The five verses that comprise the Great Commission contain information that powerfully transformed the lives of the original recipients. But of those who heard, some doubted. Why is it that they doubted while others were stirred to worship? Surely they did not doubt the identity or the ability of the risen Lord. Perhaps they were hesitant about the future ministry entrusted to them.

The words spoken by our Lord (that we now call the Great Commission) were given to the disciples in order to comfort and assure them.

Notice the way Jesus repeatedly uses the word “all” to clarify the Commission and comfort the disciples. In the midst of their doubt, Jesus announces that He has all authority over every realm and people group. The disciples were to go and make more disciples from all the nations under Christ’s authority. And in those nations they were to teach the disciples to obey all that Jesus taught – because Christ’s authority encompasses both every land and every life. Throughout all of this, the disciples would be comforted, enabled, protected, and preserved by Christ in all places they went to fulfill this mandate.

All authority, all nations, all commandments, always present – this is the substance of the Commission Jesus gave His disciples. It is both comforting and compelling.

The Central Imperative

Many contemporary approaches to the Great Commission focus on the Lord’s instruction to go to all nations. They contend that the dominant responsibility of the Commission is to go to the nations. However, the grammar of the Lord’s statement makes clear that the central imperative of the Commission is the making of disciples. That central imperative is to be accomplished by three accompanying activities – going, baptizing, and teaching.

The Great Commission entails disciple-making.

Making disciples is at the heart of the Lord’s command. Until we have done so, we are not completely fulfilling our obligation to the Commission regardless of how many countries we have visited or how many times we have presented the gospel message.

The early church modeled this as Paul and Barnabas took the gospel message and made disciples (Acts 14:21). Making disciples is more than getting a person to make a one-time decision. It is preaching the Gospel until someone turns to Christ and becomes a permanent, public, obedient believer in Him.

Jesus sent His disciples out to make more of the same kind of disciples He made out of them.

Three ways to fulfill the Commission of making disciples:

  1. Let “discipling” direct your “going”

Going cannot be detached from discipling. Going means taking the task of making disciples and making it a way of life regardless of where a person is geographically. In fact, it seems pointless to expect a person who is not engaged in Great Commission living at home to succeed on foreign soil.

Disciple-making is not a geographically determined activity. It must be done among all nations, perhaps especially including one’s own nation. This is why churches would perhaps be well served to insist that there be ample evidence over an extended period of time that demonstrates a person’s commitment and ability to make disciples at home before committing any of God’s funds to supporting such an individual on foreign soil. This is not in any way discouraging churches from sending disciple-makers to other nations; it is simply important to observe that many who go to other nations fail because they were not doing it first at home.

  1. Connect those you have invited into the faith with the body of Christ.

Baptism is not for salvific purposes. Rather, it is the means by which people who have truly believed on Jesus identify themselves with their new Lord and with His established community on earth.

This part of fulfilling the Great Commission involves taking people who have become disciples and insisting that they become active, healthy members of a local body of believers.

Christ’s design and desire is for His disciples to be growing, healthy members of local churches, modeling gospel living and accomplishing His mission to the world through these Christian communities.

  1. Teach believers to obey all that Christ has taught.

Wilkins has it right when he states, “The completion of the commission is not simply evangelism. Rather, it means calling unbelievers to be converted and embark on the process of being transformed into the image of Jesus in lifelong discipleship.” [1]

Genuine belief is marked by consistent growth in the Word and committed obedience to that Word. More specifically, when a person is truly born again, though there may be times of failure, their life ought to manifest committed, joyful obedience to the Lord. Love for Christ and a desire to please Him may arise instinctively in the heart of a believer, but obedience is a learned behavior.

The Gospel changes you; it also will cost you. It will certainly cost you comfort and potentially your life. But we must not be surprised that sacrifice is necessary to fulfill this mandate. We should especially be convinced that the sacrifice is worth the reward.

The spread of the Gospel will result in a growing Church, exalting the glory of God throughout the world. Nothing is more precious than the glory God will share through His Church. Therefore, there is no greater privilege for me and you than to participle in this glory-driven, glory-filled Great Commission.

[1] “Matthew” in The NIV Application Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2204, p. 954.

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Sam Horn

Posted by Sam Horn

Dr. Sam Horn is the EVP for enrollment and ministerial advancement at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC. Prior to BJU, Sam served at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Northland International University, and various churches in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Sam and Beth have two children – a son in college and a daughter in middle school.