and that you are taking specific, logical steps in order to achieve that outcome.
Therefore, we not only intentionally attempt to form relationships and make disciples, but we intentionally attempt to produce a specific outcome when we make disciples of Jesus.
But what is that outcome?
Initially, when I (Curtis) was first learning about being a Jesus-style disciple maker, I would have answered that the specific outcome of making disciples of Jesus was to produce disciples that are conformed into the image of Jesus. In fact, Paul wrote that in the life of the believer God works all things toward the purpose of his followers being “conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:28-29)
However, I am a naturally inquisitive person who believes that no questions are off-limits, so as I continued to personally study discipleship, I asked myself the question of, “Why? Why is it so important that we are conformed into the image of Jesus?”
*Intentionality is the theme of the National Disciple Making Forum Oct. 5-6th in Nashville
One day while studying Ephesians, I got the first inkling of an answer to that question. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:21-24.
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 4:21-24)
I distinctly remember reading that passage in Ephesians one day and realizing that Paul wrote “…created to be like God,” instead of “…like Jesus.”
I was obviously familiar with the concept of believers being conformed into the image of Jesus from verses like Romans 8:28-29, but I had never put two and two together. Of course, Jesus is God the Son and is referred to in Scripture as the perfect image of God. Therefore, if believers are conformed or re-created into the image of Jesus, then we would also be conformed into the image of God (which is what we were originally created to be).
I sat there, stunned, and wondered, “Why didn’t anyone ever teach me that in church? That makes so much sense.” This was also the first moment that I fully realized that we are saved for more than just escaping Hell. I realized for the first time that God was saving us in order to return us to our original state, back to His original design!
Because I was studying discipleship at the time, I also recognized that the first sentence in that passage of Ephesians was referring to being a disciple of Jesus; knowing and keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example. This then was also the first time that I equated being a disciple of Jesus with being re-conformed into the image of God. Which again, makes complete sense. If as disciples of Jesus we are to be conformed into His image through imitating and obeying Him, and He is the perfect image of God, then the obvious result would be re-conformity into the image of God.
Moreover, given that man’s original purpose was to magnify the glory of God by bearing His image in His perfect creation, it is through imitating and obeying Jesus that believers once again fulfill that original design.
Over the last few years, I have been specifically studying this concept of being re-conformed into the image of God through imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple. I discovered that the church fathers clearly taught the concept as well as famous theologians and Christian thinkers such as: Calvin, Wesley, Bonhoeffer, Lewis, and Tozer. More importantly, the idea of disciples of Jesus being conformed into the image of Jesus/God is all throughout the New Testament.
However, I also kept asking myself, “What would it look like if we intentionally aimed for the outcome of re-conformity into the image of Jesus/God? What if we taught everyone that re-conformity was the outcome for which we were aiming? How would that change how we make disciples?”
One thing we need to consider is that Jesus clearly taught that a high price would be required of those who were willing to imitate and obey Him as His disciple:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate . . . even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. . . those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:26-33)
In my opinion, if we are going to ask people to “hate their own life, carry their cross, and give up everything” in order to become a disciple of Jesus, then we probably owe them a good explanation as to why they should do so. What, exactly, should they give up? What, exactly, is to be achieved as a result and how should they go about achieving that result?
Therefore, I believe that one of the greatest acts of intentionality we can carry out when being and making disciples of Jesus is to understand and teach that the ultimate end goal of being a disciple of Jesus is to be re-conformed into the image of God—which is what we were created to be, originally.
Additionally, if we explain that it is only through imitating and obeying Jesus (through the power of the Holy Spirit) that we are conformed into His image, this provides clear and concise steps toward achieving that intentional goal.
*This material is drawn from Curtis Erkine’s forthcoming book, Re-Created to be Like God: Making Disciples in Jesus’ Image to be published by Discipleship.org this summer.