This is the third part in a series about the Great Commission. Read last week’s blog about Jesus' authority.
“‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations … .’” -Matthew 28:19a, emphasis added
Jesus used four verbs to give the central command of the Great Commission: go, make, baptize, and teach. Out of these four, only one is an imperative verb, the verb that makes the commission a command: make.
The heart of the Great Commission is to make disciples. To do that, Jesus has told believers to go, baptize, and teach.
This may create some uneasiness in those who thought just sharing the gospel was enough to fulfill the commission. Evangelism is part of obeying the Great Commission, but Jesus does not want people to only hear the gospel. He wants those who accept Him as Lord to be built up by the Church, to be discipled by other disciples.
God wants to see fully devoted followers who understand what it means to worship Him and walk with Him throughout life.
The simplest meaning of the word “disciple” is a “learner” or a “student.” In biblical times, being a disciple often meant being an apprentice. For instance, a young man might have followed a rabbi in hopes of one day becoming a rabbi.
Disciples of Jesus learn from Him, follow His ways, and put His teachings into practice. Unlike a rabbi’s disciples, Jesus’ disciples never “graduate” to become messiahs; they are lifelong learners, abiding with Christ throughout their earthly existence. Of course, it isn’t enough to just have head knowledge of Jesus. To be His disciple, it requires a deep, abiding relationship with Him.
“‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”’” -Matthew 7:21-23
Abiding with Christ is a call to sacrifice. Being a disciple of Jesus comes at a great cost, which Jesus made clear to His original disciples.
“‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’” -Matthew 16:24-25
“‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. … In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.’” -Luke 14:26-27, 33
Though the cost is high, the gain from knowing Jesus and having a saving faith in Him far outweighs any loss from following Him.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” -Philippians 3:8-9
So who is responsible for building up new disciples of Christ? Jesus made the answer clear in His Great Commission: other disciples.
The Church has been tasked with discipling believers, teaching them to be unified and mature Christians.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” -Ephesians 4:11-13
To be mature followers of Christ, disciples must learn what it means to daily walk in obedience to Jesus. Discipleship can take many forms, but one strategy commonly used on the mission field is called the three-thirds process. This process, which is best done in small groups or pairs, helps walk new disciples through spiritual care, Bible study, and planning for how to follow God’s ways throughout the week.
Here are the steps to the three-thirds process:
- Look back: Take time to ask each person in the group, “How are you doing?” and pray for each other’s needs. Use this time to confess sin and lovingly rebuke it. You should also remind each other of each person’s identity in Christ and the need for continuing the Great Commission. You can close out your time in worship either by singing songs or reading a psalm.
- Look up: Read a passage of Scripture multiple times individually and as a group, and practice retelling the Scripture without looking at the text. Dissect the Scripture and ask yourselves, “What does this reveal about God, and what does this reveal about people?” Finish by discussing ways the Scripture can tangibly be applied to your lives.
- Look forward: Plan together how you can follow God’s Word and apply to your life this week. Practice retelling the Scripture again or practice sharing your testimony. End your time in prayer.
The main effort in discipleship is to teach others what you have learned from Jesus and to encourage a growing, abiding relationship with God. The hope is that as disciples mature, they will in turn teach others the truth in Scripture and make more disciples.
And, as lifelong disciples, it is important to remember that each of us need to continuously be discipled ourselves, even as we disciple others. There is no ceiling in learning from and abiding in Christ.
A Reproducible Cycle
As students following and abiding with Jesus, disciples can disciple others through tools such as the three-thirds process and sharing what they have been learning from the Lord.
One last key part of discipleship is teaching believers to share the gospel with others. By going to make disciples of all nations, we are ensuring the Great Commission continues until Jesus’ eventual return.
Disciples making more disciples results in multiplication. More people will hear the gospel, more people will put their faith in Christ, and, one day, people from every nation and language will praise God’s name.