As Jesus completes his public ministry and prepares for his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, he spends his final moments with his disciples–teaching them what it means to abide in him and be his disciples on mission in the world. John 14 -15 provides a clear understanding of what it means to abide in Jesus.
Based on this text, I use two questions to develop a common language for discipleship within my church community: “Are you abiding in Jesus Christ?” and “Who are you teaching to abide in Jesus Christ?” When we teach others to abide in Christ, we follow a very simple pattern of inviting them into relationship, investing our time and lives in them, and imagining with them what their lives would look like if lived in light of the gospel.
In John’s gospel, you see a very simple yet profound practice that Jesus employs in order that his mission will continue on after his death and resurrection: the practice of invitation. In John 1:35-51, Jesus extends the invitation to Andrew, Peter, and Phillip by simply calling them to “Come and See” and “Follow Me”. Although these would-be disciples have no idea what is in store for them, they drop what they are doing and begin the journey of learning from Jesus.
If your aim is to make disciples, this practice is essential for you as well. I believe the simple and intentional practice of extending an invitation to another person in order to teach them the truth of Christ and model for them a life in Christ is what is often missing in our attempts to make disciples.
We may talk about making disciples and even hope to make disciples, but until we actually invite someone to become a disciple, we have only a stated value, not a true value.
If you were to invite someone to be a disciple and teach them what it means to abide in Christ, who would it be? Perhaps a struggling couple in your church, a neighbor down the street, an unbelieving co-worker, or even the barista at your local coffee shop? Begin to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to someone you can disciple–and when He does, extend an invitation.
Jesus spends an inordinate amount of time in John 13-17 alone with his disciples. Since he has completed his public ministry, and since he knows that he will soon be put to death publically, he takes a large amount of his time investing in his disciples.
The practical impact of this text cannot be overlooked. Think about all of the “good” things the Incarnate Son of God could have been doing with his last few moments of “free time”: he could have continued healing the sick, he could have continued calling the masses to faith and repentance, he could have even continued pleading with the Pharisees to turn from their religion and embrace Him as the Messiah. But he doesn’t do any of these things.
Instead, Jesus invests the fading moments of his earthly existence with 11 (Judas has departed) half-hearted disciples–whom he knows will soon abandon him in his greatest time of need. He gives them a symbol of his purifying blood by washing their feet. He models for them a life of service and love. He teaches them how to abide in him.
All of this shows us that if we want to make disciples of Jesus, we must invest our time and lives in a similar fashion.
We must be willing to invite people into our lives even when it is inconvenient.
We give away our time and experiences to others in order that they will grow in their faith in Christ and learn what it looks like to follow Jesus. We invest in others because he invested everything in us! As Paul says,
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)
One key concept that should not be overlooked in John 14-17 is Jesus’ expectation of what his disciples will become after he has departed. In other words, Jesus paints a picture for these disciples about the possibilities that are in store for them if they abide in him. He tells them they will receive the Holy Spirit (14:16, 26), they will be adopted into his family (14:18), they will be one with him and the Father (14:20), they will bear fruit (15:5), they will experience true joy (15:11), persecution (15:18), and a deeper knowledge of the truth (16:12-13), just to name a few!
I believe the most overlooked aspect of teaching someone to abide in Christ is this work of “imagining” a different future for them. Life in Christ is full of joy, freedom, and satisfaction.
Knowing and living out your identity in Christ is the work of discipleship, and this leads to re-creation and renewal in the life of a disciple.
We must show others what this life can look like.
As you teach someone to abide in Christ, point to the great and glorious promises that Jesus gives his disciples. Help them imagine a different reality–one where King Jesus rules over them as the Servant King, extending grace upon grace to his followers. Help them see how this affects their work, their relationships, their marriages, the future of their children, the well-being of their neighborhood and of their city. Show them how a good and gracious God can wash the feet of sinners and rescue them from their own selfish ambition and self-hatred.
Discipleship is giving them a new story, with a new plot, and a new Hero, so that they can see the incomparable alternative to their current way of life.
In order to teach others what it means to abide, we must invite them into our lives, investing our time and experiences in them, and imagine a different future for them. My hope is that these simple steps can assist us all in our calling to make disciples of Jesus, through the power of the gospel.
Greg “Gib” Gibson (@gibgibson) is an elder and teaching pastor at Living Hope, a church in the suburbs of Memphis, TN. Gib and his wife, Jill have three adorable kids.