Barna Research posted recently their survey results to the question: “What is the Great Commission?” and – not too surprisingly – more than half of Christians had no clue. A few could say they had heard that phrase before but weren’t sure what it was in reference to. Even less were aware that it was something Jesus told his disciples to go and do.
So, to refresh your memory, the “Great Commission” is in reference to the command given by Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Based on this verse, Christians throughout the centuries have taken this to mean that they, too, should “go and make disciples of all nations” but over time this has been rephrased (in practice) to mean “go and make converts of all nations” or “go and plant churches everywhere”, which is not exactly what Jesus was asking us to do.
A disciple is one who follows a master. Notice the end of that same sentence says: “…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Now, maybe Barna could try asking in their next survey: “What are all the things that Jesus commanded you to do?” or better yet, “What are the commands of Jesus that you are actively obedient to on a daily basis?”
That would be a much better survey, although the results would be much worse, I suspect. Most Christians have no actual determination to follow the teachings or the way of Jesus. We don’t really want to be like Jesus. We don’t actually try to love our enemies or bless those who curse us, or overcome evil with good, etc. In fact, most Christians seem to mostly want Jesus for his blood so they can get to heaven after they die. [The late Dallas Willard called these people “Vampire Christians” because they only wanted Jesus’s blood and not his leadership or daily guidance in their life.]
So, the real reason why Barna’s poll isn’t very surprising to me is that I’ve known for a long time now that Christians aren’t actually very successful in fulfilling this Great Commission. Making disciples – intentional followers of Jesus – isn’t on the radar.
But, as long as we’re talking about the “Great Commission” here, I think it’s important for us to remember the “Greater Commission” Jesus gave us. More like a new commandment, really. As he puts it:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” [John 13:34-35]
See? Jesus goes much further when he tells us to love one another. He makes it a new command. He even uses the word “must” so we’ll know it’s not a suggestion. And then – would you look at that – he ties it back to that whole “discipleship” thing again by saying that everyone will know that we are his followers if we do this: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Now, I hate to say it, but we’ve really dropped the ball on this one, too. Maybe it goes back to forgetting to “make disciples” as we were intended to. I’m not sure. But, at any rate, I think it would be a great idea if we could re-focus our attention on this “Greater Commission” that Jesus gave to us.
Honestly, if we worked really hard at this one thing – learning to love the way Jesus loves – I’m not sure we’d need to worry very much about how many converts we’re making, or how many churches we’ve planted, or how many missionaries we’re supporting.
See how simple it is? Why do we make everything so complicated?
Not that loving as Jesus loves is “easy”, mind you. But it is simple. And the best way to get better at this is to start today – right now – taking it one hour at a time and walking prayerfully through our day seeking out ways to become better lovers of people.
Why not start right now?
Did God require a virgin child sacrifice to love or forgive us? Did God sacrifice Himself to Himself to appease Himself and save us from Himself? If you’d like a better perspective on the cross, I welcome you to read my new book “Jesus Unforsaken: Substituting Divine Wrath With Unrelenting Love” which is now available on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback HERE>
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If you’d like a more in-depth exploration of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and the Atonement, you might also enjoy my new 3-week online course which follows the book and goes even deeper into these topics. This class starts Monday, April 5 and you can join us for only $19.99. REGISTER HERE>
Keith Giles and his wife, Wendy, work with Peace Catalyst International to help build relationships between Christians and Muslims in El Paso, TX. Keith was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church over a decade ago to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today he is the author of the best-selling “Jesus Un” series of books, including “Jesus Unforsaken: Substituting Divine Wrath With Unrelenting Love” which is available now on Amazon.