Living in Reverse: 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 final part of a multi-part series focusing on discipleship from the point of view of the end times. Here are links to parts one, two, and three. As Christians, we live in the earthly kingdom and the heavenly kingdom at the very same time. Although our bodies are here on earth, our true and inner person has been raised to heaven with Christ. We must understand our position, and live in light of our real identity. When we understand that we have already experienced resurrection, then we are empowered to daily take up our cross and follow Christ.


An Incorruptible Life

Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being;’ the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”  1 Cor. 15:45-49

God created Adam, who just like us, existed in space and time. Christ is the first fruits. Through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and re-creation, he is the first man to enter the heavenly space prepared for us. He ventured into that space for our sake. This new creation is not abstract. When we rise from the dead, we will truly “bear the image of the man of heaven.” The contrast between Adam and Christ is more than we can imagine.

The resurrected, heavenly life which we ultimately possess is the basis of our living. The ultimate basis of life is not corruptible Eden, or the imperfections of Adam, flesh, and death.

Today, the resurrected person lives in Christ, is hidden in Christ, and belongs to heaven. But at the same time, those of us who are resurrected humans are still in the present, and still have an earthly form. One day, God will give us a heavenly form. The resurrected, heavenly life which we ultimately possess is the basis of our living. The ultimate basis of life is not corruptible Eden, or the imperfections of Adam, flesh, and death. Instead, the basis of our life is incorruptible and spiritual. Our life is based on the New Jerusalem, and the eternal perfections of Jesus. The practice of discipleship is not an added element of the heavenly life; it is its very essence.

Which Kingdom?

Which kingdom do we live in? The present, earthly kingdom — or the kingdom of heavenly life above? Even the most beautiful woman will see decline; even the most powerful man will experience corruption. But Jesus said that those who are in God’s kingdom are greater than all of those in the Old Testament, because now Christ has opened the heavenly space. No longer do we live solely in the present moment. We also live in heaven with Christ. Because of his resurrection, our ultimate future has already begun now, even while we are still on this earth. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” We imagine the place must be an abstraction, or that his words were a parable. But Christ is for real. He really did go away to make a place for us.

We live in reverse order from Jesus. Where he went from death to resurrection, we proceed from resurrection to suffering; from resurrection to the cross.

I watched a few interesting Chinese dramas from a decade or so again: Lurk, a show about the Chinese Communist Party infiltrating the Kuomintang; and No Regrets Tracking, about the Kuomintang infiltrating the CCP. In Lurk, the main character, Yu Zecheng, works for the Kuomintang, but is actually a secret agent for the CCP. In his life as a secret agent, there are many tense moments and difficulties. At any moment, he might die. Because he is a secret agent, his loyalty, allegiance, and identity belong to the CCP. Although he works for the Kuomintang, his loyalty to the CCP creates great tension in his life.

In No Regrets Tracking, even though Feng Jingbo, the main character, is a KMT agent, his life was full of peace. He even had children. Through the years, one by one, he severed his ties to the past. After a decade, the secret agent had forgotten he was a secret agent, and became an outstanding teacher and model worker. Because Feng lived in the present, he was happy, and had no tension or conflict in his life.

Which kind of person are you? Which kingdom do you live in? Are you living a cruciform life?

A Cross-Shaped, Resurrected Life

We are not legalistic. We preach gospel- and Christ-centered messaged. But a gospel-centered, Christ-centered life is one of sacrificing yourself for the Lord. Because the only thing prepared for our Lord was the fruit on the tree of Calvary, so Christ is the only thing prepared for us in this world. The death, resurrection, and eternal glory of Jesus has been prepared for you and me.

Jesus was a disciple. We are also to be disciples, following the model of discipleship he exemplified. Jesus said to the Father, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” So we also say, “Lord, may it be according to your will, not ours.” Christ lived a cruciform life. He endured suffering, going from death to resurrection. The Father gave all life to Christ – and he became the life-giving Spirit, the One who gives life to us. Now, we live in reverse order from Jesus. Where he went from death to resurrection, we proceed from resurrection to suffering; from resurrection to the cross. Why?


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While we wait the coming of that kingdom, our lives will be cross-shaped, and characterized by suffering. All the suffering we endure as we are disciples and make disciples are manifestations of that resurrected life.


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Under Adam, it is impossible for us humans to bear the cross. But we are not in Adam. We have the heavenly life of the Risen One. This resurrected life is present with Christ. Every morning, when you open your eyes, the first thing you do is look to heaven and worship God alongside the festal gathering of angels. From there, you go on and live your life, because the resurrected Lord and the resurrected life live in you through the Holy Spirit.

Even while we are in this earthly kingdom, we await the final coming of the last kingdom. While we wait the coming of that kingdom, our lives will be cross-shaped, and characterized by suffering. All the suffering we endure as we are disciples and make disciples are manifestations of that resurrected life.

Are you willing to be a disciple? Are you willing to make disciples? This is not just a matter of being willing, but a proof and manifestation of a life which belongs to the Lord.


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

Pray for Chinese Christians striving to live a cross-shaped life of following Christ and making disciples.

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Further Reading

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Qingdao: How to Pray
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Qingdao: Good Soil for the Gospel
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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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