And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”(Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)
The words of Jesus found at the end of Matthew’s gospel are known as the “Great Commission,” and have long been considered the marching orders for Christ’s church. Contrary to how it may appear in the English translation, there is only one imperative in Jesus’s words. Jesus’s command, the imperative at the center of His instructions, is to “make disciples.”
Making disciples happens in two parts: (1) share the gospel, and (2) help people grow in the gospel. We want to share the gospel so that people can repent of sin and believe in Christ for salvation. As they come to faith in Christ, we labor to see them grow in faith.
What about “Go.”?
“Go” is describing the command, “make disciples.” In the Greek, it is an adverb, a participle describing the command to “make disciples.” In a sense, Jesus is saying, “as you go,” or “while you are going, make disciples.”
The implication is that throughout our going, throughout life’s ins and outs, we are to be making disciples. This is especially key for parents. In the spirit of Deuteronomy 6, we are to teach His Word to the next generation as we go: “You shall teach [the Lord’s commands] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:7–9, ESV) Again, as you go and wherever you are, make disciples of your children.
This is the method of disciple-making: take people with you. Parents, when you are going to minister, volunteer, deliver a meal, or decorate for an event, or encourage someone in the hospital, take your kids with you. Take others with you. But not just parents, all of us! Find people in your life that you not only study Scripture with but people that you act on Scripture with. Believing is only genuine when it results in doing.
Before we leave the idea of “Go,” we must also say that there is included a definite sense of intentionally going to people and places with the deliberate intention to share the gospel. We must be engaging the world around us so that we can take the light of the gospel into dark places. We want to be building relationships and going into places to that Christ has representation and a voice in places where He does not yet have a representation or a voice. So, let’s GO into these places, let’s GO to all people, and as we are going, let’s be making disciples.
But the command to “make disciples” is also modified by our Lord with two other participles. In addition to the participle “Go,” we also are told that making disciples involves “baptizing” and “teaching.”
When someone comes to believe in Christ and surrender their lives to Him, baptism is that first step of obedience. When a new believer goes under the water, it is symbolic of dying to their old self and when he/she comes out of the water, it demonstrates that they have been raised to walk in new life. It symbolizes the change that has happened in their hearts, crucifying the old self and choosing new life in Christ.
Finally, the participle “teaching” leads us back to where we started. We mature in our faith as we learn “to observe all that [He] has commanded.” Being a disciple is a lifelong journey of learning and being changed by what we learn. But as we teach and train (and learn) as disciples, we must recognize that teaching is not merely about knowledge. Paul warns us that knowledge can puff us up, makes us arrogant, and even deceive us. But knowledge in love of our Savior leads to obedience, and knowledge in the service of love for others transforms our desires and our behaviors.
Teaching includes information and knowledge, but it is also training. What do we do with that knowledge? How does it change us and what does change look like? …in my life? How does change influence my desires? How does maturity transform how I view marriage and what I want out of my marriage? How does being a disciple influence how I parent my children or what I want for my children? As I disciple of Christ, how does my business look different than others’?
Every area of our lives should be impacted by discipleship as we make disciples and grow in our own journey as a disciple. Walking faith together, with a local body of believers, we need coaching, encouragement, and accountability. We learn to pour out our lives, serving others more and demanding less. We learn to consider own another as better than ourselves. We seek to outdo one another in showing honor. We divide our sorrows, share our burdens, and multiply our joys. We begin to see Christ in our lives and in our midst as we seek to know Him, and honor Him.
Christian, is your church a disciple-making church? Is your home a disciple-making home? Are others growing in their faith because of their relationship with you? Are you engaging the world around you so that Christ has a representation and a voice?
If you cannot answer those questions as enthusiastically as you would like, or if you don’t know how to answer… that’s okay. Join the club. But let’s strive together toward increased faithfulness, so that the next time we consider this Great Commission, we can joyfully praise God for the change we see in our lives.