John: A Canonical Discipleship Manual

by | Jan 16, 2020 | Devotional

Christians love to talk about discipleship. We know it’s our responsibility, and we have all kinds of programs to do it. As a pastor, I have a shelf of books on the subject. Discipling others is critical. Making disciples is critical. It’s the Great Commission. But discipleship isn’t just something we do to others. We do need to be actively discipling others, but we must also remember to take our own discipleship into account.

Disciples are followers, the kind who knows “how to follow Jesus in any situation,” as Kevin Vanhoozer puts it (41). So it’s foundational for disciples to know who it is they’re following. And the Gospel of John says much about who the Lord Jesus is and what it means to follow Him. Think about it. John walks readers through the gospel message—what it means to put your faith in Christ for salvation. He covers belief and action, relationship, and following. Jesus Himself makes three explicit statements on the marks of discipleship. Disciples keep the words of their Master (John 8:31). Disciples love other disciples (John 13:35). Disciples produce fruit (John 15:8). Jesus tells us what disciples do. And to top it off, there’s the “Beloved Disciple” who provides a model disciple. In John’s Gospel, we learn about Christ from His example and His instruction to His followers, the very first disciples.1I owe credit to Mylven R. Hillmer, who convinced me of this through his chapter “They Believed in Him: Discipleship in the Johannine Tradition” in Patterns of Discipleship in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 77–97. My premise then is if Christians want to follow Jesus, they have to know who He is. And reading the Gospel of John teaches us who He is. And, helpfully, John includes seven “I am” statements of Jesus accompanied by a predicate, telling us exactly who He is. Here they are. 

1. “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).

He permanently satisfies our desire for life. 

2. John 8:12 – “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

He shows us the way to follow in a world of darkness. 

3. John 10:7 – “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7).

He’s our entrance into security and fellowship.

4. John 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).

He’s our guide and protector.

5. “I am the resurrection, and the life” (John 11:25).

He’s our hope in death. 

6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

He’s our certainty amidst perplexity.

7. “I am the true vine” (John 15:1).

He’s our source so we can be productive for God.

These statements on the Lord’s identity lend themselves to a sermon series. I’ve included my outlines at the end for anyone looking for ideas. 


Discipleship is all about following. John tells us who Jesus is. Then the reader must decide if this is someone they want to follow. Back in the very first chapter of John, Jesus is walking along in this scene. And there’s John the Baptist standing with two of his followers. John the Baptist looks at Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” So John’s two disciples start following Jesus. And then Jesus turns around, sees these two guys following Him, and asks them in John 1:38, “What are you seeking?” This is a probing question. What are you seeking? You, the reader! Are you seeking to be a follower of the Lord Jesus? To do so, you have to know who He is. You have to know Him and what He has done. To follow Him, you must know who He is. Want to know who He is? Study the Gospel of John, a canonical discipleship manual.

Featured Image: Mother Stories from the New Testament: A Book of the Best Stories from the New Testament that Mothers Can Tell Their Children. Philadelphia: Howard E. Altemus, 1906. 

Sermon Outline Examples

Week 1 

Title: How do we know what a disciple is?

Proposition: There are marks that identify a true disciple.

I. A disciple sticks to the Word of God (John 8:31–32).

Application: You need to be in the Word of God every day.

II. A disciple loves other disciples (John 13:34–35). 

Application: A great way to love others is to pray for them.

III. A disciple is fruitful (John 15:5–8).

Application: How can you produce fruit in your own life?

Week 2 

Title: How can a disciple be satisfied?

Proposition: Jesus is the only permanent satisfaction for our deepest desire. 

I. Our nature is never to be satisfied (John 6:31). 

Application: Are you satisfied with knowing the Lord, or are you seeking satisfaction elsewhere?

II. We need spiritual nourishment, not just physical (John 6:32–33).

Application: Do you have a spiritual hunger?

III. Only Jesus can provide you with permanent satisfaction (John 6:34–36).  

Application: Have you accepted the Lord’s offer of salvation?

Week 3

Title: How does a disciple know whom to follow?

Proposition: Jesus is the light that guides us to the truth.

I. Jesus is our credible guide from above (John 8:12–14).

Application: Are you walking in spiritual darkness?

II. Jesus was sent by God the Father (John 8:15–18).

Application: Are you thriving in spiritual light?

III. Jesus guides us to the Father (John 8:19–20).

Application: Are you following the Light?

Week 4

Title: How can a disciple know they have security?

Proposition: Jesus is the protector who guards His flock. 

I. Jesus is the door who protects (John 10:7¬¬–8). 

Application: Do you understand eternal security?

II. Jesus is the door who provides the way to salvation (John 10:9). 

Application: How do you get spiritual nourishment?

III. Jesus is the door who provides life (John 10:10). 

Application: How rich is your Christian life?

Week 5

Title: How does a disciple know they are cared for?

Proposition: Jesus wants a loving relationship with His sheep. 

I. The Good Shepherd sacrifices for His sheep (John 10:11). 

Application: Do you believe Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is truly good?

II. The Good Shepherd cares for His sheep (John 10:12–13).

Application: Does Jesus really care about you?

III. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and they know Him (John 10:14–15).

Application: How well do you know your Shepherd?

Week 6

Title: How does a disciple know their eternal destiny?

Proposition: Life after death is only found through Jesus Christ.

I.  Death is a problem (John 11:20–22).  

Application: Why is death such a problem for man?

II.  The Lord promises the solution of a resurrection (John 11:23–24).

Application: What importance does a bodily resurrection hold for Christians?

III. The Lord promises the solution of eternal life (John 11:25–7).

Application: How do you live a life that displays confidence in Christ?

Week 7

Title: How does a disciple know they’ve chosen the right way?

Proposition: There is only one way to the Father. 

I.  Disciples know they have a place in heaven (John 14:1–2).  

Application: We should find great encouragement in trusting the Lord when our hearts are troubled.

II.  Disciples know they will be taken to heaven (John 14:3–4).

Application: We should find great anticipation in expecting the return of the Lord. 

III. Disciples know the way to heaven (John 14:5–7).

Application: We should find great freedom in following the Lord. 

Week 8

Title: What does a disciple do?

Proposition: Disciples bear fruit. 

I. Abide in Christ to be fruitful (John 15:1–4).

Application: God chastens His children.

II. Abide in Christ to not be burned (John 15:5–6).

Application: Do not turn from the faith.

III. Abide in Christ to glorify God (John 15:5–8).

Application: Produce the fruit of prayer.

Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall