In recent years, scholars of the Johannine Literature have begun exploring the ethical implications of these texts with renewed interest, often challenging long-standing stereotypes of the absence of such mandates in favor of Christological and/or sectarian concerns. A corresponding extension of this developing interest lies in the study of Johannine spirituality. These interpreters have moved away from a focus on a spiritual interiority that is disconnected from concrete this-worldly existence to explore the Johannine approach to mission. In his important contribution to the discussion, Michael Gorman identifies such an approach as reading John through a “missional hermeneutic.” That is to say, transformative participation in the life of God through the incarnation of the divine into the earthly (by way of believing that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God and entering into the resulting relationship [1:10–14]) bestows a union of divine indwelling that, then, creates an outward-turning toward mission, inclusion, and active, justice-seeking discipleship.
The current essay builds upon this scholarly interest and tracks the narrative unfolding of John’s establishment of what it means to be children of God and the invitations and imperatives that ensue for all disciples that culminate in a mandate for mission in the new covenant. Through both narration and direct summons, characters in and audiences of the Gospel of John are beckoned to deeper relationship with God through Jesus as he challenges them to open themselves to what God is doing in their lives now. Indeed, Jesus’s first words of the Gospel, the query “what are you seeking?” set the tone for the invitation-as-imperative (or, imperative-as-invitation): “come and see,” made to both his first and all potential disciples (1:38–39).
The primary commandments presented across the narrative are to receive and believe Jesus as Christ and Son of God, which is manifested in abiding and loving one another in community (1:12; 13:34–35). Further, Jesus tasks inquisitors to know the truth so that it will set them free (8:31–32; 19:37–38). Some respond positively; others do not, but the hope for those who do is to have life in Jesus’s name (20:30–31). Jesus’s final challenge of the Gospel, then, is for those who believe and love to “follow me”—the underlying imperative of the entire Gospel (21:22), punctuated in the lives of real disciples who must live by Jesus’s command to believe without seeing. But this is not just a call to an interior spirituality; rather, it is a challenge to participate in the divine indwelling relationship by living the way Jesus lived: a life of concrete action through receiving, loving, and abiding with others in this world. This is the Gospel’s mandate for mission, and its purpose is to prepare audiences to do just that.