A collegiate ministry leader recently told me that it is not enough to simply teach students how to become effective disciple-makers. Rather, we as leaders must embody and impart the heart of disciple-making to our students. One of the most important tasks we face as college ministers is to cast a clear vision for disciple-making to our students. Such a great responsibility leads us to an important question: What is the biblical vision for disciple-making? In seeking to answer this question, most of us begin with the Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20. This passage seems like an obvious starting point. However, I would suggest that if we truly want to understand the biblical vision for disciple-making, we must go back further. In fact, it is at creation itself that we find God’s heart for disciple-making.
God purposed that humanity would multiply his image at creation.
We all know the story of Genesis 1. On the sixth day, God created man in his own image to be his ultimate ambassador within his creation (Gen 1:26-27). God’s commissioned his newly created image-bearers to “Be fruitful and multiply!” (Gen 1:28). This command was about far more than having children. Rather, God desired that they would multiply and “fill the earth” with more image-bearers of himself. Stated another way, God commissioned his image-bearers to produce more image-bearers. These image-bearers were granted authority to “rule over” the earth in a way that reflected its Creator. Unfortunately, we all know what happened in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve failed to obey their creator. Thus, humanity’s image given at creation was permanently corrupted. Such corruption meant that humanity could no longer reproduce image-bearers as God originally intended. Only divine intervention could enable humanity once again to accomplish the creation mandate.
Jesus restored the creation mandate.
While humanity failed to fulfill the Creation mandate, God still desires to fill the earth with his image-bearers. How can this mandate be fulfilled if sin has corrupted the image given to man? Thankfully, we find God’s intervention on behalf of humanity (and, for that matter, creation itself) in the person of Jesus. Through his death, resurrection, and exaltation, Jesus reversed the effects of Adam’s failure (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:22). As a result, God has purposed to form a new people that would be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). As a reminder, this process of “conforming” is not completed the moment someone receives the Gospel. Rather, it is continual process that culminates in the glorification of those in Christ by God himself (Rom 8:30).
This wonderful reality brings me back to Jesus’ commission to his disciples. When Jesus commissions his disciples to make more disciples, what exactly is he commanding them to do? What is the true mark of a disciple? Biblically, we can conclude that a true disciple is one who has had the image of God restored to them and is in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ. Put simply, disciples are image-bearers. Thus, when Christ commands his disciples to make more disciples, he implores them to multiply more image-bearers. The implication is that Christ has now invited us and enabled us once again to participate in the original creation mandate! For this reason, Paul describes the Gospel in Colossians 1:6 as “bearing fruit and growing,” an explicit use of creation language. Our commitment to disciple-making aligns us with God’s original purpose for us at creation that will one day culminate in the new creation!
What does this truth mean for our College ministries? How does it affect the ways we disciple our students and call them to be disciple-makers? Allow me to offer a few humble suggestions.
- If we want our students to be passionate about disciple-making in college and beyond, we must give them a robust biblical vision for disciple-making. The biblical vision of disciple-making does not begin at the Great Commission but at creation. The story of disciple-making from creation to redemption to new creation will only further stir our students toward a zealousness for disciple-making.
- Connecting disciple-making to creation further reveals our part and the part of our students in God’s grander story. When our students understand that God has graciously included them in his overall story, I believe they will be more motivated to participate actively in disciple-making. They will also rejoice in knowing that they are fulfilling God’s true purpose for them.
- Such an understanding of disciple-making only enhances the worthiness of the task for our students. The connection between God’s creative purpose and disciple-making demonstrates that our obedience to God’s call is not in vain. It provides hope when the task proves difficult. It encourages full dependence on the one who will bring about the new creation.
Jesus graciously called us to participate in a story that began at creation, reached a climax with the His work, and will be brought to a glorious conclusion at new creation. I pray that this story would stir us and our students to a life fully devoted to reproducing image-bearers of Christ