In the gospel, we have the first disciples of Jesus. What does it take to be a disciple of Christ? Firstly, we must search our motives in seeking Jesus.
We read “As John stood there with two of his disciples, Jesus passed, and John stared hard at him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ Hearing this, the two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’” Indeed, those of us who want to be disciples of Jesus are asked to examine ourselves and our real motives of wanting to follow Jesus. Why are we baptized if not to live the life of Christ? But the truth is that some are baptized not because of a personal faith in Christ but for convenience, for the sake of marriage, for security, now and the future. But these are not the ideal reasons to follow Jesus. Hence, the Lord is asking those of us who chose Him, “What do you want?”
Secondly, we can follow Him only when we are interested in Jesus. Is our knowledge of Jesus a personal knowledge or is it from a secondary source? If we are content with a secondary knowledge of Jesus, we will not go far. Without a real conviction of who Jesus is, sharing in His word and life, we will never be excited about sharing His life with others. We too must come to Jesus. This was what the first disciples of Jesus did. “They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher – ‘where do you live?’ ‘Come and see,’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day.” Indeed, discipleship is being with Jesus, listening to Him, observing Him, sharing in His life and love. Unless we are ready to be intimate with Jesus and get to know Him personally, we will never be able to develop a real relationship of trust in Him. When we get to know Jesus personally, understand His mind and heart, we will then learn to appreciate His presence in our lives.
How then do we know that we know the Lord personally? When like John, we could also say, “It was about the tenth hour.” He was specific about the time because any memorable, life-changing encounter with Jesus cannot be forgotten easily. Pope Emeritus Benedict in his first encyclical wrote, “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus Caritas Est, 1) Indeed, anyone who encounters the Lord Jesus will have a radical change in His lifestyle, His perception of life.
Secondly, when we fall in love with Jesus, we will begin to understand Him as a person, not as a doctrine. We see how the disciples matured in their knowledge of Jesus, from calling Him, the Lamb of God, to Rabbi, to teacher, and then later on to Messiah, and the Son of God. Growing in conviction of who Jesus is takes time. Even though the disciples called Jesus by the glowing and honorific titles, they did not truly understand the titles that they picked up from their culture. Indeed, it took them three years to discover the full meaning of the titles that they gave to Jesus. This is because no titles could fit the person and identity of Jesus. Instead, Jesus had to change the understanding of the titles to fit Him. Hence, as disciples of Jesus, we must always be deepening our understanding of who Jesus is to us.
Thirdly, we would want to introduce the Lord to someone else. That was how the disciples of Jesus were found by the Lord when they introduce others to the Lord. “One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Early next morning, Andrew met his brother and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah” – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked hard at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – meaning Rock.” When we are not keen to introduce Jesus to another person, it means that we have not discovered Jesus to be our Lord and Messiah. This desire to lead someone to know Jesus is rooted in our discovery of who Jesus is to us, especially how He gave us a new meaning in life, signified by the way He gave Simon a new name, Peter.
In the final analysis, we are true disciples of the Lord only when we live a holy life of love and truth. Discipleship in this sense is ongoing and remains a struggle to live a life of grace. St John made it clear, “My children, do not let anyone lead you astray: to live a holy life is to be holy just as God is holy; to lead a sinful life is to belong to the devil, since the devil was a sinner from the beginning.” We are disciples of Jesus if we live a holy life that is free from sin.
But is it possible to live such a life that is free from sin? Clearly, all of us are sinners through and through. St John earlier on wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (1 Jn 1:8-10) The fact remains that we are all sinners and in need always of forgiveness.
So what does it mean when St John wrote, “No one who has been begotten by God sins; because God’s seed remains inside him, he cannot sin when he has been begotten by God”? What John is referring to is that a person who has come to know Christ gives up his or her sins. He or she wants to live a holy and good life. A person who is born of God wants to live only a life of love for all. As St John says, “In this way, we distinguish the children of God from the children of the devil: anybody not living a holy life and not loving his brother is no child of God’s.” We distinguish ourselves from the sinners of the world because they sin without desiring to change their lives. They become one with sin and often would persecute those who are not on the side of sin. That is why even when we seek to live a good life, we are attacked and ridiculed as old-fashioned because the world does want us to be a reproach to their evil and immoral lifestyle.
Struggling against sin is what discipleship is all about. Having been enlightened by the Lord, we understand sin as being destructive to our happiness. When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit lives in us and we no longer desire to live in sin but in the truth. This does not mean that in our desire to live a holy and righteous life, we do not sin. We still sin, but not deliberately, and even if we did, it would have been just a moment of selfishness and self-centeredness. Deep within us, we do not want to sin and we continue to struggle against sin.
The letter of Hebrews urges us, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Heb 12:4) Even after accepting Christ, because of our fallen nature, we are inclined towards sin on one hand and on the other, we want to resist sin. We must avoid the occasions of sin. It is not enough to desire to live in holiness if we do not protect ourselves from the temptations that come our way. If we know that we are weak and are inclined towards a particular sin, whether of lust, greed, gluttony, smoking or drinking excessively, then we should avoid those situations when we get tempted to sin. Refraining from those occasions of sin is the first concrete step to keep ourselves in holiness.
So long as we intend and struggle to give up sin, we can rely on God’s mercy and grace to save us. This is what St Paul said in his letter to the Romans, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:21-24)
In the final analysis, we depend on the grace of God to overcome sin. To live a life of true discipleship, we must remain in the Lord by asking the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts anew every time we pray, when we celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We need to renew His grace in us each day by praying the Word of God daily. We also need the Church, the body of Christ to be with us as we do not fight sin alone but with our brothers and sisters. Unless, we allow the Holy Spirit to renew us through the means provided by the Church to stay close to Him, we will not be able to live a life of holiness. So let us desire to live a life of holiness, which is to live a life of the Spirit and a life of love for others. If we live the life of truth and love, ultimately, we will prove ourselves to be disciples of the Lord.