This article was originally posted in 2013, and can be found here.
Matthew 28:18-20 says:
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with youalways, to the very end of the age.”
You may have heard some say that these verses are ‘The Great Commission’, not ‘The Great Suggestion’, and that is certainly true. Jesus didn’t give these words as an ‘it would be nice if you could do this’ kind of statement. No, I can imagine Him speaking these words with absolute power and conviction, just like any commanding general would when speaking to his soldiers. Why are these verses important though? You see my suspicion is that like me, many Christians have ‘over-learnt’ this passage and have begun (if not already) to grow cold towards it. But, how can this be? How can anyone grow ‘cold’ towards the Word of God that is ‘living and active’?1 My conclusion is that most of us are either mistaken or have a lack of understanding on what this passage (and possibly other parts of the Bible) actually say. Therefore, to understand the importance of this passage, we need to re-evaluate what we know about it.
What we know
So, let’s begin to look at this passage again from what we already know. Fundamentally, we know that this passage is about discipleship. I was at a high school conference today and the theme was on discipleship2. After the conference we invited our delegates to fill out a response form that had several boxes to tick such as ‘I am already a Christian’ and in another box ‘I am convicted to be a disciple’. A few high school girls then went up to one of our team members and asked ‘what is the difference between being a Christian and being a disciple?’ I think this is the point where many people miss out. My guess is that many people don’t truly understand the nature and implications of discipleship. We have models of discipleship such as one-to-one bible readings, or structured discipleship classes, but how many of us have carefully sat down to understand what being a disciple means?
Difference between being a Christian and being a disciple
Discipleship, simply put, is obedience. We read this in verse 20 of The Great Commission – Jesus telling His disciples to teach others to obey everythingthat He commands of them. Notice how I bolded obey and everything, because Jesus actually means it!
Therefore we come back to the question, is there a difference between a Christian and a disciple of Christ? Well, yes and no. There is a difference if your definition of ‘Christian’ is a person who attends churches on some Sundays (or only on Easter and Christmas), who rarely prays (but when he/she does, it is mostly before meals or when in trouble), who rarely reads his/her Bible (if they do, it’s probably a church where not opening your Bible is a bad look), and ticks the ‘Christian’ box on the census. As a matter of fact, there is a BIG difference if that’s what your definition of Christian is! So yes, there is a big difference between cultural-Christianity and being a disciple of Christ!
A cultural-Christian is the one who merely hears, but the disciple of Christ is the one who hears and acts.
Jesus says of this person, ‘who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them’3. You see these three very distinctive actions: coming, hearing, and acting. My fear is that many who call themselves Christians have stopped at hearing. That being said, if your definition of ‘Christian’ is an individual who radically obeys everything that Jesus says (although doing so imperfectly), then there is no difference between a Christian and disciple because they are both the same thing.
What difference does it make?
Given the ‘difference’, why is it important that we be disciples and make disciples? Well, here’s the thing: it is fundamental to your Christian walk, and God’s desire and will.
Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 is a command to all believers. He tells us:
1) to make disciples of all nations
2) baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
3) teaching them to obey everything He commands.
What is interesting is the sentence that follows: ‘and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ Dear Christian, have you felt spiritually dry? Have you felt distant from God? Do you sometimes feel like He isn’t there? Do you sometimes feel burnt-out, worked-out and just ‘over it’? Well, let me follow on with a question: ‘are you making disciples’? Because have a look: Jesus says that ‘I am with you always’ as you do those three things to make disciples! It is when we make disciples that we experience God working in our lives! Making disciples is a really sanctifying process!
During the course of making disciples we get to re-experience the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, to the praise and glory of our Father.
And so it is during this process that we are spiritually refreshed and regain a sense of intimacy with God. Brothers and sisters, I promise you that if you want to experience absolute, radical, life changing, and life transforming spiritual renewal then you need to start being a disciple who makes disciples!
You don’t need to read the Bible a lot to realize that the whole book is about Jesus, sin, and the need for people to respond to Jesus’ call for salvation. Therefore, when Jesus calls each disciple to make disciples He is asking you to go out and spread this good news for people who either don’t know it, or think they know it but actually don’t. You see, this world needs Jesus. Why? Because the whole world is under the condemnation of God because of our sin, and we desperately need a Saviour who will rescue us from the coming judgement. In our sin we reject God and end up trying to find meaning and joy apart from Him to fill our lives.
You don’t need to go or look very far to see the emptiness within the souls of those who are lost and wandering. In their attempts to find meaning they settle for things that promise to bring joy. Yet, just like the serpent in Eden, these promises turn out to be pure lies. Let me ask you a question: Does the state of brokenness in society and within non-believers drive you to your knees, desperately crying out for God to do something miraculous? I’m not speaking as one who is superior to those who are seeking, nor should you ever feel that way. None are superior to the other because we are all equally in need of that ‘joy’. Brothers and sisters, don’t ignore this reality. Don’t get on with your Christian life with one eye shut to the truth that many who don’t know or accept Christ are on a one-way street to complete and utter destruction. Praise be to God that He does not leave us helplessly looking for this joy. I trust (and hope) that you understand that God’s ultimate plan to display His glory by saving wrecked, hopeless, and dead sinners like you and me through His Son.
Our joy, His Glory
Back to our original question, ‘why discipleship?’ Simply put, it is for our joy, and His glory. It is for our joy as we receive true spiritual renewal, which is the reminder that Christ is everything we need in this world. And, it is for His glory as we tell the world this very same message and when these people turn to Him. In the words of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer –
‘Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.’
So go, and make disciples.