The Great Commission And What It Means To Make Disciples

Go then and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you…

These words as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20 are quite a mouth full. From these verses we have clear instruction on what work needs to be done, as well as how to do the work.

The work can be broken down into the following tasks:

  • Go and make disciples of all nations
  • Baptise the new disciples into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
  • Teach the new disciples what Jesus commanded His disciples

The disciples understood the message of the Gospel, as they had experienced it first-hand. Jesus was the Messiah, the Saviour of all. He made Himself known to a few, and started a movement that began with a small group of people that would eventually spread all over the world. In the eyes of the Roman government this was probably the first illegal network marketing scheme, except it was legit. The goal was to make disciples who would in turn make more disciples.

However, to be effective at this task Jesus gave them the formula: they had to actively go into all nations, they had to teach His commandments, and they had to baptise those who became Disciples of Christ. While the goal of evangelism is making disciples, the objective is to intentionally stay true to Jesus’ commandment in how we are to go about executing this task, which is every Christian’s ministry – the Ministry of Reconciliation.

Task #1: Making Disciples

What is a Disciple of Christ?

In John 8:31 Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples.” In John 3:3 Jesus said, “…I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.”

When we bring these two verses together we understand what it means to make disciples. God is not interested in merely a ‘decision’ for Christ. Effective Evangelism is more than just talking about Jesus. Effective Evangelism is the preaching of the Good News in such a way that when men respond to what is preached, they become true born-again children of God who will do their part and partake in the Great Commission, who will not run away after the first battle is encountered.

The commandment given by Jesus to make disciples was recorded by Mark as follows in Mark 16:15-16, “And He said to them, Go into all the world and preach and publish openly the good news (the Gospel) to every creature [of the whole human race]. 16He who believes [who adheres to and trusts in and relies on the Gospel and Him Whom it sets forth] and is baptized will be saved [from the penalty of eternal death]; but he who does not believe [who does not adhere to and trust in and rely on the Gospel and Him Whom it sets forth] will be condemned.”

In other words, making disciples means to preach the message of the Good News to all, leaving the decision to believe and repent with the individual. He who accepts the message (and applies it) will be saved. He who rejects the message will stay condemned.

Task #2: Baptism

Not only are we to preach the gospel in a way that will ensure those who respond are truly born-again, but we are also instructed to baptise those who come to the faith into the name of the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.

Why should we baptise?

Apart from what Scripture teaches regarding the reasons for baptism, I am of the opinion that merely obeying the instruction given by Jesus should be enough reason to carry out this command.

Baptism is not a requirement for salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly states we are saved by grace through faith alone. However, water baptism as described by the Great Commission is reserved for those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. We should not abuse this practice by baptising those who are not yet born-again, nor should we neglect to encourage baptism for those who are born-again.

In Acts 8 Philip explained the gospel to the Ethiopian and in Acts 8:36-37 we read, “And as they continued along on the way, they came to some water, and the eunuch exclaimed, See, [here is] water! What is to hinder my being baptized? 37And Philip said, If you believe with all your heart [if you have a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah and accept Him as the Author of your salvation in the kingdom of God, giving Him your obedience, then] you may. And he replied, I do believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

Clearly, coming to the Christian faith and being born-again is a pre-requisite for being baptised.

In Acts 2 we see one of the reasons why we should be baptised. In Acts 2:38 Peter said, “Repent (change your views and purpose to accept the will of God in your inner selves instead of rejecting it) and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of and release from your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Again, salvation is clearly a pre-requisite for being baptised. Furthermore, when we are baptised we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Since our commission is to make disciples who will in turn make disciples, they must be baptised out of obedience but also to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. While there are examples of those who received the Holy Spirit before they were baptised, we must not think the two events are mutually exclusive. They who received the Holy Spirit remained obedient and were baptised with water as well.

If you are a born-again Christian who is struggling with evangelising to the lost, I would really like to encourage you to get baptised if you have not been baptised since your conversion. It could be what is standing in your way to be an effective witness. It is essential we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so we can be empowered to do the work.

Acts 1:8 says, “But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth.”

Task #3: Teaching Jesus’ Commandments

In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you [really] love Me, you will keep (obey) My commands.” There are primarily two reasons why it is important to teach new disciples the same commandments Jesus taught His disciples:

  • To ensure the cycle of witnessing to the unsaved is preserved. Jesus commanded His disciples to preach the gospel to all nations. This can only happen if new disciples continue in the work.
  • The person who accepts the message of salvation and who has been made free from the bondage of sin should not continue in a lifestyle contradicting this freedom.

Think about what happens when you have violated the law and end up with a fine to be paid. If you have a fine for speeding and you do not have the means to pay for the fine yourself, you go to prison. The only way you don’t have to go to prison is if someone else pays the fine on your behalf. Now let’s say the judge hearing your case has mercy on you and pays the fine on your behalf out of his own salary, would it be unreasonable of the judge to expect you not to speed again? (See God’s Terms Of Redemption)

Since Jesus paid your fine on your behalf so you don’t have to, would it be unreasonable of Him to expect you to stop the practices that incurred the penalty or fine in the first place?

When you accept the message of salvation you are no longer your own but you belong to Jesus. If you really love Him, you should keep His commandments. The keeping of His commandments should not be confused with the Old Testament law, nor should it be seen as a way to earn your way to heaven. The Bible makes it very clear that justification comes by grace through faith alone. This is what we preach when we preach the Good News. We keep His commandments because it is what born-again children of God do out of love for our Saviour.

What then are Jesus’ commandments?

In Matthew 7:12 Jesus said, “So then, whatever you desire that others would do to and for you, even so do also to and for them, for this is (sums up) the Law and the Prophets.” In John 13:34 Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another.”

The commandment to love dominates the New Testament and sums up all of the law. In addition to these two commandments there were many other commandments Jesus gave as well, demonstrating the commandment to love God and man in a practical way.

For example, in Matthew 6:33 Jesus said, “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.”

In addition, Jesus commanded us to have faith, guard what is sacred, to not worry about tomorrow, to be baptised, to turn the other cheek and to stay humble, just to name a few.

Jesus also commanded us to preach the gospel to all nations, baptising them and teaching them His commandments. When we do this we are faithful to the ministry of reconciliation that was entrusted to us.

This is what the Great Commission is, and this is what it means to make disciples of all nations. We spread the message of the Good News, baptising those who accept the message, and teach them God’s commandments.

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