Every job has certain occupational hazards. One of the hazards of being a preacher is getting funny looks or outbursts from the people you are preaching to.
I’ve been preaching and teaching for about a decade. I’ve seen some interesting things in that time. I know I missed a good amount in the years I preached without my glasses. I couldn’t really see anyone clearly past the third or fourth row. Now, I see it all.
By far the most hostile and aggressive hearers I’ve encountered are those who have heard me preach outside of the church building. When proclaiming God’s Word in the open-air you should expect a little more… colorful responses. Preaching in the safety of your own church building tends to minimize the negativity and hostility.
But not always.
Once when preaching on everybody’s favorite subject – obedience – a young woman emphatically crossed her arms, made eye contact with me, then stuck her tongue out. Her body language perfectly communicated her distaste for the topic at hand. She wanted to make her dissatisfaction with my topic clear to me.
I get it. Teaching obedience isn’t popular. It can be labeled as being legalistic. But it’s part of the Great Commission whether we like it or not.
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, bold added)
The Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28 only has one command: make disciples. There are three participles that are all involved in the process of obeying the commandment: go, baptize, teach. Teaching to observe does not mean teaching people to be passive spectators. It means teaching them to keep or to obey Jesus.
These ongoing activities ensure that the process will continue until Christ returns.
Making disciples is a process that involves going. Some commentators take this to mean that we must go out of our way to make disciples. Other commentators would take it to mean while we are going on our way we are to have disciple-making on our minds. Either way, movement is required. You don’t make disciples by sitting alone in your room.
No matter how you take the going, it entails evangelism. The risen Lord Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth. Jesus exercises that authority to tell His followers to go into an unbelieving world and call them to repentance and faith in Him.
Those who respond to this call are then to be baptized. This act of initiation into the community of believers is a testimony that they want to follow Christ. Making disciples requires going and it requires baptizing those who make a profession of faith.
But it doesn’t end here. Those who responded and were baptized were responding to something in particular: a call to repent and believe. They responded to an exhortation to stop living according to their own lusts and impulses and to begin living for the praise and glory of the living God.
They responded to a call to die to themselves and live for Jesus.
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, bold added)
This new way of life is not natural. If it were natural, a call to repentance would be meaningless.
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4)
Newness of life. That requires some instruction. It requires practice. It requires grace.
Any attempt to make disciples that does not teach obedience is not genuine discipleship. It certainly must be made clear that you cannot make a disciple by simply cleaning up their behavior. This is why teaching obedience is the final aspect of the command to make disciples, not the first.
Christians must understand this if we want to honor our Lord and Savior. Christians are not called to go into the world and preach obedience. We are called to preach Christ. These proclamations are very different.
When people are convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin, of the righteousness that God requires, and the judgment to come, we urge them to be reconciled to God through Christ. We counsel them to make their commitment public through baptism. Then we instruct them in the way of holiness. In doing so, we make disciples.
Biblical discipleship is a call to come to Jesus, die to self, and be conformed to the likeness of Christ by the grace of God. Discipleship is not a call to come and sit in a church building most weekends. The difference between these two things is the difference between life and death.
The Apostle to the Gentiles understood that the purpose of his ministry was to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles for the sake of God’s name.
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; (Romans 1:1-6, bold added)
Writing to the same churches that Paul planted, the Apostle Peter likewise counseled obedience.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)
The Apostles took discipleship seriously. So should we. The Great Commission wasn’t a passing fad. It is the mission of the church. We are called to make disciples. In order to do so, we must go. We must baptize all who respond. And we must teach those who are baptized to continue in the faith by being obedient to all Christ commanded.
May it be so in our generation for the sake of His great name.