To Be Human Is to Follow God: Discipleship in View of the End

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from a 2018 message shared at a gathering of house church pastors in China. This is the first-part of a multi-part series, all of which focus on discipleship through an eschatological lens. Discipleship is not something that follows after an individual believes in Christ; instead, discipleship is God’s goal in creating humans, and does not happen for one person at a time, but in community with others.


Discipleship is not merely the core of Christ’s ministry on earth, or the core of church ministry in this generation. Discipleship is God’s intention in creation. Before creation, God already intended for humans to become disciples, and his grand plan is to perfect creation through making disciples.

To Be Human Is to Follow God

In the first three chapters of Genesis, God shows us his intention. The beginning of the Bible continuously points to the end of history, when God’s will is realized. Gen. 1:26 encompasses the entire plan of God’s creative work. The entire Bible unfolds from the background given by this verse, which says: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” In this monologue, God speaks to himself, revealing his intention to make humanity in his own image.

Discipleship is not merely the core of Christ’s ministry on earth, or the core of church ministry in this generation. Discipleship is God’s intention in creation.

The following verses show how creation is to be fulfilled. Male and female are to go forth and multiply to fulfill God’s plan. Genesis 2 describes, in detail, the creation of man and the relationship between God and humans. Humanity is the center of creation.

Plants and animals are created “according to their kinds.” But humans are made in God’s image and likeness. Humans are different from plants and animals, and have a deep, intimate relationship with God. In a way, humans belong to God’s genus. The prototype of the human image and likeness is God himself. Men and women were created to be like God and to follow God. When Jesus called his disciples, he said, “Follow me.” We can conclude that the essence of discipleship is to be a follower of Christ. This is not a new commandment, because when humans were created, we were created to be like God and follow him. To follow God means to think God’s thoughts after him, and to do what he commands us to do. Being a disciple is the essence of being human.

If humans refuse to be God’s disciples, they cannot actualize the core meaning of being a created human. If humans refuse to be God’s disciples, they are not fully human. Christ, who is God incarnate, called humans to follow him. This is not an option, but  gospel.

Living in Daily Relationship

God created humans in his image and likeness. We are to think God’s thoughts after him, and there is also a relational aspect. God is Three-and-One; the Trinity. There is a rich relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They love one another in abundant relationship. Because humans are created in God’s image and likeness, they have a personal relationship with God. The heart of this relationship with God is to be like the Father in his love for the Son, and to be like the Son in his love for the Spirit. Mankind is to love God.

Human life and existence comes from God. At the bottom, every human ethic is giving an account of our lives before God. The core of being human is to be in a dynamic discipleship, in communion with God, rejoicing in him, and having God as his everything. Later in Genesis, God called Abraham. When God established the covenant with Abraham, he said, “Walk before me, and be blameless.” These words were said to Abraham, but show God’s original intention for Adam. To be God’s image means to live before him every day.

Humans are made in God’s image and likeness. Humans are different from plants and animals, and have a deep, intimate relationship with God. In a way, humans belong to God’s genus.

The Covenant of Life

This dynamic relationship, where humans bear God’s image and live before him, is expounded in a covenant of life. The covenant of life is God’s command to people on how to live in Eden, God’s resting place. God wants humans to manage his restful garden. Eden is God’s most holy place, a place where God and humans have intimate communion. In the beginning, this communion had no hindrances. After the Fall, communion occurred in the Most Holy Place in the temple. The Garden of Eden was the first Most Holy Place, the place where God was present with mankind, the place where God rests. Humanity was to keep, manage, and protect God’s resting place.

The covenant of life describes the boundaries of the relationship between God and humans: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” When humans keep God’s commandments, live before him, treat God as God, and see themselves as disciples to live in the way they ought, then they maintain a continuous relationship in the covenant of life. They are alive in this dynamic relationship. But when someone rebels against the covenant and abandons God, their relationship is severed. They are expelled, losing their union and continual life with God. They are dead.


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The tree of life is the symbol of this covenant. Humans are to keep and manage the Garden and the tree, but the keeper of the tree cannot eat of it. God wants humans to tend the Garden, but forbids them to eat of the tree. Mankind is simultaneously a keeper, but also a potential rebel, offender, and violator of the covenant. Which role will humans choose?

A Community of Image-Bearers

Humans are created in God’s image and given his commands. We are also told “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Because God is three-in-one, he did not merely create one person or even just male and female: he creates a people. Together, this community of people are to bear God’s image.

Because God is three-in-one, he did not merely create one person or even just male and female: he creates a people. Together, this community of people are to bear God’s image.

They are to become a collective humanity with one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Together, they are God’s disciples, Christ’s body. God’s plan is to be fulfilled through multiplication and human obedience. Not only are humans to be disciples, they are to disciple others by multiplying. We give birth, raise and teach everyone – our children, our wives, our husbands – to be the Lord’s disciples. In the final scene, the earth is filled. God’s image and intention has been accomplished through making disciples to fill the earth.

Throughout history, this creation of a multitude of people who are one in nature with God, has produced tension. At a designated point in time, his plan will be fulfilled. Eventually, God’s word in Genesis will come true: “And it was so.”

God’s intention must be fulfilled, but it is only partially fulfilled in Genesis 1. The scene of creation ends with God resting from his work. Will humanity fulfill God’s ultimate intention? Will mankind continuing to multiply according to God’s image? Will the earth be filled and the task completed? This is an immense problem, but there is also immense hope: will mankind persevere to the end and enter into the rest God has prepared for them?


Muxi Zhang is a pseudonym for a China ministry veteran who has in-depth and extensive ministry experience.

Pray for more Chinese to become disciples who follow Christ and make more disciples in the image and likeness of God.

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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