What is the goal of discipleship? If a disciple-making process or system is going to be implemented, you need to know what you are striving for. I have found, however, that the answers to that simple question have often been inadequate. They tend to be so obvious that they say nothing: “The goal of discipleship is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” That’s the very definition of begging the question. Or they are fuzzy: “The goal of discipleship is to draw a person closer to Christ, to conform a person into the image of Christ.” Yes, but what does that mean? What does “closer to Christ” mean, and what exactly am I supposed to do? Conformed to what image of Christ? The image of Christ on the cross? Cleansing the temple? Eating supper with prostitutes and tax collectors? And here’s the other problem with that: Jesus wasn’t some ordinary guy. He was God incarnate. I’d have a better chance of playing basketball like Michael Jordan than I would of living my life like Jesus lived his. Think about it: the disciples, the original 12, who lived with Jesus for almost three years, listened to him day after day, watched his miracles—these guys couldn’t pull it off. They misunderstood him, betrayed him, denied him, abandoned him—and we’re talking about Peter and John and James, guys who weren’t spiritual lightweights. What possible hope do any of us have that we could be like Jesus? That’s like taking a bunch of people to a cliff and telling them to fly. The most committed will end up as broken heaps at the bottom of the cliff; the rest will wisely walk away in hopelessness. We aren’t birds, we’re humans. We aren’t humans who are also part of the Trinitarian Godhead.
We are merely humans. And that’s a problem. And it’s a problem that discipleship often tries to solve by implying that in becoming disciples of Jesus we can be more than merely human, we can become something supra-human. We can become more spiritual, less earthy, maybe get to pull off some miracles, certainly get to live forever like God does in the place where God lives. And yet, no matter how much we try, no matter how many discipleship classes we take and books we read, we find we are still, somehow very, very human. Very, very flawed. Very, very body-bound and spiritually anemic.
We are still merely human.
But the problem isn’t that we are merely human. There is no such thing. God created humans, and nothing God creates is merely anything. Humans are created in the image and likeness of God, we were created for fellowship with God. We were never created to become God-like. We were created to be made-in-the-image-and-likeness humans, and that should be good enough for us. But it’s not. We don’t like that we aren’t God-like, and so we call ourselves merely human, and set as our goal to become God-like, and that’s where things get messed up. “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.’” The Original Sin begins with the dissatisfaction with being merely human and the desire to be like God. And in striving to be like God, we no longer are even merely human.
We have become less than human. The Original Sin, the violence that we humans commit against one another, begins when we consider others to be less than human and we begin to treat them inhumanly. That’s our problem. We are inhumane.
Jesus came to deal with this problem, our inhumanity toward one another, toward God’s creation, even our inhumanity toward God. The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control—these aren’t spiritual qualities, these are humane qualities. And yet we struggle with them. We struggle with being human.
This is what Jesus came to teach us. This is what a disciple must learn. This is what a disciple must strive for. This is the goal of discipleship—to learn to be human.
But not merely human. There is no such thing. We need to learn to be the humans God created us to be—made in his image and likeness, good yet with room for improvement. Because you can always learn to love more. You can always learn to be more forgiving. You can always learn to be more peaceful. You can always learn to be more patient. You can always learn to be more kind.
You can always learn to be more human. That’s what Jesus came to show us.