by Raphael Mnkandhla
As a pastor, I am always confronted with the question of what a perfect disciple looks like, but after studying Scripture have concluded that a perfect disciple is always an imperfect disciple. An ideal disciple practices active rest: resting in Christ’s finished work but living in pursuit of Christ. This disciple lives mindful of the gap between their perfect Savior and their imperfect lives. Realizing that Christlikeness is the will of God for his people, they make beholding Christ their main priority of life. Christlikeness is God’s ongoing and eternal purpose in the life of believers (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29; 1 Jn. 3:2).
God’s current work in our lives means we are being changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. The glory of Christ beheld transforms us into His image from one degree of glory to another through the Spirit’s work. J. I. Packer describes the Holy Spirit’s work as the floodlight’s ministry shining on Christ, always saying “Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.”
God’s eternal purpose, illustrated in Romans 8:29, attests to the fact that the damage done through Adam’s sin is now restored in Christ. Conforming to the image of God means to be like Jesus. Every day we wake up groaning with all of creation and longing for God to close the gap and manifest our destined full adoption. 1 John 3:2 reveals our glorious future: in the end, we will be transformed, “we shall be like him.” This shows us the good work (Phil. 1:6) that God is working towards in every disciple’s life.
Since the goal of Christian discipleship is conforming us to the image of Jesus it is safe to conclude that beholding Christ’s glory is the number-one directive for following Jesus. In his work The Glory of Christ, John Owen says it well:
“It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace, and satisfaction, we must seek them diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith. In this duty, I desire to live and to die. The constant contemplation of the glory of Christ will give rest, satisfaction, and complacency unto the souls of them who are exercised therein. Our minds are apt to be filled with a multitude of perplexing thoughts; — fears, cares, dangers, distresses, passions, and lusts, do make various impressions on the minds of men, filling them with disorder, darkness, and confusion. But where the soul is fixed in its thoughts and contemplations on this glorious object, it will be brought into and kept in a holy, serene, spiritual frame.”
To this end, our most desperate need is to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ daily. We are to behold him to live, love, serve, endure, and glorify like him. As we open our Bibles we intently read and study to encounter Jesus’s glory, otherwise we miss the whole point (Luke 24:24).
Author Kevin DeYoung argues that as a result of beholding Christ, we would be more merciful, loving, holy, courageous, gracious, prayerful, and fruitful. He says:
Your main problem and my main problem is that we do not see enough the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We are not amazed. We do not stand in awe. We are not rendered speechless in his presence. Too many of us are toying around with gimmicks and looking for quick fixes and miracle cures. Too many of us are digging deep inside ourselves for the change we want. Too many of us spend all our time tinkering with sports and the Internet and home repairs while neglecting the one thing that is most needful—to sit at the feet of Jesus, to see him in the preaching of the Word, to gaze upon him in the Scriptures, to slowly meditate upon the pages of the Bible, to spend uninterrupted, unhurried time with the Lord. This is what we need. There is no growing apart from gazing, and no becoming like Christ without beholding him in his glory.
God’s present and eternal purpose in the believer should become our preoccupation. He wills to conform us to Christ’s image, so we fight to behold Christ. An imperfect disciple has made it a priority to sit on the front row rather than the nosebleed section in the theatre of beholding Christ. Many distractions will come, but it is to this treasure all their energies will be spent.
Raphael Mnkandhla is the lead pastor at City Church in Williamsport, PA. He and his wife, Heidi, have five children.