“Because those whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers.” Rom. 8:29
To Be Like Jesus
Today, we hear a lot about being like Jesus. 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 server 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 things 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 (Rom. 8:28-30; Rom. 12:1-5; II Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10, 11). It is 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. But She can! I am referring to that beautiful woman, the bride of Christ, who is destined to be His wife (Rev.21:9).
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 confirmed to that image must be communal.
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.
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, prayer, evangelism, and 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”