Discipleship according to Gospel of John

Nick Lica 

The reason why I decided to choose the Gospel of John is that I found out that this gospel has an interesting way to communicate the meaning and role of discipleship. At the first view all three others gospels has a lot to say about discipleship more than gospel of John. The others gospels has a record how Jesus called his disciples. John assumes that this is a normal thing for a teacher like Jesus to have disciples that’ why he emphasize that rather disciples found Jesus and than Jesus called them (John 1:41,45; 6:25).

I. What is the meaning of discipleship?

William Mac Donald in his book Genuine Discipleship says that: often we look on Christianity only as a opportunity to go away from hell and have assurance of heaven. Discipleship is more than this. John as the disciple who Jesus loved, emphasize in his gospel that being a disciple of Jesus means being with him, travel with him and do what He said, knowing and obeying him. This is a life process not a moment. First disciples (Andrew and Peter) wanted to know where Jesus lives, but a truly meaning of discipleship in the gospel of John is to know God through Jesus.

II. What are the demands and consequences of being a disciple of Jesus?

Being a disciple of Jesus is not an easy thing. Why? Because Jesus did not promised an easy life to his disciples. Jesus is very fair with his disciples from the beginning. Instead of coloring an attractive picture of discipleship he says this in John 16:33: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In the days of Jesus every teacher or rabbi had his disciples. The definition of the disciple is the one who is trained or learning from his teacher. The gospel of John present this demands of discipleship:

  1. Following Jesus (John 1:43)

Next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip is the first disciple who Jesus called. Following Jesus is the first condition of discipleship. Jesus told these two powerful words follow me to two people in the Gospel of John: to Philip and Peter (21:19). Jesus requires a total commitment to him from the beginning. This commitment is a commitment of leaving their style of life and follow Jesus’. It’s a commitement of leaving your family and follow Jesus. Following Jesus it’s means putting him in the first place in your life.

  1. Self-denial (John 12:25-26)

The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 1

The wheat analogy (v. 24) illustrates a general paradoxical principle: death is the way to life. In Jesus’ case, His death led to glory and life not only for Himself but also for others. In the case of a disciple of Jesus, the principle is similar. A disciple must hate his life in this world. To “hate his life” means to be so committed to Christ that he has no self-centeredness, no concern for himself. On the other hand the man who loves his life will lose it. Anything in life can become an idol including goals, interests, and loves (cf. Luke 12:16-21; 18:18-30). A believer should undergo a spiritual death to self (Rom. 6:1-14; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Gal. 6:14).

c) Obeying his teaching (John 8:31)

1 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 2 Jesus is worning here upon an important issue. It was possible to “believe” in the message of repentance and the coming kingdom without being born again. To know and not do is to be a liar. To know and obey is a characteristic of a genuine disciple. Jesus does not require only enthusiasm but faithfulness and reminding in his teaching.

d) Loving one another (John 13:35)

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love was the foundation of the Jesus’ teaching. No teacher in those days gave such a sign of recognizing his disciples. Jesus gaved to his disciple a new command that it is a special love for other believers based on the sacrificial love of Jesus: As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Christians’ love and support for one another enable us to survive in a hostile world. This love is a sign to the world as well as to every believer (1 John 3:14).

III. Why is discipleship important?

Jesus summarized the goal of the every church in The Great Commission (Mat 28:18-20; John 20:21): evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism is reaching out the people by preaching the gospel and discipleship is the process of spiritual growth to maturity of Jesus Christ.

What would happen if the disciples of Jesus did not take seriously the Great Commission?. What will happened with the future generation if we are not obeying the Great Commission? These are very important questions to ask when we focus on discipleship. If we are saved is only because somebody else shares with us the good news of the Gospel. If our churches will stop making the disciple we loose the future generation. The church survived 2000 years only because they continued in making disciples. New believers without discipleship can not survive spiritually and if they do they are all life immature and infants in faith. They can not go and make other disciples. Only a mature Christian can go and make disciple. So discipleship is crucial for church growth and for God’s kingdom.

IV. How does one disciple others?

Discipleship requires a lot of dedication and work. We must not confuse the terms: a disciple is not a worker yet, but is one who is preparing to be a worker. We must teach a disciple minimum these things:

a) How to pray

Prayer is a respiration of the soul and if the new believer do not know its role and meaning for Christian life will hardly grow spiritually and maybe will die. The best method of learning to pray is not speaking and studying about prayer but starting to pray.

b) How to study the Bible

Learning how to eat by itself belongs to the first years of children life. If a new believer do not know how to study the Bible will starve with time. There are basically 3 principles that need to be clarified here: observation, interpretation and application.

c) How to communicate the gospel to others

The new believers need to understand the importance of passing to others what he received. Knowing how to do this is very important. Personal testimony is one of the most powerful instruments in personal evangelism. Theaching how to prepare this and how to say it will make the disciple not only a learner of new things but the one who apply and testify about Christ.

  1. How to discover his/her gifts for becoming a servant

The new believer need to understand that God expects us not to be good theorists but to become ministering disciples. Everybody is a part of Christ’s body. This is true but not every body knows what part is he/she. The task of leaders is to equip, edify and help people find their gift and involve them in ministry.

V. How can the Gospel of John can be use to disciple others?

  • By studying the whole book chapter by chapter. The main theme can be: Knowing God through the faith in Jesus.

  • By studying the discipleship model of Jesus in this book (a deeper approach of the whole passages that speaks about discipleship).

1The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.

2The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984.