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.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
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.