Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!"
-- John 21:20-22
The word "Christian" is not found in the Gospel of John, even though followers of the Lord Jesus Christ were called Christians by the time it was written. The same can be said of the term "believer." John does not use it, as a noun. He does, however, use the verb about a hundred times. His aim is to show that belief, in true believers who truly believe, is an active, ongoing trust and obedience to the claims and commands of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Another name John does not use in the Gospel is his own. The only mentions of the name "John" speak of John the Baptist, mostly, and an occasional reference to Simon Peter's father. The human author of the Gospel prefers to refer to himself as "the disciple." That's a word he likes, and you can find "disciple" in this Gospel a total of 78 times, including three critical instances in this closing text.
For a perfect definition of a disciple, let me begin by saying a disciple is not perfect. He or she is a work in progress. Disciples are newborn children of God who have to learn to walk with God, where stumbles and falls are all part of the process.
Simon Peter is the poster child for this aspect of discipleship. Even though he achieved a prominent place among the Christians of history, Simon Peter's walk with God was full of pitfalls and potholes. The Gospels speak of the many times he put his foot in his mouth and of his denials of Christ. In this final passage in the final Gospel, the recently restored Simon Peter steps out of bounds once again.
Jesus had to put the once again wayward disciple in his place because Peter put one eye on himself, one eye on John, then had no eye left to follow the Lord. So, Jesus gets his attention and reprimands him, "You follow Me!" Envy and jealousy are the easy offramps from the highway to Heaven.
And we all do it, from time to time. We are works in progress. We need to focus on Jesus, upon the claims and callings the Lord has placed upon us, and follow Him.
John was not perfect either, but while Peter had to be told again, "Follow Me," John was already following, faithfully.
First of all, he was "the disciple whom Jesus loved." Notice he did not call himself the disciple who loves Jesus, although I'm quite sure he did. John put the emphasis, the center, on God. True disciples are God-centered, reveling in God's gift of grace, relishing God's gift of faith, and rejoicing in the love of God's Son.
Secondly, he was "the disciple who leaned (on Jesus)." Faith equals trust. Discipleship equals dedication. To trust in Jesus and be a dedicated disciple one must lean on the Lord, always and especially when the times are tough. Nominal Christians and false disciples eventually walk away from Christ, usually when a rough patch or an easy temptation gets in their way. Real disciples lean on the Lord, lean on His word, the Bible, and persevere until the end of this life and beginning of the life to come.
Third, he was "the disciple who is bearing witness." Does your life point people to Jesus Christ, repel them away from Him, or have no gospel effect upon others at all? We will not be called upon to write a Gospel, but we are all called to share the gospel. Doing so, with our lips and lives, is the defining characteristic of genuine disciples, true believers, real Christians.
"Follow Me." Hear Jesus' words. Heed His call. Help others to know Him. The Gospel of John was written long ago, but the book of Christianity is still being published. Be a verse, be a page, be a chapter. Be a Christian, be a believer, be a disciple.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]