W. Peter Gadsby
Summing up the law of God for human relations, Jesus calls on us to love our neighbors as ourselves. There are of course innumerable ways to show proper loving interest in the well-being of others. But the Lord also sums them up like this: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12).
Now ask yourself, if you are a Christian, "What is the best thing that ever happened to me?" You'll be able to think of many good things: family life, good work, happy retirement, etc. But what are all these worth, compared to receiving the gift of salvation? When you trusted Jesus, you became an heir of God, an heir of the new creation. What are all the riches of this age in comparison with this?
The story is told of a tycoon who wanted to "take it with him" when he died. After much high-powered representation, permission was finally given: "Yes, you may bring one suitcase only of your earthly wealth." The man had soon filled a large case with ingots of gold bullion. In time, he died. Approaching customs on the border of heaven, he could be seen dragging his heavy suitcase and brandishing his specially stamped customs declaration. After some altercation with the angel on duty, St. Peter was called to adjudicate. Confirming the validity of the declaration, he asked to see the contents of the tycoon's case. With a triumphant smile, our hero opened the lid. Peter looked inside. "I don't understand," he said. "Why for heaven's sake would you bring a case of paving bricks?"
Nothing on this earth is worth trading for eternal life. The dust of heaven is more valuable than the finest gold of earth! Believers are heirs of riches beyond comprehension. That is your heritage, Christian! How can you be content to have this hope yourself, when those around you are going to hell?
If you have trusted Christ for salvation because you saw your own great need, and if you desire to love your neighbor as you love yourself, then surely you must be burdened that he should hear the gospel of salvation. Our Lord's Great Commission is built upon his great commandments, for in "making disciples" we are showing our love both for God and for our neighbor in the very best possible way. Jesus says to his church:
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 you always, to the very end of the age. (Matt. 28:18-20)
The main command in these verses is "Make disciples." The Lord Jesus has given us a reproductive goal: to multiply and grow. That is why we must not be content with stagnation.
Are we a growing church? If not, are we satisfied with the status quo? If we are, then we are disobeying the Lord's clear command. There should be a holy dissatisfaction with a lack of growth in disciples.
What is a disciple? A disciple is someone committed to another person and his teaching. Christians are called to be disciples, and we are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ: that is, people who follow him, who are committed to him and to his will as revealed in Scripture.
There is an important qualification to be made at this point: making disciples is not just increasing in numbers. There are many ways in which a church can achieve greater numbers. Frustration with smallness can lead some to lose their heads, and throw out principle in order to add to numbers. But that is not making disciples, followers of Jesus' teachings.
Rather, we are to seek growth both in numbers and in spiritual maturity in Christ. This is our charter: make disciplesgrow in numbers and in grace to the glory of the Lord! How better to practice love towards our neighbor, Christian and non-Christian?
Jesus issued us a command, but he also explained what he meant. "As you go, make disciples, baptizing and teaching them."
Baptism is the New Testament sign of admission into the church. We read in Acts that new converts were added to the number of believers, and that the church grew.
This should remind us that the making of disciples is the responsibility of the church. It is not primarily that of extra-ecclesiastical teams or evangelistic organizations. Since it is our duty, we need to ask, "What are we doing to realize the goal of adding new converts to this church?" The Lord Jesus has given us our marching orders: are we obeying him?
Secondly, it reminds us that being committed to Jesus means being committed to his visible church. The baptism mentioned here is not "spiritual" (no church can administer that), but the physical ordinance. Membership in the local church is the evidence that you have really become a disciple of Jesus, for he calls us into fellowship not only with himself, but also with sinners like ourselves in a local church.
The second aspect of making disciples, according to Jesus, is teaching them. Becoming a disciple, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, is not an instantaneous event, but a lifelong process. Jesus is Lord, and so we must learn what obedience means. That is why he says, "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
(One of the major failings of mass evangelistic campaigns has been the way that little significant provision has been made for ongoing nurture of converts in soundly biblical churches. In this aspect of making disciples, we again see the importance of the local church. The word disciple means something like "apprentice"he learns by becoming associated with someone who knows the trade. He observes his teacher's example, as well as heeding his verbal instruction. Big "crusades" and united ecumenical missions have often lacked this concern for nurture in the context of a biblical church.)
How committed are we to the nurture of Christians around us in our own congregation? Are we helping each other to become disciples of Jesus? Would a new Christian feel out of his depth in our company because of a lack of sensitivity, one for the other? Do we understand our faith well enough, so we can communicate it in simple terms? Are we ready to listen to difficult questions and problems that new Christians will raise? These are just some of the questions we need to ask ourselves.
Is there anything about our church life that works against a Christian growing in Christ among us? Jesus has given his church her marching orders. We are to be in the business of making disciples, baptizing and teaching them everything he has commanded us. But how much of what we do is directed to this goal? Is there anything we should drop? Or begin to do?
Does our congregation provide a place of nurture, where people are equipped to disciple and where disciples will grow in Christ? Has that been your experience? This matter is not secondary. It is primary and crucial. How can we expect to experience God's blessing if we are not being obedient to his revealed will in this matter of making disciples?
Jesus commands us to "make disciples"not merely to make friends, or build bridges; not merely to influence and make contacts, but make disciples.
But can we do this? Isn't this the work of the Holy Spirit? Can we change the leopard's spots or the Ethiopian's skin? How can Jesus command us to make disciples?
The answer is yes, making disciples is the work of the Holy Spirit. And also, yes, the Holy Spirit uses means to achieve his ends. In particular, that means you and me!
He has given us a great weapon to tear down Satan's strongholds and set captives free. That weapon is the message of the gospel, centered on Jesus Christ: his divine origin, his human birth, his sinless life, his substitionary death, and his glorious resurrection and ascension to the Father's right hand.
The message is that Jesus Christ is Lord through his resurrection from the dead, and that the Day of Judgment is coming when he will sit as Judge. It is now time to turn from rebellion to trust and obey Jesus, and God's promise is that all who do this will be treated as if they never sinned.
It is a simple message, so what makes it effective? Answer: the power of the Holy Spirit!
How shall we know that power? By praying earnestly that the Lord would use useven usto convey this message to sinners on their way to hell, and that he would call his elect to saving faith in Christ. And he will answer those prayers. Sinners will be saved!
Notice too that this is a work to be done (literally) "as you go": wherever and whenever the Lord provides opportunity. If you are a Christian, do you look for ways to make disciples? To introduce another person to Jesus? To build up your fellow Christians in our precious faith? That is your calling, "as you go."
It is easy to become discouraged in the Christian life and in the work of making disciples. Like Peter, when we take our eyes off Jesus, the waters begin to overwhelm us. How many promising evangelists in their youth have become religious cranks, obsessed with prophecy, or Bible versions, or church traditions, or other peripheral issues in their old age?
We have in these verses a great remedy for our sinful unbelief. First, there is the stupendous fact of the gospel: Christ for us. Jesus is risen from the dead; he did die for our sins, according to the Scriptures; he is alive today; all authority in heaven and on earth is in his hands.
Second, there is the promise of Christ with us: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." By his Spirit he is with uswith us to use us, despite our weakness and in our weakness. Even because of our weakness, that all glory be his! You may not feel it, but it is true! He is with us today, and tomorrow, with the authority of the Lord of all.
That is why you and I can be effective disciplers!
Jesus' Great Commission is: "As you go, make disciples." How? Through telling them the gospel, and folding those who believe into the life of the local church. By praying and working for the spiritual growth of other Christians. Why? Because Jesus Christ is Lord.
Let us all pray that the Lord would show us how we should go about this great work in our particular city. Pray for enlightenment from his Word, wisdom for our church leaders, zeal for us all. And to our sovereign Lord be all glory!
Reprinted (slightly edited) with permission from The Presbyterian Banner, the magazine of the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia. The author is a minister in that church. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2003.