Implications of the Study: How to Be a Disciple according to Matthew 28:19–20
The final implication that I want to draw out from the above study of the Great Commission is about how to be a disciple. If one makes a disciple by baptizing a person and teaching that person to obey everything that Jesus commanded, then one becomes a disciple by being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit and by obeying everything that Jesus commanded. Thus, the first question every professing Christian needs to ask him/herself is “am I baptized?” It seems to me that an increasing number of professing Christians are deferring baptism for a variety of reasons. If the above grammatical/syntactical interpretation of the Great Commission is correct, then baptism is essential if one wants to call him/herself a disciple of Jesus. Baptism in the New Testament assumes that the person who is being baptized has repented of his/her sins and has believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and salvation (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1–14). Thus, repentance from sin and belief in Jesus are an indispensable aspect of being a disciple of Jesus. My encouragement to those reading this article is that if you have repented of your sin and believe in Jesus, yet are not baptized, then seek to be baptized as soon as possible.
The second question that every professing Christian needs to ask him/herself is “am I obeying everything that Jesus commanded the apostles?” It is important to first note that to make a disciple the apostles must teach the potential disciple all that Jesus commanded them, the apostles. Thus, what the apostles teach becomes extremely important. The place where we find the teaching of the apostles that reflects the teaching of Jesus is the entire New Testament, not just the Gospels, but the letters of the New Testament as well. The New Testament is the recorded teachings of Jesus’ apostles. The New Testament is part of the fulfillment of Jesus’ command to the apostles in Matthew 28:19–20.
Thus, since the New Testament records the commands of Jesus for his disciples, in order to be a disciple of Jesus, one must know what the New Testament commands of a disciple of Jesus and obey/do it. Allow me to present two commands of Jesus that have become controversial in western Christianity as examples: divorce and sexual immorality.
Jesus is very clear in the Synoptic Gospels that married couples should never divorce (Matt 5:31–32; 19:1–12; Mark 10:1–12; Luke 16:18). In these passages, Jesus gives a single exception to this rule, sexual immorality. Because Jesus gives his teaching on divorce in his Sermon on the Mount, which explains how someone in the kingdom of heaven should act, and because Jesus’ teaching on divorce is reaffirmed in Paul’s teaching to the church on how Christians should behave in 1 Corinthians 7:10–16, 39, it is safe to say that one of Jesus’ commands is that married couples never divorce, except on the grounds of sexual immorality, and even then the couple should do their best to remain married. The implications of this command of Jesus that is taught to us by the apostles is that to be a disciple of Jesus a married Christian should never divorce his/her spouse. This is a hard saying for many in the church since there are many Christians who have been divorced for reasons other than sexual immorality and there are many Christians seeking divorce for reasons other than sexual immorality. To be a faithful disciple of Jesus, married Christians must not divorce, except on the grounds of sexual immorality. The New Testament is clear that this teaching of Jesus is for those who are part of the kingdom of heaven through faith in Jesus. However, it seems to me that many churches are failing to teach this important command of Jesus and as such divorce is rampant within many of our churches.
Another New Testament command that Jesus gave his apostles is the command not to engage in sexual immorality. Some of the more important passages that condemn sexual immorality for disciples of Jesus are Matthew 15:19; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10; Galatians 5:16–21; Ephesians 5:3–5; Colossians 3:5–8; and 1 Peter 4:3. An important question to ask at this point is what is sexual immorality according to the Bible? Sexual immorality could be better translated “unsanctioned sexual conduct” or “sexual conduct that is not sanctioned by God.” In short, sexual immorality is committing any sexual act outside of a sanctioned marriage. In the Bible, a sanctioned marriage is marriage between one man and one woman. Thus, the following are considered acts of sexual immorality: adultery, sex outside of marriage, “fooling around” outside of marriage, such as oral sex, homosexuality, that is committing sexual acts with someone of the same gender, and bestiality, that is, committing sexual acts with animals. Thus, to be a faithful disciple of Jesus, a person must not commit any act of sexual immorality. It seems to me that teaching on sexual fidelity and adherence to sexual fidelity as presented by the apostles in the New Testament is another major area of neglect in western churches today that needs to be recovered.
The goal of being a disciple of Jesus is a high and lofty goal that should be pursued by every person. However, it takes effort and work to be a faithful disciple. Anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus or wishes to become a disciple of Jesus must first be baptized and then must work toward discovering all that Jesus commanded the apostles, understand all that Jesus commanded the apostles, and obey all that Jesus commanded the apostles.
The Great Commission is rightfully one of the most important texts in the Bible. The Great Commission sets forth the reason to make disciples and the way to make disciples. The reason for making disciples is because Jesus now has all authority in heaven and on earth. The way one makes a disciple of Jesus, which was the focus of this series, is by baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and by teaching to obey all that Jesus commanded the apostles. Thus, the Great Commission not only informs the church how make disciples of Jesus, but also informs individuals how to be a disciple of Jesus. As a result of the Great Commission, all churches and mission/evangelism organizations need to put a heavy emphasis on baptism and teaching for obedience in all ministries.
Adam Robinson holds a PhD in New Testament with a minor in Old Testament. He is the Instructor of Biblical Studies at NewLife College located in Queensland, Australia. Adam’s goal in teaching is to help develop mature disciples of Jesus.