Perhaps you will be as surprised as I was to learn that only nine times in the Gospels is Jesus recorded as saying either “my disciple” or “my disciples.” The word disciple is used descriptively hundreds of times, but on the lips of Jesus it is only used with the modifier “my” nine times.
Three of these references are clearly parallels, as they record our Lord’s concern to gather his disciples on the final night of his earthly life. He wanted all those who were genuinely his disciples to be present with him. John records for us, in five dense chapters, the substance of that evening. It is arguably the most critical section of the entire New Testament if we are to build our theology on the teaching of our Lord.
Three other references give great specificity to what Jesus means when he says someone is “my disciple.” All of these verses come to us from the beloved John. The first is found in the eighth chapter. “If you abide in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (8:31,32) Note well the word “truly.” To abide in the word of Jesus means to know it, to have received it, to have internalized it, and to be living it. To abide in that word is to be connected to life, and to be cut off from it is to die. This abiding is the evidence that we are truly his disciples.
The second clear reference comes during the passover meal with his disciples. “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” (13:34,35) Here we come face to face with the call to the church to model a way of life that is their witness. It is not words alone that will speak to the world, it is the love lived among the brethren. Even those who are not followers will know that the way of life of the church is directly because of Jesus. The world will recognize true disciples.
And third, the Lord makes profoundly clear that there is an outcome that shows a life to have been lived in the shadow of the Master. “ …bear much fruit and prove to be my disciples.” (15:8) There will be other followers because of all true followers, There will be other disciples because of one true disciple. This is not the fruit of the spirit, changing the inner character of the believer. This is the fruit that is another life laid down at the feet of Jesus. There will be more men following because one man followed. There will be more women following because one woman followed.
Pause with me and take in what these three passages in John tell us. They do not mention anything that requires money, nor buildings, nor programs.They do not speak of degrees, or offices, or positions of responsibility. There is no mention of hierarchical authority, no necessary governing systems, no certificates for our walls. Simply to be found in Jesus. To live in him as he in us. To love the believers. To make disciples. Next week we will look at the last three of the nine verses.
Next Week: The Hardest Three