Some Thoughts on the Purpose – Part 3

To Be Like Jesus

Today, we hear a lot about being like Jesus or being “Christ-like”. There’s even a song written by Rich Mullins called “It’s Hard to be Like Jesus”. Preachers, and consequently believers, talk about Christ-likeness. As individual believers we are told that this is our goal; to be like Christ.

Actually, this is what most “discipleship” programs are all about. We are here to “make disciples” whatever that means. After all, part of the “great commission” (Matt. 28:19, 20) is to make disciples. We have interpreted this to mean that we are supposed to take individual believers and help them to be like Christ. Usually we do this by teaching them doctrine, how to study the bible, how to “pray”, how to serve God and others on the mission field, and basically how to be good Christians.

But where in the scriptures does it talk about becoming like Christ? Where did we get this idea from? The only thing I can see are the passages that deal with being conformed to His image. Perhaps we have paraphrased that to be “becoming like Christ”. If that is so, and I believe it is, then we must look at the context of each of those passages. In what context are we to be conformed to His image?

If you read the passages that have to do with being conformed to His image, you will quickly see that the context is always corporate (see these texts below). It is a “we” who are being conformed to His image. It is us together, the body, that is to look like Him. You can never be like Jesus by yourself. But She can! I am referring to that beautiful woman, the bride of Christ, who is destined to be His wife (Rev.21:9).

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” Rom 8:28-29

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Rom 12:1-5

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” 2 Cor. 3:18

“Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him–
a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.”
Col.3:9-11

If you will read the scriptures carefully, especially the New Testament, from this perspective, it will become a new book to you. You will begin to see the proper perspective for the testimony. Things will make more sense when you read it with the “corporate view”. That’s because God’s image is community. So, of course, the process of being conformed to that image must be communal. Now I realize that in order to have corporate transformation, there must be individual transformation and I am definitely not trying to take away from that. But the whole context or environment for this transformation takes place in the “cocoon” of the community of Christ!

Spiritual Reality and Practical Expression

The fact is that we are already one. We are in Christ and He is in us. This makes us one (John 17:22, 23). How could we all be “in Christ” and not be one? The problem is not our oneness, the problem is the practical expression of that oneness. That comes through us walking it out together day by day. That comes through us developing a “body consciousness” as Watchman Nee called it. It comes through a revelation of the corporate nature of the Church. It comes through developing a lifestyle of community and not one of individualism and independence. And it comes by us sharing our lives with one another and taking care of one another. In a word, this is family, but family in the true sense of the word. Not family as we have seen it in this world, but family as a genuine expression of the community life of God.

True Discipleship

Being conformed to His image (or becoming like Christ) is a corporate matter. We are transformed together by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-5). This renewal happens because we are learning to think as a body instead of just a bunch of individuals. We are “learning” Christ. We are learning and experiencing the oneness of the head and body. We are learning to think and function as the One New Man (see Col. 3:9-11).

This is true discipleship. It’s not a matter of being placed into a program of individual training of bible study, individual prayer, individual evangelism, and individual character development. Rather, it is the life transformation process of being practically conformed into His image. This is the out flowing of His community life. It is the fleshing out of the fellowship of the Godhead.

Therefore, I can only conclude from this that all true “discipleship” happens in a corporate context. We learn together how to live by Christ. This is something that we all learn in the daily fires of organic church life. This idea is not something new. This “torch” burned brightly over five hundred years ago when the Anabaptists discovered true discipleship.

“The Anabaptists spoke of corporate discipleship, but they emphasized Christ. Christ was the centerpiece. The Anabaptists were loyal only to Christ, and out of that naturally grew corporate discipleship and loyalty to one another. The Anabaptists did not write about loyalty to the church, loyalty to the brotherhood, or loyalty to God-ordained leaders. They did not make two commitments, one to the head and one to the body. Their unconditional commitment to Christ made all other commitments conditional.”*

“Christ was the Centerpiece.”

They kept Him as the center. This is extremely important. It’s not enough just to have close relationships and a close knit group. The one factor binding us together must be Christ Himself. We should not be together because we all get along and have the same interests. This is a social group, not the organic church of Jesus Christ.

What transforms us is the internal life of Christ within us all.* This is a together thing. His image is corporate. So, doesn’t it make sense that the process of conforming us to that image would also be corporate?

Paul tells us in II Cor. 3:18 that we are transformed into His image by beholding and reflecting the glory of the Lord as in a mirror. We do this together with one unveiled face! Notice how this verse begins. “But we all with unveiled face.” It begins plural (we all) but ends singular (face). We all behold Him with one face. When we look into the faces of our brothers and sisters and see the one face of Jesus Christ, then we are transformed into His corporate image.

“Because the God who said, ‘Out of darkness light shall shine’, is the One who shined in our hearts to illuminate the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” II Cor. 4:6

This is very difficult to reconcile with our individualistic culture and lifestyles. Even the nuclear family unit has broken down to the point where younger generations have no concept of community. Either that or their only concept of community is one of dysfunction, abuse, and violence and hence the increase of street gangs.

The answer is found within the Godhead. The Father, Son, and Spirit have this incredible fellowship that is flowing continuously like a river (see John chapters 14-17). The way that They relate to one another is the model for all church life and discipleship. We are being conformed to that image. The community life and love that are shared inside of the Triune God are the exact same life and love to be shared inside the church (see John 17).

When we begin learning to see and hear Christ in our brothers and sisters, then real transformation (discipleship) will flow. Let’s get this straight. The image of God is Christ (Col. 1:15). This Christ is corporate. He is the Head and the Body (I Cor. 12:12). He is the Vine and the Branches (John 15:5). He is the Bridegroom and the Bride (John 3:29, 20). He is the foundation and the stones of the house (I Pet. 2:4-7). This corporate Christ is the perfect visible image of the invisible Godhead. We are being transformed into that image from one degree of glory to another!

*footnote #1 – “The Secret of the Strength” by Peter Hoover page 129

*footnote #2 – See the author’s book, “The Butterfly Within

The above article was taken from the book called “The Community Life of God” by Milt Rodriguez

Author: Milt Rodriguez

Milt is an author, speaker, and organic church planter.

28 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Purpose – Part 3”

  1. you’re absolutely right in saying that growth does not come on purely an individual basis. This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. True spiritual growth happens when we are conformed into the image of Christ and in Christ the fullness of the Godhead dwells. Therefore the image of Christ will be an image of community and a continual sharing of Dicine Life. This is the image to which we are destined to be conformed! This is a marvelous teaching, the kind that results in worshipful praise to our God and Father in Christ.

    Thanks for this Milt.

  2. a helpful explanation, and to a significant paradigm swap.

    Milt, you have written: “Paul tells us in II Cor. 3:18 that we are transformed into His image by beholding and reflecting the glory of the Lord as in a mirror. We do this together with one unveiled face!”

    “Now we all, with unveiled face, mirroring the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, even from the Lord; the/His Spirit.”
    [II Corinthians 3:18]

    transformed into His image by beholding (by sight), or from the Lord’s Spirit?

  3. Brother Milt,

    The corporate body of Christ is made up of individuals. The priesthood of ALL believers is made up of individual believers. Paul says, when you come together, EACH ONE has a teaching, a word, a song, etc. The existence of corporate commands to the body does not negate the individuals responsibility to obey those same commands.

    you said, “Being conformed to His image (or becoming like Christ) is a corporate matter. We are transformed together by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-5). This renewal happens because we are learning to think as a body instead of just a bunch of individuals. We are “learning” Christ. We are learning and experiencing the oneness of the head and body. We are learning to think and function as the One New Man (see Col. 3:9-11).” This is true discipleship…

    This is a part and subset of “true discipleship,” but not it’s base.

    True discipleship is “teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded, and baptizing them.

    Does this happen better where 2 or 3 are gathered? YES! Do the scriptures insist on corporate discipleship? NO

  4. Marshall,

    The sight needed to behold the Lord is a spiritual one. As Paul prayed: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…” (Eph. 1:18).

  5. Miguel,

    Obviously, I disagree. To say that the community life of God is a subset of discipleship and not the heart of it does great damage to the nature of God Himself. He IS community! Everything He does in and with us is based upon that divine, community life that is the foundation for everything. He doesn’t just want us to DO for Him. He wants us to be His true expression of His life and nature.

    I have written about this in much greater detail in my book called: The Community Life of God. I would suggest that you read that book if you are open to another viewpoint.

  6. I will read your book. But to be clear, I did not say, “community life of God is a subset of discipleship.” That is an assumption, or better yet an extrapolation of what i did say which is that “true discipleship is teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded and baptizing them. Whether it is one on one or many on one or many on many, it still stands true.

  7. Miguel,

    True, but you did say the following:

    “This is a part and subset of “true discipleship,” but not it’s base.”

    So what is the base? I guess it all depends upon what we say that Jesus commanded them to do.

  8. “What is the base of true discipleship and what did Jesus command to do?”

    Milt, I think that is a superb question which warrants further investigation, meditation, and prayer.

  9. Milt, excellent article brother as always! Love to hear Christ in you, :). Just a note from the previous comments above: “Now this is His command: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us.”

  10. guessing that this concern over individual versus corporate discipleship is one that probably will not be won over night, :). A thought is if we really experienced life in Christ with the ekklesia more than just on a one day a week gathering that would need 2-3 persons meeting during the week to make up for the loss of community, perhaps this “individual discipleship” might not be necessary? Perhaps if the ekklesia lived more like family, actually gathering daily in life, perhaps corporate discipleship would become more the norm. I pray that this might be so for us one day. Perhaps the 2-3 person discipleship as noted by Paul to Timothy was more related to the apostolic function than to the corporate body? just some thoughts.

  11. I guess another thought that comes to mind is that “individual discipleship,” if I remember right, comes from a presupposition that every member is a “missionary” and so must be trained in order to be an effective missionary in their home, neighborhood, and work place. I think the thought is that every member is a missionary called to fulfill the great commission, thus the similar terms. This stresses an individual discipleship and mentoring with 2-3 others in accountability groups, each checking up on each other on how well they are obeying Jesus commands and tends to come from an institutional church system.

    I used to have that mindset many years ago, but I have realized that that doesn’t follow very well with what scripture says about different measures of the gift of Christ in the body, each for the building up of one another in love. Learning to hear the Lord together, believe Him, and loving others which is obeying Him and living by His life. The apostolic functioning, better than the term missionary, is a different function and not every member has that gifting to share the good news, gather a group of believers and to help them live by the life of Christ together and so express their Lord.

    All are called to express love to one another and in so doing they learn Christ together and learn to express love to their neighbors and enemies. But not all are chosen to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, helping to gather those who believe the message, and help a body live by Christ. As Paul says, “And if they were all the same part, where would the body be?” And as Paul later said, “Are all apostles?” A rhetorical question whose answer is no. some thoughts.

    This is from my perspective and am sure others will differ. Blessings, :).

  12. Jesus commanded us to abide in Him and He would abide in us, just as the Son abides in the Father and the Father in the Son (John 15). The Godhead is community and their language and expression is Love. We are to remain in Love. Love is the perfection of all commandments (1 Cor. 13). We are in Christ by faith, in Him who is Love.

    If we’re already in the room (called Christ), why try so hard to get in? Simply stay there. What we should try hard at, isn’t that forsaking our self and laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters, and for the world? Love is expressed when we “one another” and share His life with one another and the world around us.

    I also wonder, what is the base? Can we extract something from Christ and still call it Christ? A part is lesser than the whole. It’s still a part, but not the whole. Let’s not divide Christ into parts and subjects and lose sight of the whole. The body and the head, the vine and the branches, the cornerstone and the living stones etc. The ekklesia assembled is parts discipled and conformed to the corporate image, Christ. At least that’s what I believe. Just a few thoughts.

    Love in Christ,
    Daniel

  13. Milt,

    Well said brother. Thx for sharing this. This is vitally important in light of the current focus of so many on making individual ‘disciples’. I wish I could shout this from the roof tops!

  14. The ekklesia assembled is parts discipled and conformed to the corporate image, Christ. At least that’s what I believe. Just a few thoughts.
    Love in Christ,
    Daniel

    I see the point you are trying get across, I believe that again, hairs are being split that really don’t need to be. Discipleship happens in both contexts without a doubt. Paul obviously discipled Timothy along with countless others in what I would venture to say intimate settings. Christ would pull one or two disciples aside away from the others. You are right in saying we cannot be all of Christ individually but you are like Christ in how you react and respond towards others right? As we walk and talk with our brothers and sisters in Christ and live life we do grow in Him by His grace and become “mature” followers of Christ letting our words be seasoned along with our actions. As we interact with this world as individuals we are “like” Christ but together we are the body, the bride of Christ together not separate.

  15. Amen Milt great post. It is very good to understand though we are individuals we are a corporate bride. We cannot truly know the Lord outside of his bride. For the head is not seperate from the body. Not just an ideal of the body, but living life together under the headship of Jesus Christ and not a man. Thus, discipleship is corporate how else could we lay down our lives for our friends (greatest love you could have), or iron sharpen iron if we are not living life together not just at a once a week thing. Obviously, this does not seperate the importance of alone time with the Lord, he himself living by his father’s life did the same. My definiton of disciple= living by the Lords life after years of being in a body built by him, to him, anf for him for eternity. Love you brother great stuff.

  16. I always enjoy reading your post as it is very enlighting and sport on.
    T Austin Sparks puts it this way, If the Cross is in its proper place, everything will be right.

    Kim

  17. We agree Milt! And (this may seem odd, maybe). . but some of the best corporate life in Jesus, some of the best Body life in Jesus where we experienced what you are describing in this post . .came for us in small group Bible studies during our 5+ yrs involvement with a “discipleship” (“parachurch”) ministry, the Navigators :). (BTW, Enjoyed meeting you and your wife @ La Chaux de Fonds conf. last June). .Love in JESUS, Pam and Bob 🙂

  18. I have been so blessed by your books and this blog post, Milt. We should be living in Christ, not trying to be like Him. We are already one with Him. Just posted a few blogs about this (http://kaleymayer.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/unlike-christ/). I hope this starts to reach into the IC realm and change the hearts of many.

    Personally I was taught as a believer to be Christ like a few years after I became saved. Within two years the life of Christ in me that had been very strong had almost entirely died away. When God spoke to me that we are not try to be like Christ, but rather be one with Him and our brothers I gave up all attempts to be Christ like. This happened a few months ago and Christ in me has grown to be ever present again. So thank you for the books you have written which have confirmed where God was leading me.

  19. Milt,
    Just stumbled in. This is an interesting discussion. I have been having a running debate/discussion with a friend about this topic – he very much embraces the “we are to be like Jesus” view. On my end I’ve been saying that his emphasis is wrong, that there is no “being like Jesus” except what flows out of “being in communion with Jesus”. I suspect that these two things are not really at odds with one another, but it does matter which one you put the emphasis upon. Your take that the factor of corporate life as opposed to individual life must be added into the equation is an interesting addition to our discussion.

    In terms of “being like Jesus” I have been most intrigued by two verses that phrase this in terms of “following Jesus’ example.”

    Jhn 13:15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

    1Pe 2:21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps..

    You are correct that both of these verses have the word “ye” in them, which connotates plurality. However, there does seem to be a clear emphasis on “following Jesus’s example.” I’m not sure we can quickly dismiss that Jesus IS an example, as well as many other “things” to us. And after all, what we do corporately is only the sum total of what we do as individuals in the corporate setting. To do something TOGETHER means that each and every one of us is doing that … So, these are some thoughts as I try to pick my way through this discussion that my friend and I are having, now with you and your friends 😉

  20. Milt is right when he says we cannot “be like Jesus” or be”like Christ.”
    When we accepted our Lord Jesus Christ, we are a “new creation.” The Apostle Paul says “It is not I that live, but Christ lives in me” So there is no need to be like Jesus
    as He is already in us. This is how satan temps us to do to be proud of it.Remember what he told Adam and Eve, If you eat this fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and bad you will be “like God.” So we must not forget our history.
    Kim

  21. Milt, I wish to thank you for your posts. I have always been bothered with the ‘WWJD’ movement. It falls in line with the ‘being like Christ’ thought. My argument is that the Lord is not a historical figure as being only in the past. He has a place in history, yet He is also present. So it is not ‘what would He do’, rather it is ‘what is He now doing’.

    Last night I started reading of conforming to the image of Christ. The thought crushed me, “since I have Christ in me, then I am to take the form of His life through me”. It is not me, in the flesh, being a copy of Christ. No, it is the actual life of Christ being expressed in and through me. I realize the fact that there nothing of my flesh that can please God. Nothing. A Christ-like flesh is not the goal. God the Father has His pleasure only in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In salvation I have received the Son as my life. He is eternal life. In His life I find all that pleases God the Father. As I walk in His life (quite the learning process of dying and resurrection) I am able to please the Father.
    True the Lord is looking for a ‘body’ to express His life, yet I believe it starts with individuals who die to their individualism to take hold of Christ for their all. And as they come together with other believers who have the same heart, the Lord is able to bring about a true corporate expression of the bride of Christ Jesus.

    Thanks again, Don

  22. Don, great perspective and your right a “Christ-like flesh” is not the goal. But we are to love God and love others as ourself, and that is done by Christ through our flesh, this vessel we are in until that day. When we respond or react to someone or a particular situation we should allow the spirit of Christ to exhibit Himself through our flesh because there is nothing good in us apart from Him, therefore our flesh is Christ -like because we submit ourselves to Him who lives IN us. We put to death those misdeeds of our bodies and we live as it says in Romans.

  23. Donny,

    Thanks for your well articulated comment!

    You are absolutely correct that it all begins with the individual laying down their life. Without this, there will be nothing happening corporately.

    However, God’s goal is to have a house, a bride, a body, and a family (all corporate) that will express the nature and glory of his Son.

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