Discipleship is about identity – identity in Christ.
This is clearly illustrated in Mark. Mark’s Gospel was written for two primary purposes: to tell his readers that Jesus is the promised Messiah-King and to call people to follow him. In other words, Mark is all about discipleship: making disciples through the gospel and building disciples through the story of Jesus.
In Mark 1:16-20, we find Jesus calling disciples to follow him. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls two sets of brothers to be his disciples. Notice how following Jesus is directly related to identity.
Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:16-18)
Introduction of the characters: We are first introduced to Simon and Andrew in Mark 1:16. Of
all the things Mark could have told us about these brothers in order to introduce them (their home town; their father’s name; etc.), he introduces them as fishermen. In fact, he makes this abundantly clear: “they were casting into the sea, for they were fishermen.” If the act of casting wasn’t clear enough, Mark says directly “they were fishermen.”
Calling: When Jesus calls them, he gives them a new identity: fishers of men. The calling is to follow Jesus with the result that he would make them fishers of men. Thus, the calling relates directly to the introduction of the characters.
Response: Hearing Jesus’s call, Simon and Andrew respond by “leaving the nets” and following Jesus. The old identity is left behind as they respond to the call to follow Jesus. The response is directly related to their identity.
James and John (Mark 1:19-20)
Introduction of the characters: We are introduced to James and John in Mark 1:19. Of all the things Mark could have told us about James and John, he highlights their father’s name. Of course, they were also fishermen, but they are introduced as the “sons of Zebedee” most fundamentally.
Calling: Mark moves quickly through the calling, only informing us that Jesus called them. The response will further clarify the calling.
Response: In response to the call to follow Jesus, James and John “leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men went away after him.” Notice the repetition of Zebedee’s name and the emphasis on James and John leaving him to follow Jesus. Again, the response to follow Jesus is directly related to their identity.
What does this teach us about discipleship? Discipleship is primarily about identity. In both of these call stories, the calling to follow Jesus related directly to the fundamental identity of those called to discipleship. Simon and Andrew were fishermen. They were called to leave this vocation and given a new one: fishers of men. James and John were the sons of Zebedee. They were called to leave their father and find their primary identity: not as the sons of Zebedee, but as disciples of Jesus.
Discipleship, then, is not so much about a set of tasks, but about a new identity: follower of Jesus. The new tasks follow from the fundamental change in identity.