“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:1–18)

If you have read much of this site and blog, you know that there is an emphasis on discipleship. Jesus did not call us to go out and make converts; He called us to go and make disciples. Lately, I have been thinking much more intentionally about discipleship in the church, not just in the individual lives of believers. 

When we look at Jesus’ ideas about discipleship, we learn quite a bit about discipleship, and one of the best portraits He painted of discipleship is found in John 10.Though this is probably a very familiar passage to most who have attended church, it’s not often referenced in talking about discipleship. Or maybe that’s because discipleship is not often talked about in the church–but that’s another topic. For now, we’ll examine this passage and see what Jesus was telling us about discipleship.

Some Context: The Shepherd and the Sheep

The first thing Jesus says here is, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door . . .” Now, let’s stop for a moment and get some context. Jesus is talking about a sheepfold, something we may or may not have an accurate idea of. The sheep pen was a common sight in Palestine, and thus would have been familiar to His listeners. It would have been a stone or mud-brick enclosure partially roofed, or perhaps a cave in the hills. Either would have had a single point of entry and was designed to protect the sheep from wolves and thieves. The roofing was often made of briars to prevent thieves from trying to climb over the wall.

It was common for multiple families to use the same sheepfold, and so Jesus indicates that the shepherd calls out his own sheep (v. 3). Only the sheep that belonged to the shepherd would respond to his voice. In fact, a shepherd would often individually name his sheep, and thus “he calls his own sheep by name.” But the sheep wouldn’t respond to the voice of one they did know; they would flee from someone trying to imitate the shepherd’s call (v. 5)

Since the people listening to this did not understand what Jesus was trying to teach them, He explained it. First, He said that He was the door. As the door, the only way to salvation is through Him. Likewise, to truly be a part of the flock, one is required to go through Him. Anyone else offering a different way of salvation is a thief and a robber. Unlike the thief, Jesus came to give His sheep salvation, significance, and security. He came to give them life–all the things we cannot find apart from Him.

The Shepherd, Sheep, and Discipleship

Now we are going to look at some things we see in this passage about disciples and discipleship. Some are directly taught, some are implications from the text (taken with other texts). With them, we begin to get a broad picture of what discipleship should look like.

1. Discipleship must start and end with Jesus.

Jesus said I am the door. Biblical discipleship is all about the process of being transformed into the image of Christ. Therefore, anyone who will begin on this journey must go through the door of Christ. Not only that, but the goal of biblical discipleship is Christ. It’s not just mastering a body of knowledge. Rather, it is becoming like Him.

2. We imitate others only to the extent that they imitate Christ.

Throughout the New Testament we are called to imitate Christ. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice and flee from a stranger’s voice. Because we have the Holy Spirit, we can speak to each other with the same voice as Christ. This is why Paul and other writers can urge their readers to imitate them. But, we are to imitate another only to the extent they imitate Christ. And that requires seeing the fruit of their life. (See 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Thess. 3:7, 9; Heb. 13:7; 3 John 1:11.)

3. Discipleship is done in community.

The picture Jesus paints here is of the sheepfold. There are none of the sheep left outside the sheepfold (except to go out and come back in, see #4). This is a theme throughout the New Testament. While we in the west have made faith highly individualistic, this is not the thrust of the biblical writers. They wrote to people in community and encouraged them within that community to stay in community. Why is this? Because discipleship is relational in nature, and therefore can best be accomplished in community.

4. Discipleship leads to making more disciples.

Notice that Jesus said that those who enter through the door “will be saved and will go in and out.” Disciples, like sheep, aren’t meant to live permanently in the sheepfold, never venturing out. No, we are to go out as we are ready and make more disciples to bring into the fold. Notice also that Jesus said the one who enters through the door will do these things. Discipleship naturally leads to the process repeating itself.

5. Discipleship is measured by fruit-bearing. 

In verse 10, Jesus says that He came to give His sheep life. He also says that those who enter through the door (Himself) will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. We have life from the moment we are saved. Yet, what Jesus is talking about here is our experience of life. As we’re transformed more and more into His image, we experience more of that abundant life He promised. This is not primarily about things like health, wealth, success, or other worldly ideas of life. It has rather to do with viewing people and life as Jesus does, and placing our absolute trust in His goodness, no matter what.

Therefore, we can measure the extent to which discipleship is occurring in one’s life by fruit. Paul gave an excellent list of this in Galatians 5:22-23. The extent to which these are present in the disciple’s life determines his experience of life. (See also Hebrews 13:7).

6. Disciplers are devoted to the Shepherd and the welfare of the sheep.

In the analogy of shepherds and sheep, those who disciple others, coming alongside them in their journey of transformation, are really under-shepherds. They will give of themselves for the sake of the sheep. While they may not be called to literally die for the sheep, they have a willingness to “lay down their lives” for the sheep. They invest in the sheep because of their love and devotion to the Shepherd.

7. Disciplers are concerned about those not in the sheepfold.

Notice that Jesus said He had other sheep not in that fold. Not only was He referring to unbelievers who would believe the gospel, but He was also talking about those who were already His sheep, just living outside the sheepfold. That is the most dangerous place for a sheep to be, since the wolves can easily attack and kill it. One who is an under-shepherd and called to disciple others cares about these “lost sheep,” and seeks them out to bring them back into the fold.

In the end, there will be one fold and one Shepherd, and it’s the job of the Body to see that come to pass. We are to bring them in, that the fold may be full.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s