The Great Commission

Dr Pierre Coovert

We call Matthew 28:19-20 The Great Commission. It says “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

There are some things in this commission that seem to be forgotten or ignored. Notice that it contains three parts, not just one.

Many seem to think that it is all about soul-winning. It is true that that until a person comes to Christ the second and third part of the Commission cannot be done. On the other hand, winning souls becomes extremely difficult if the second and third parts are not done.

The first part of the Great Commission does not tell us to get people saved, though that is surly the ultimate goal. We are told to “teach all nations.” This includes a lot more than just presenting the Gospel.

We must remember that the Gospel is only good news to those who understand their lost condition before a holy God. No atheist or Muslim who hears the Gospel will see it as good news because they don’t see God as a holy God and they don’t see themselves as needing Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

In Acts 17:22-31 Paul preaches to a group of people who had no understanding of the God of the Bible. He started by introducing them to the true God. He presented God as the Creator of all things, as greater than His creation, not needing anything from us, as in control of all things, and as easily found by all who will seek Him. He then preached repentance and coming judgment. Then, and only then did he preach Christ.

We do those we try to reach for Christ a great disservice if we neglect to teach them about God’s holiness and His expectation of righteousness in those who come to Him. Of course we are not to teach that our righteousness can earn us salvation. On the other hand, if Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, don’t you think it will have an effect in our lives?

Ephesians 2:8-9 is loved because it says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” It teaches that all we are saved by grace, through faith, without works. The problem is that we forget verse 10 which says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Here we are told that God expects His children to obey His rules.

When we only give the Gospel to the lost, we don’t tell them the whole truth. This leads to what is commonly called “easy believism.” When we don’t include God’s expectations in our teaching all nations, we will not see real repentance. At best we will fill our churches with worldly Christians, and at worst we will fill them with lost religious people.

In other words our job is more than just presenting the Gospel. We are to teach them enough to make a real choice to receive or reject Christ. This includes teaching them who the true God is. It includes teaching about His holiness, His justice, His wrath toward sinners, etc. All of this before the Gospel is presented.

Once these things have been taught they are ready for the good news that God sent His Son to pay for our sins that we might be saved from the wrath of God. In other words, the bad news must be understood before the Gospel becomes good news.

The second part of the Great Commission is baptizing them. Baptism is the first command for the new Christian. It is their confession before all that they have received the Gospel and now belong to Christ. It is their commitment to “walk in newness of life.” It makes them a member of the New Testament church which baptizes them.

The final part of the Commission is Teaching them to “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” The word “observe” means more than just to watch something. It means To keep or adhere to in practice; to comply with; to obey. The Greek word includes guarding from loss.

Note also that it says nothing about the essentials. It says we are to “observe all things” He has commanded us. We don’t get to pick and choose which of His commands we obey. We also don’t have the right to modify His commands or to make up commands that are not His.

If we, on our jobs, were given a task that had three parts and we only accomplished one of those parts, would our boss be satisfied with our work? Do you think God is satisfied when we put all, or most, of our efforts into reaching the lost and neglect the rest of the Commission. I think a reading of the New Testament will show that it puts more emphasis on building Christians than on reaching the lost.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying we should decrease our emphasis on soul-winning. What I am saying is that we are to put as much emphasis on the growing of Christians. When the religious leaders of Christ’s day put their emphasis on only part of what God commanded, He told them “these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

If the whole Commission is evangelism becomes a natural part of the Christian’s life. It makes it a lot easier to bring people to Christ because they have a good example of what it means to be a child of God.

Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved

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