Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.
Looking at Jesus’ last words before His ascension, we can see how the great commission tells us our goal, what we need to do, and what we should do once that is achieved:
- Make disciples
- Baptise them
- Teach them to do the same
I find it rather funny that Jesus never expanded on that first point: “Make disciples.” It has always remained that very direct end goal with no real how-to ever given. There’s no 12-step program, Romans road, or Evangi-cube exposition given to the apostles. Instead, He leaves it rather open-ended and, honestly, I’m glad He did. You see, by not giving us a roadmap to discipleship, Christ emphasized the work-less, God-focused nature of salvation; He forced us to look back on His example; and He gave us freedom to evangelise in the way best fitting our personalities and talents.
Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus mentioning and alluding to the fact that there is no way to salvation except through Him (cf. John 14:6). He is not telling the disciples to seek salvation through the law, as Paul would later admonish the Galatians against, but that He is the only true source of righteousness and the only source sufficient to cover a lifetime’s worth of sin. All of this culminated on the cross when, as Christ died, the temple curtain tore, signifying that the barrier of sin between man and God was now broken. It was not the law that brought salvation, but Christ.
Christ also drew many to him and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God. His is the example we follow, when we evangelise and disciple those around us. Christ showed evangelism in a number of ways, all tailored around the individual he was meeting with. When talking to Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus spoke as an academic, with well-worded arguments and reasonings. When He was speaking to the woman at the well (John 4), however, His approach was loving, yet confrontational of her sins, ultimately offering rescue and salvation from the burden of it all. These are just two examples; there are countless more showing “how to evangelise.”
With discipleship, however, we see a more consistent theme running: Christ calls, Christ teaches, then Christ sends. Note that those whom He called already knew of who He claimed to be. They didn’t necessarily know Him, but they knew of Him and were expecting Him. So, we can say that discipleship follows evangelism, which makes sense. Yes, it’s true you can disciple someone to salvation – that happens often in churches, especially in Sunday school or youth group – but for true discipleship to develop, it must be with a current Christian. That doesn’t mean that the great commission is telling us to forgo evangelism. No, Christ said to make disciples, so we need to evangelise before we can even get to that step, as though it were a step 0.5 of sorts.
Which leads me to my last point, Christ gave us freedom in evangelism. Christ gave examples during His time on Earth, true, but He also gave us very unique skills and personalities in order to reach the disparate peoples of this planet. I, for one, am terrible at conveying the Gospel to a feelings-oriented person, but I can talk evolutionary theory and philosophy while tying in basic theology till the cows come home. God made me able to reach specific types of people very well and He gave me the passion and desire to evangelise to them as well. Now, that doesn’t mean I forgo evangelism to all people – I am to be preaching the Gospel to everyone I meet and, often, God uses my deficiencies to act in ways that blow my mind. Rather, it merely means that I am well-equipped in a specific area.
Bringing everything back to the Great Commission, Jesus didn’t give us an explicitly worded roadmap to get from point A to point B. Instead, He gave us a list of checkpoints. How we reach those checkpoints is up to us and we have been given the tools to do so. So, with our skills in hand, let us evangelise to and disciple those we come across, to the best of our abilities, in in the way that means most for them, bringing God the glory at their salvation and subsequent obedience, bringing in turn more disciples to further the work assigned to us.
A current medical school applicant, James grew up on the missions field in Cape Town, South Africa. He graduated from Liberty University in May 2014 and is seeking, ultimately, to serve as a missionary doctor. Read more from James at Third Culture Musings.