The Believer’s Three Callings, Part 2
In the previous article, I argued that a fully-formed biblical worldview recognizes three callings on the life of the believer: the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Cultural Mandate. Of these, the Great Commandment is the most important, and the other two flow from there. For a number of reasons when dealing with the commandments, Jesus, Paul, and John all put a particular emphasis on loving our neighbor; in fact, John argues that we cannot love God without loving our neighbor. The biblical definition of love focuses on action more than emotion, and can be summarized as a selfless seeking of our neighbor’s highest good. This includes dealing with our neighbor’s physical needs, but it also includes looking out for their spiritual well-being. And that brings us to the theme of this article, the Great Commission.
The Great Commission is found in Mat. 28:18-20:
… 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.”
Although this passage is commonly cited in evangelism classes and missions conferences, it is not often exegeted properly. Let’s break it down.
Putting the Great Commission Into Proper Context
First, the Great Commission begins with all authority in heaven and on earth being given to Jesus. Jesus is absolutely sovereign over all powers in the seen and unseen worlds, over angels and demons, presidents and prime ministers. No one can claim authority that trumps obedience to Jesus. Any authority people have on earth has been lent to them by Jesus. The governing authorities do have authority after a fashion, but it is always subservient to the authority of Christ. Our obedience must be to him and to him alone, and our obedience to earthly authorities is to be seen as a consequence of our obedience to him.
Because this is true (“therefore”), Jesus tells us to “go … and make disciples of all nations.” Unfortunately, this translation along with virtually all other English translations does not accurately reflect the Greek text. Particularly in missions contexts, the command here is often seen as “go.” But in Greek, “go” is a participle, not an imperative. A better translation would be something like “as you go,” “in your going,” or “everywhere you go.” The imperative (command word) is “make disciples.” The point of this is that we are to make disciples wherever we are as part of our daily life. It does not tell us that we need to go somewhere, but tells us to do this everywhere we go.” We are to adopt a disciple-making lifestyle because all authority has been given to Jesus.
But what is a disciple? The Greek word means a learner, a student, or an apprentice. So when we make disciples, we are to be teaching people something. What are we to teach them? Jesus tells us: we are to teach them to observe all that he has commanded us. In other words, we are to teach them to obey the one to whom all authority has been given.
Note that it does not say that we are to convert people and then disciple them, the way we normally think of evangelism in America. Among other things, this is not how Jesus worked. Jesus spent nearly three years with the disciples before he asked for a confession of faith (Matt. 16:13-20)—in other words, he did not convert them and then disciple them, he discipled them to conversion. In obeying Jesus’ teaching, people come to know him, to experience his wisdom, and thus learn to trust him.
There are a number of very large-scale disciple-making movements taking place in Africa and Asia today that are seeing entire families converted and entire villages transformed, including in some places that have been steadfastly resistant to missionary activity for centuries. A key element of these disciple-making movements is obeying this command to teach people to obey. The fact is, if you begin following Jesus’ teachings and his example, you have a far better chance of actually seeing lives and communities transformed.
Moving From Fear to Obedience
So why don’t we obey Jesus’ command to make disciples?
First, we have a very limited notion of what evangelism is. We think about it as asking people to make a decision for Christ, to say the sinner’s prayer, to receive Christ. This is valid up to a point—there are a number of examples in the book of Acts that show people being converted and then discipled—but from Jesus’ words we see the focus should be on making disciples who are learning to obey him, not make simple converts. So we typically begin with the wrong goal in mind, though God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit can fortunately overcome even our mistaken notions and bring people to himself.
Second, we have our list of excuses for why we don’t speak up:
- I don’t know what to say.
- It hasn’t come up.
- I don’t want them to think of me as some kind of religious fanatic.
- I don’t want to be associated with televangelists.
- I don’t want to risk their friendship.
- I don’t want them to think badly of me.
- I am afraid.
The list goes on and on.
If your problem is lack of knowledge, that is easily remedied. There are a wide range of evangelism training options available to you. These tend to focus on bringing people to the point of conversion, but as long as you keep discipling in mind, they are a good place to start.
But even without training, we are the world’s leading experts on our own lives, and we should be willing and able to tell others about the impact Christ has made in us. The word “witnessing” is thrown around a lot as a synonym for evangelism, but we need to take it more literally. A witness is someone who provides testimony about something the witness has experienced. If we’ve encountered Jesus in our lives, we certainly know enough to tell others about it. That’s what witnessing is.
This brings us to another problem, one shared by those who know about evangelism inside out and those who don’t: we lack confidence and motivation to open our mouth to tell others about Jesus and to call them to repentance and obedience. Put simply, we procrastinate because we’re afraid of people. To deal with this, we need to ask ourselves a few questions:
- If Jesus has all authority, what am I afraid of? Why am I afraid of it?
- If Jesus has all authority and we are to make disciples “as we go,” why do I need to wait until “it comes up?” Making disciples is supposed to be part of my lifestyle.
- If I say Jesus is Lord but do not obey him, doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?
- Do I care more about what others think of me than I care about their souls? If so, what kind of friend am I?
- If I am content to let the people around me go into a Christless eternity, am I obeying the Law of Love?
I am not writing this to try to guilt you into sharing the Gospel. I am, however, trying to get you to think clearly about yourself, about your motivations, about what love demands of us, and of what Christ, who is Lord of all and who has all authority in heaven and on earth, called us to do in his last words before he ascended to heaven. Guilt isn’t the point; properly ordered love and obedience is.
The bottom line is this: if we are not telling others about Christ, we are not seeking their highest good and thus do not love them; if we do not love them, we also do not love God.
The Great Commandment and the Great Commission are critically important for the Christian life, but if Christ is Lord of all, then there is another task we are called to do: bringing the lordship of Christ to bear in every aspect of life and culture. This is known as the Cultural Mandate and is the topic of our next article.
The Believer’s Three Callings, Part 2
This content on the reliability of the Bible was originally printed in Decision Magazine. False Impressions “I don’t want to take a bath—I’m clean enough!” My impassioned protests as a six-year-old at bedtime were quickly rebuffed by this powerful tool from my parents’ arsenal of guilt-inducing mottoes: “The Bible says that cleanliness is next to godliness!” […]