The beloved disciple chronicles our relationship journey with Christ, in his gospel. All of them are important but one is critical.
Our first relationship with Jesus begins as sheep. Jesus talks to the Jews about those who would follow Him. “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me.” Almost always the people referred to as sheep, are lost. (Luke 15) In Matt 10.6, Jesus tells disciples go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. We become His chosen sheep before we are saved and given eternal life. It is comforting but there is not much communication from a sheep to a shepherd; they don’t really speak the same language.
Of course sheep are not the only people to follow Jesus. His servants also follow him. Jesus is a shepherd Savior and he is also Lord and Master. Jesus calls us on from sheep to be servants. This relationship is closer than a sheep. Someone to join him in his work in the world so he calls us to a new level of relationship and even greater privilege. A servant loses his life to follow Jesus. They take up the cross and die to self to be where Jesus is. We can’t follow Jesus without a cross! He is going places and he will live in ways that your flesh won’t want to go. He’s going to walk past things you can’t afford to do, toward people you may find hard to love. Being a servant of God is honorable but it is not our identity.
We also have a relationship to Jesus as disciples. This was not a new term of a new concept to the twelve. Many teachers and rabbis had followers called disciples. One who is seeking to learn a life style from the master? Or master said when you’ve learned of Me you will be know for loving like me. For how we love and cover and protect and pray for and forgive each other. Jesus said to his disciples says. Go into the world and make disciples. Disciples go into the world for a different reason. To make a kingdom difference by loving other believers and loving the lost. This is a vital relationship but who we follow and how we love and what we do does not define our identity.
Later Jesus said “You are no longer servants but You are my friends if you do whatever I command you to do.” Understand how that would sound to Jewish men. Only two people in Jewish history were ever called friends of God. Moses the great lawgiver and Abraham the father of faith. God tells his friends secrets that He tells no one else. As friends we know things about God that others don’t. It is a great privilege but still not where our identity lies. All of these relationships are good but if our identity is based upon them it will always be vulnerable to condemnation and feelings of unworthiness, because we will fail somewhere. It is difficult to be a cross carrying servant every day; it is not easy to love everyone as a disciple and being His friend may be felt only occasionally.
Friend, while these relationships with Christ are valuable, the problem with all of them, is that they are all about what we can become or do instead of what Jesus has done for us. Our identity then is based upon our performance instead of His performance. But, after the resurrection He said “Tell my brothers to meet me.” Father has made us sons – that is our identity!