After His resurrection and before ascending to heaven, Jesus told His disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 20:18–20). This is known as the Great Commission and is considered a mandate for all Christians. We make disciples because Jesus commanded it. But what does this mean, exactly?
Making disciples – Why is it important?
A "disciple" is a "learner" or a follower of a teacher. It is one who hears, understands, and obeys the teachings of Jesus. Disciple making is helping people know Christ personally, follow Him completely, and make Him known broadly. It is coming alongside a disciple and training him to follow Christ.
People can sometimes make the mistake of thinking that Christianity is only about going to heaven when we die and that the Great Commission is only about converting people to Christianity. Eternity in heaven is part of salvation, but salvation has implications for our lives now. Jesus called us to make disciples, not just converts. Sharing the good news of eternal salvation is the first part of becoming a disciple, but making disciples also includes "teaching [people] to observe all that [Jesus] commanded" (Matthew 28:20).
It is important that people learn from Jesus and follow Him—become His disciples—because true life is found in Him. Ephesians 2:8–10 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." We have been saved from sin and to life. Second Corinthians 5:17 says we are a new creation in Christ Jesus. God has a purpose for us and our lives here. In John 10:10 Jesus says that He came to bring life to the full. In John 15 Jesus talks about the importance of abiding in Him and obeying His commands; He links it to our ability to bear fruit and to our joy. We abide in Christ by being His disciples.
The first part of making disciples is introducing people to Jesus, spreading the gospel. The rest of it is about sharing in life together and helping people know and follow Jesus. Discipleship is sometimes complicated by people in our modern society with specific programs or the sense that only some Christians can disciple others. But disciple making is about more than theological training, and it is something all Christians are called to do.
In seeking to make disciples, it is wise to remember how Jesus discipled others. Jesus' followers walked alongside Him…literally! They lived with Him, watched how He made decisions, saw how He interacted with others, sat at His feet and learned. They studied everything about Him. As Jesus' disciples, we should seek to know Him and to follow Him that closely. As disciple makers, we share our lives with others. We help teach people to devote their lives to Christ, and we walk alongside them as they do. We pray for them and do things like Bible study with them. We also do things like meet for coffee, go fishing, play games, etc. Disciple making is investing in the life of another with the intent of both people getting to know Jesus better and follow Him more closely. When we learn from Jesus and get to know Him, we come to love Him and want to share His great love with others. We learn His truth and delight to share His Word so others can know true life in Him, too.
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