Understanding the Great Commission

We hear it all the time. Christians need to be about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). We should care about Jesus’ commands to “make disciples of all nations.” But what exactly does Jesus mean when he says to “make disciples.” I’ve heard a lot about making converts and how many “decisions” were made at a recent revival or evangelism outreach event. I can’t help but wonder, when I hear those statements, that maybe Jesus had something far more involved in mind when he gave us this great commission.

I think Jesus is strategic when he tells us to make disciples. By this point in our reading of Matthew we already have an idea of what a disciple looks like. Jesus’ disciples were invested in by him, they spent time with him, and they knew him intimately. Perhaps Jesus is telling us to engage in something far more profound than simply checking a box on a decision card or coming forward during the altar call.

Jesus is calling us to give our lives for people. Discipleship takes hard work. It takes living life with people, knowing their struggles, knowing their past and present, and it takes getting out of our comfort zones. The command to make disciples is not a lone ranger idea. It’s done within a community of believers, the Church, who love one another. But that doesn’t mean we are off the hook if our church is fulfilling this command, and we aren’t. Even though commands are given corporately, they are also applied individually.

In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul is giving us a picture of the sanctification/discipleship process. He talks about laboring to present people “mature in Christ.” He even goes so far as to say he toils and struggles with all of his energy. When Paul talks about believers it is always as a father speaks to his children. He doesn’t leave them to fend for themselves after conversion. Rather he nurtures them, shepherds them, and stays with them. This is the process of making disciples. This is the Great Commission.

Of course, it’s not easy. It’s much easier to get people to sign a card or make a profession of faith, and then just leave them on their own. But that’s not what we are called to. Living the Great Commission requires us to be like Paul, to labor and struggle with our new brothers and sisters as they walk this pilgrim road to become more like Christ.

The very fact that Jesus tells us to make disciples shows us that there is no provision for us to abandon people at their time of decision. A young mom who is a new believer needs an older woman to walk a long side her and show her what it means to be patient with her kids and prize her husband. A fatherless, teenage boy who just was brought to Christ needs a godly older man to show him what true fatherhood looks like, and help him purge the old sin from his life.
Some of us are called to make disciples of all nations in the far corners of the earth; some are called to do it with our own family members. The point is, we are all called to go and make disciples in the sphere of influence that God has us in.