Everything the Bible records about Jesus—his birth, actions, teachings, miracles, cross, resurrection, etc.—is written with God's Holy Spirit highlighter that says, "Catch this! It is important!" The words about Jesus are not more inspired than the rest of Scripture, but there is a unique importance to them that has appropriately made them central to the church's reading and teaching for two thousand years. This means that Jesus' final words in the gospel of Matthew should make us slow down and take note:
And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matt. 28:18-20
This is the Great Commission, the final commission Jesus gave to the apostles as representatives of the entire church. For that reason we can call these our marching orders. They are a kind of divine vision statement. In them we hear a foundational truth, a central command, and a powerful promise.
The foundational truth is that "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (v. 18). Above all earthly powers, above all heavenly beings, above the devil himself, and certainly above each one of us, Jesus reigns supreme.
The central command is to "make disciples of all nations" (v. 19). We do this as we "go." These disciples we baptize and teach "to observe all that I have commanded you" (vv. 19-20). Thus, if we desire to be "missional," this is the mission we want to be about.
The powerful promise given here is that Jesus will never leave or forsake us: "I am with you always, to the end of the age" (v. 20).
It is the central command here—"make disciples of all nations"—that ties back into our own vision statement:
We are a community of believers in Jesus Christ that seeks to be gospel-centered, Bible-saturated, and Spirit-empowered as we worship God, love one another, grow as disciples, serve the needy, and evangelize the lost.
We Grow as Disciples
As we continue thinking about the vision of SGC we want to think about what this means.
Discipleship is a broad term that sometimes gets used too narrowly. Often times when people talk about it they mean a one-on-one relationship where someone is mentoring someone else. Usually this is a season of teaching some of the basics of the Christian faith. Yet, this is to use the term more narrowly than the Bible does. We want to recapture some of the fullness of the term at SGC.
To be a disciple is to be a follower of Jesus. He is the Teacher and Master; we are his followers and disciples. This is a place we never leave. All our days we want to be growing as his disciples, becoming more like him all the time.
You can see this fuller understanding in the Great Commission itself where Jesus wants us to "make disciples" and teach those disciples "to observe all that I have commanded you." This is not a 6-month Bible study! This is a lifetime of teaching and growing and becoming more obedient.
The emphasis here is not on evangelism, though evangelism is a critical part of making disciples. When someone responds to our evangelism they go from being a non-disciple to being a disciple. But after that, there is the long journey of daily growth in Christ. Lord willing, we will see a progressive advancing in our Christian maturity throughout our lives. "All that [Jesus] commanded" includes all that the Bible teaches, and the goal is "to observe" all of this.
So already we can see that discipleship involves far more than evangelism. Yet since becoming a disciple is the first step of discipleship, the church must always be committed to evangelism.
After this we see that discipleship involves personal growth, that lifelong pursuit of observing all that Jesus commanded.
But what happens when someone grows as a disciple? They grow in the unique ways that God has gifted them. Every single disciple of Christ has a gifting from God: "Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Eph. 4:7). And God expects us to serve others with this gifting. For us discipleship includes discovering our gifting and using it to build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7ff.).
Yet something else happens when we grow as disciples. We grow in our concern for the lost and needy world around us—but now we're getting ahead of ourselves. The next post will look into our lives of service and mission.