Does the Great Commission involve winning the lost to Christ? Of course. The salvation of souls is certainly a major emphasis in the New Testament. Jesus said that He had come to earth “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). After His death, burial, and resurrection Jesus gave instructions to His Church in the Great Commission. His charge to His followers was not just to win the lost (Mark 16:15-20 and Luke 24:47-48). It was also to bring the saved to full, mature discipleship, and this was the emphasis in Matthew’s record of Christ’s final orders to His church before He ascended back to heaven. This aspect of the Lord’s Great Commission the Church is widely failing to accomplish in our day. Are there exceptions? Of course. But by and large, the Christian Church in the world today is a far cry from the mature, well-discipled, well-taught, obedient body of believers our Lord intends us to be.
So let’s take a closer look at Matthew’s account and see where and how we can reach and bring needed change to the “mission field” within the Church.
Jesus told His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (vs. 19). First win them to Christ? Of course. Without that, the Christian Church on earth would soon disappear. But too often we stop there, thankful for souls newly saved, but quickly moving on to further evangelistic efforts, while ignoring the attention needed by new converts.
Our goal in pursuing the Lord’s Commission should be to win the lost, establish them in local churches (Acts 2:41f, 47), help them become 100% committed to Jesus, and encourage in them an ongoing zeal to grow and mature in their faith. One step in that process is our next theme from Matthew’s Commission, that is, water baptism (vs. 19).
Jesus said, “make disciples … baptizing them” (vs. 19). In Romans 6, the apostle Paul teaches extensively on the beneficial results of baptism. Our “old self [having been] crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6), we are “buried with [Jesus] through baptism” (vs. 4). Rising from the waters of baptism, where we have buried the “old self” of sin, we find that “we too may live a new life” (vs. 4), “no longer slaves to sin” (6).
When a person becomes saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, he or she should immediately be exhorted to be baptized. It is vitally important for our old self of sin and carnality to be “buried with [Jesus] in baptism, in which you were raised with Him” (Colossians 2:12). The newly baptized believer rises from the waters to “live a new life … no longer slaves to sin.” This is a vitally important step in moving forward into the mature Christian discipleship Jesus desires for each of His followers.
Jesus said, “make disciples … teaching them” (Matt. 28:20). In Acts 2:37-47 we see a massive harvest of lost souls coming to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Three thousand were baptized in one day (41)! But notice that they were not left to fend for themselves. Rather, they immediately “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (42). Psalm 119 tells us that God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and a light on our path (vs. 105) and that the entrance of His words into our lives gives light and understanding (130).
The apostle Paul’s consistent pattern in the local churches—for example, at Antioch, Corinth, and Ephesus—was to give extensive, ongoing biblical teaching to the church members (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:9-10). He and the other early Church leaders understood quite well that biblically illiterate Christians would never come to maturity in their faith, but would remain forever infants (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Pastors, elders, and other local church leaders (also parents to their children!), you are under a sacred obligation to “teach them” the Word of the Lord. Without ongoing exposure to the Word of God, believers will never fulfill Christ’s desire for them to become mature disciples.
Jesus said, “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). To me this speaks of believers in Christ selling out to radical obedience to our Lord and Master—to “obey everything”! But, sadly, how often (or rather, how seldom!) do we hear this kind of message from the pulpits of our land?
A loose, false-grace, easy-believism brand of “Christianity” prevails in much of America today. Church members are affirmed, carnal life styles are overlooked, and an attitude of “it’s all good” has taken hold. No! It’s not all good. God’s view of carnality and sin is so unlike what is heard preached in many places today. God took sin so seriously that He made the supreme sacrifice. He sent His Son Jesus to be horribly murdered on a cross, in order that Jesus might bear the sins of us all and open a way for us back to God. And now He expects repentance from us (Luke 13:3, 5) and an “all in” commitment to “obey everything” He has commanded.
This is the emphasis of Matthew’s Great Commission account. But are you hearing this taught in your church? That is, not just coming to Jesus in repentance and faith, but also:
Until we see these things prevail in God’s people, the Church will continue to be a mission field of work for the Lord's harvesters. As the old saying goes, the (summarized) Great Commission is to “win the lost and train the saved.” Christ’s Commission does not stop as we walk through the entry door into our local church. It is within the churches that Matthew’s focus on discipleship, teaching of the Word, and absolute obedience to Jesus is to be found and emphasized.
In sum, the “mission field” is the world (Matthew 13:38). And the world includes the local churches! It is there, in the churches, that the newly saved (as well as all the members) are brought into godly fellowship, are loved and taught and trained, so that they may continually fulfill the biblical charge to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18, KJV).
©2016, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and Bible Studies
by Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.