Rediscovering the Great Commission
By: Dr. Dillon Burroughs
A new Barna study shows just over half of American churchgoers were unfamiliar with the term “Great Commission.” Another 25 percent did not know what the Great Commission means. Despite the fact that the Great Commission represents the final earthly words of Jesus, many Christians can’t even define it or even know what it is.
What is the Great Commission? Historically, it includes the final command of Jesus to His followers to make disciples of all nations. It is found in Matthew 28:18-20, with similar words in Mark 16:15, Luke 24:45-49, and Acts 1:8. Matthew 28:18-20 reads:
And 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.”
The commission is to “make disciples of all nations.” The Greek word translated “nations” is a form of ethnos, referring to people groups rather than geographic countries. The gospel is to reach and change lives among every group of people on the planet, not only each country.
The Great Commission includes three important aspects in Matthew 28:18-28. First, followers of Christ are to “go.” Making disciples requires leaving our place of comfort and community to take the message of Jesus to others.
Second, making disciples involves baptizing those who believe. In the New Testament, those who believed in Jesus were baptized very close to the time of conversion. On the Day of Pentecost, 3,000 people believed in the gospel and were baptized that day (Acts 2:41).
Third, making disciples involves teaching the commands of Jesus. For the earliest church, this involved devotion to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). As time passed, the apostles and those associated with them began to write down the teachings of Jesus as led by the Holy Spirit. This collection later became known as the New Testament. Today, making disciples involves teaching the Bible to those who come to faith in Jesus and are baptized.
If you’re reading these words, you’ve likely already believed in Jesus and have been baptized. You may even be a strong student of Scripture, well equipped with the words of God. If so, how do we move from being disciples to making disciples?
Scripture is filled with numerous examples. Here are a few practical ideas to help:
- Intentionally Spend Time with Unbelievers and New Believers: You can’t make disciples without spending time with those who need to be become disciples.
- Spend Time Around Other Disciple Makers: If you know someone who is good at helping others grow spiritually, spend time with this person. Learn what he or she is doing well and follow their example.
- Mentor Someone: Many people are afraid to make disciples because they believe it involves moving to another country or becoming a pastor. Just start with one person. Who could you meet with on a regular basis to encourage in their walk with God?
- Pray for Opportunities: God wants you to make disciples. If you ask Him for help to find someone to disciple, He’ll send someone your way soon.
- Walk Closely with God: Live a daily life others would desire to copy. This is not easy, but it is necessary if you desire to effectively lead others in a growing faith.
- Use Other Resources: Many helpful resources exist to help you make disciples of others. You don’t want to rely only on outside resources, but you can use biblical materials to assist you in the process. For example, our website offers thousands of pages of content, while our YouTube channel offers over 2,500 clips on a variety of biblical topics.
- Start Small: You don’t have to commit to a yearlong program. Simply invite a friend to join you for coffee, tea, or lunch to talk about your spiritual life. Pray for one another and ask for areas where the other person would like to grow.
The Great Commission is both “great” and a “commission.” It is a blessing to practice and a responsibility to obey. As followers of Jesus, let’s commit to doing our part to make disciples of all nations with those around us today.
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Dr. Dillon Burroughs
Dillon Burroughs serves as senior writer at The John Ankerberg Show and has written nearly 40 books on issues of faith and culture. He is also an associate editor for The Apologetics Bible for Students and has contributed to many works on apologetics and Christian worldview. Dillon is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a PhD in Leadership from Piedmont International University. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Deborah, and their three children.