Part Two: Great Commission or Great Confusion?
A fresh look at Christ’s command to make disciples
This is Part Two of a multi-part series on intentional disciple-making by John A. Stewart
Copyright 2019 by John A. Stewart
We must understand what Christ commanded in the Great Commission before we consider how to fulfill His command. The five direct New Testament references to the Great Commission, studied in parallel, reveal important spiritual truths that are essential to becoming intentional about making disciples. The five references are presented in the sequence they occurred according to The NIV Harmony of the Gospels by Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry (copyright 1988).
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matt. 28:18-20
Then He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” – Mark 16:15
Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” – John 20:21
Then He told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you; that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He also said to them, “This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And look, I am sending you what My Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.” – Luke 24:44-49
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
Now look carefully at the five references to the great Commission. As you do, you will begin to see several spiritual truths that will bring Christ’s command into clearer focus. Five of them are listed below.
The content of the gospel. Confusion over the definition of the gospel is at the heart of the American church crisis. Is the gospel, “Jesus loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.” or, “Ask Jesus into my heart and you’re saved?”. Or is the gospel God’s renewal of the earth to a pre-Adamic state and the restoration of man to physical and spiritual wholeness and healing? In Mark’s gospel Christ commands us to preach (or proclaim) the gospel (Mark 16:15). But it is in Luke’s gospel that we learn the content of the gospel – “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His (Jesus) name.” In the gospel God calls man to repentance (under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, John 16:17) and provided him with the assurance of His God’s complete forgiveness of their sins through Christ’s (necessary) sacrifice on the cross. That’s the gospel. The gospel is not the promise of a wonderful life or the promise of a renewed earth. The first message of the disciple-making process is man’s need for salvation through the finished work of the cross. Any other message is not the gospel!
The discipleship process. Many Christians believe discipleship is teaching new believers the things of God. They see evangelism and discipleship as separate spiritual responsibilities that occur serially. The main command in Matthew 28:18-20, however, is to make disciples and this command is fulfilled by: 1. evangelizing the lost, 2. having new converts identify with Christ in believer’s baptism and, 3. training them to obey everything Christ commanded.
The focus of the commission. Christ’s command to take the gospel to the world; not to invite the world into the church (Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8). Inviting the unsaved to church does not fulfill the command to take the gospel to the entire world. We must take the gospel across the street and around the world, win people to Christ, and then invite them to join us to learn all things Christ commanded.
The power to fulfill Christ’s command. Two of the five Great Commission passages (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8) emphasize the believer’s need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to fulfill Christ’s command. Christian leaders must experience the Holy Spirit’s power to be witnesses for Christ and then train (not just exhort others to evangelize) God’s people how to rely on the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Follow Me (come with me and I will show you how, not just tell you how – author’s commentary), and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17).
The objective of the Great Commission is to make disciples. Christ didn’t command us to make church attendees, church members, or even to build buildings. He did command us to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). It is important for new believers to be baptized and join a Bible-believing church, but we must help them keep their eyes on the main objective (to become disciples) or we’ll inevitably fail to obey Christ’s command.
But one critical question remains – what is a disciple? In the next article we will take a close look at the Greek word for disciple (mathetes) and identify four characteristics of a convicted disciple – the type Jesus was looking for in Matthew 28:19.