In his book, The Holy Spirit, Billy Graham writes that discipleship is vital to the process of establishing new believers in their faith:
“One of the first verses of Scripture that Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, made me memorize was, ‘The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also’ (2 Timothy 2:2, KJV). This is a little like a mathematical formula for spreading the gospel and enlarging the Church. Paul taught Timothy. Timothy shared what he knew with faithful men; these faithful men would then teach others also. And so the process goes on and on. If every believer followed this pattern, the Church would reach the entire world with the gospel in one generation. Mass crusades, in which I believe and to which I have committed my life, will never finish the Great Commission; but a one-by-one ministry will.”
Jesus commands all His followers: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
The Great Commission contains one timeless imperative—to “make disciples.” The other action verbs in this key passage are subordinate to the main idea of making disciples. Jesus tells us: “Having gone, make disciples by baptizing and by teaching.” So, the goal is to make disciples who observe all that the Lord commanded.
Let’s examine the essential strand that each verb contributes to our understanding of the Great Commission:
The first strand is to “go” into the world. We are called to represent Christ among lost and dying people. He sends us out to meet people. Where we are is where we witness—that is our world.
The second strand of the Great Commission is to baptize new believers “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Greek word “baptize” (baptizo) literally means “to dip into” (such as when dyeing cloth) or “to surround” with water. This term often carries the idea of closely identifying with someone or something. By placing our faith in Christ, we are identified with His death on the Cross. Through His resurrection, we are also identified into newness of life. When Jesus told His followers to baptize converts, He expected these new believers to become closely aligned with Him. Our behavior becomes increasingly Christ-like. We are united in mind and purpose with Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).
The third strand of the Great Commission emphasizes life-long learning: “Teach them to observe all that I commanded you.” Through demonstration and experience, Christ taught His disciples how to live God’s way. He commands us to teach others how to walk in His ways, too. Jesus was talking about life-change. His message changes lives. When a disciple surrenders his or her life to Christ, transformation is inevitable!
The last phrase of Matthew 28:20 contains an incredible promise: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus is assuring us that when we make disciples according to His prescribed pattern, He will never leave us.
It is clear that God, Himself, gets involved in disciple-making ministries. When the Lord sees disciples baptizing and teaching other disciples, He is delighted to be in their midst! God wants every disciple to be conformed to Christ’s image. In the Great Commission, He promises to come alongside us in the disciple-making process. God will accomplish His glorious plan—and He is pleased to include us!
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