Receiving the forgiveness of sins enables us to have a new start in life. Now disciples are equipped to start on the path leading to the goal – to be like their Master, Jesus Christ.
We know that it is possible to become like our Master, because He took upon Himself the same flesh and blood as us. (Hebrews 2:14) He is now exalted above every name, and is seated at the right hand of God (Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 8:1), but since He has been like us, we are able to follow Him and end up where He is today. To attain this goal, disciples are given the Holy Spirit as a helper and a guide to the whole truth. (John 15:26; John 16:13)
The way of the cross
During His days on earth, Jesus learned to obey God’s will instead of His own. (Hebrews 5:8) This “self-will” (or self-life) is the sin in the flesh that we have all inherited. As a man, Jesus also had inherited this self-will, and was tempted, but His firm resolve from the very start was, “Not My will, but Yours, be done!” (Luke 22:42; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 10:5-7) God’s Spirit pointed out the sin in His flesh, and Jesus agreed with the judgment. In this way sin was condemned in Jesus’ flesh, and He opened a way that all His disciples could follow, which we can call the way of the cross. (Romans 8:3-4; Hebrews 5:7-8; 1 Peter 4:1-2)
Jesus said that a disciple must “take up his cross daily.” Luke 9:23. Here Jesus is not referring to the cross of Calvary, but the “inner cross” which He Himself made use of every day of His life on earth. It was upon this cross that all sin in His flesh was “crucified” when it had received its judgment. This self-denial caused suffering in His flesh, but brought about death to sin, so the inclination to sin was never translated into actual sin in thought, word or deed. This happened daily, until all sin in Jesus’ flesh was condemned, and He could cry out, “It is finished!” when He was crucified on Calvary. (John 19:30) That is why He exhorted His disciples to follow Him by taking up their cross, and hating their own lives (or self-will). (Luke 14:26-27) (Read the Essentials topic “Christ manifested in the flesh” to learn more.)
The judgment over sin that was executed in Christ shall now, by faith, also be executed in His disciples. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, points out the sin in the disciples’ flesh, and they “get light” about their self-life. Disciples of Jesus love the truth, and willingly agree to the judgment. Instead of drawing back, they acknowledge and hate their self-life! They take up their cross, denying their own will, the sin in their flesh. This brings sufferings, but the Spirit gives strength to endure, and the result is victory over sin. (1 Peter 4:1-2) (Read the Essentials topic “The message of the cross” to learn more.)
On this way of the cross, we are gradually molded into the image of Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:48-50; 2 Corinthians 3:18) The result of the battle against sin and suffering on the cross is that the life of Jesus, the virtues – love, kindness, meekness, humility, mercy, etc. – will grow. (Galatians 5:22-23; 2 Peter 1:4) This is precisely what Paul experienced: “Always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:10.
A co-worker of Christ: Building His church
As we partake more of the life of Jesus, we establish an intimate fellowship with Him. As this relationship deepens, He starts to share His thoughts, intentions and plans with us. We begin to comprehend that this plan goes far beyond our personal lives.
Jesus yearns to present “to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:27. The goal is to form a body that consists of Jesus’ disciples, those who have followed Him and come to victory over sin. As their individual “self-lives” have been brought into Jesus’ death on the cross, the life of Christ becomes manifested in each of them, and they grow up to Jesus as the head, in perfect unity. (John 17:20-23; 1 Corinthians 12:12-14; Ephesians 4:13-14)
Through different times and generations, disciples have partaken in this process of building the church, the body of Christ, by laboring tirelessly out of fervent love for the Master. Now, we have also received grace to enter this work. As we pray for the church and God’s people, we enter into the spiritual battle against powers and principalities, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places, whose sole aim is to destroy the work of God. We join Christ against Satan and his power and methods, who seeks to deceive God’s people. In this battle, co-workers of Christ are clothed with the full armor of God. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Disciples also cooperate with their Master in other ways. Following the promptings of the Spirit, they exhort and teach people with all wisdom, to present every man perfect in Christ. (Colossians 1:28) They take heed to Jesus’ exhortation to feed His sheep. (John 21:15-18) A love for Christ and all people motivates them, and they forget themselves entirely as they strive to fulfil God’s plan of salvation.
In the midst of our work for God and the body of Christ, the cleansing work continues inside us. Disciples that already bear fruit are “pruned”, so that they might bear more fruit. (John 15:1-8) When disciples have done a work for God, they devote themselves to prayer and bring that work to the light. (John 3:20-21) There they discover that, because of sin in the flesh, some of the work may still not be fully acceptable in God’s sight. So they judge and cleanse themselves in the light. This increases their spiritual understanding and development.
The disciples’ development continues until the very end of their life. Their path is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day. (Proverbs 4:18) The day will come when Jesus will fetch all those who so faithfully followed Him and served Him. They will be presented as a glorious church, each member being without spot or wrinkle. (Ephesians 5:27) Each disciple has become like his Master, and has fulfilled the work he was given to do. He will hear the Master say: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:23.
Through the way of the cross, Jesus’ disciples have died with Him, and lived with Him. Now they will be exalted together with Him. “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Revelation 3:21.
“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3.