Discipleship of Jesus begins not simply with following his teachings in our inner heart. Rather, as the Gospel of John makes clear, discipleship first is a matter of dwelling with Our Lord in the Church.
In the Gospel of John, the disciples overhear John the Baptist proclaiming that the Word made flesh is the Lamb of God. Notice that John the Baptist does not present an argument about the identity of Jesus. He makes a proclamation, inviting those assembled to look and see who Jesus is.
Jesus turns this invitation upside down, asking the two disciples, “‘What are you looking for?’” (Jn 1:38). Here, Our Lord summons the disciples to move from the act of physical beholding to spiritual seeking — to recognize Jesus not merely as another teacher but as the light that shines into the darkness.
The disciples are slow to see who Jesus really is. They behold him initially as a teacher, one who has come to explain the Law. But their eyes are opened over the course of the day of dwelling with Jesus.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, finally recognizes Jesus for who he is: “‘We have found the Messiah’” (Jn 1:41). In Andrew’s budding profession of faith, Simon comes to see Our Lord, and his life is changed forever.
Discipleship, therefore, is learning to dwell with Our Lord, letting all our senses be transformed to recognize Jesus for who he is. Like Samuel, we are to sit in the presence of the Lord, in the temple of the living God, and profess, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sm 3:10).
To become a disciple means to dwell in the presence of Jesus, letting every dimension of our existence become open to the transformative gift of Christ in our lives.
Such a transformation is not merely a matter of affection or a private proclamation of Christ’s lordship. Instead, discipleship is a transformation of the public space of our very bodies, as St. Paul notes: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor 6:19).
The disciple dwells so closely with the Lord, abiding with him, that the body itself becomes suffused with the gift of the Spirit. The presence of the Lord dwells in a bodily way with the disciple, who lives no longer as an individual entity.
Rather, to profess the lordship of Christ means that every dimension of our being is now lived in Christ in the context of the Church. We become ecclesial persons, who are called to share ourselves as a sacrifice of love for the world.
Thus, for the disciple, the goal is not a private encounter with the Lord. Instead, it is learning to dwell so closely with Jesus that we share our whole selves in imitation of the Word made flesh.
Discipleship means following Christ’s teachings. But this following is not a matter of trying to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Instead, Christian discipleship is dwelling with Our Lord, perceiving who he is, and then letting ourselves be transformed through this encounter to become a living offering to God.
Thus, for the Christian, there is no separation between the sacramental and the ethical life. In the sacraments, we dwell with the living God, abiding with Our Lord.
This sacramental encounter then leads us to offer ourselves in love to the world.
For in the encounter with Christ, we discover that discipleship isn’t about the individual alone.
The disciple’s very life has been called as a gift to the world.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.