The identity and mission of the disciples of Jesus

Who am I? And why am I on this earth? These are two of the fundamental questions every human being has to wrestle with in one form or another at one point in time or another. In short, all of us think about our identity and our mission.

Disciples of Jesus, however, do not have to wonder long about their identity and mission. In chapter 17 of John’s gospel, we find the Master explicitly stating the identity and mission of his disciples.

The Identity: Not of this world

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:16)

The idea of not fitting in or not belonging often causes us much anxiety and worry. Such anxiety is seen most visibly among teenagers, although it exists among people of all ages.

The disciples of Jesus are not of this world just as Jesus was not of this world. They do not belong here.

However, the truth that the disciples do not fit in with the world, or that they do not belong here is only part of the truth. The other glorious truth is that they belong elsewhere. They belong to a much better place.

Paul says that their citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). And Jesus said he is going to prepare a place for his disciples. (John 14:2).

These truths have tremendous implications for the disciples of Jesus.

Their possessions are not of this world

The disciples of Jesus lay up their treasures in heaven, not on the earth (Matthew 6:19-20). Disciples of Jesus hold loosely to their possessions, being willing to sell them and give away the money as expressions of love for one’s neighbour (Acts 2:47). Their generous ways of living once astonished the Emperor of one of History’s greatest empires.

Their passions are not for this world

The disciples of Jesus do not conform to the patterns of the world. They dance to a different beat. Their hearts do not beat for the same passions and lusts that move the hearts of others. Their hearts beat for the salvation of the world, for the glorification of their bodies and for the reign of their King. The hearts of the disciples beat for the downtrodden and the oppressed. They establish hospitals for the sick, schools for the illiterate, old age homes for the elderly and orphanages for the parent-less.

While the world craves power and money… While the world craves to serve the self, the disciples seek to serve others.

The Mission: Sent Into the World

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:18)

As humans, we long to be where we belong. We want to be among people who love us. And so it is not surprising that many of us disciples may often forget to notice verse 18 of John 17. In verse 18 we see that Jesus sends us into the world.

How does Jesus send the disciples into the world?

It is as the Father sent Jesus into the world. Or in other words, the mission of the disciples is to mirror the mission of the Master.

They live with the people

The Master came down to live with people. As the popular hymn puts it, he left his father’s throne above. And why did he do so?

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17)

The disciples have a priestly calling as their Lord had (1 Pet 2:9). Therefore, they live with the people so as to be like them.

And so we see missionaries such as Amy Carmichael who lived in India and identified herself as an Indian. We see William Carey of India; we see David Livingston, who lived with the Africans to the extent that his heart was buried there.

They love the people

The disciples of Jesus love the people amongst whom they live. Just as their Master loved people to the extent of laying down his life for them (1 John 3:16), the disciples seek to love people self-sacrificially.

The love of the disciples for the people is often seen in two other areas: in how the disciples love the culture of the people amongst whom they live, and in how they love the language of the people.

They love the people by loving their culture

The disciples actively love the culture of the people amongst whom they live. Their Master was an active participant in the cultural life of people. He attended weddings (John 2:2) and festivals (John 5:1), frequently visited the synagogues (Luke 13, Mark 3), and was involved in a common trade of the culture as a carpenter.

The disciples likewise love the culture of the people they serve. They write works of literature, such as prose that hadn’t existed before, or epic poetry that lasts for centuries.

They love the people by loving their language

The disciples of Jesus emulate their Master in loving people by speaking a language the people understand. Not only did the Master speak in the common language of the people, but he also used parables that the people easily understood and related to.

Likewise, the disciples of Jesus love the language of different peoples. And therefore, they translate the Bible into different languages. This often requires them to develop written scripts for languages that do not have such scripts. They develop dictionaries, works of grammar and other works of literature.

Being Salt and Light

When the disciples of Jesus live out their identity and carry out their mission, the world becomes a better place. They act as salt that slows down the rot in society; and as light that exposes and brings to light the evil and corruption of the world. And those are the two metaphors that Jesus — who himself was the light of the world — used to describe his disciples.

Being Indian and Christian

Being Indian and Christian is my weekly newsletter in which I try to understand the world (popular culture or news and events from India or around the world) from a Christian worldview. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’d be honoured if you signed up!

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