If you’ve been around the church world, you’ve undoubtedly heard this verse. We refer to it as the great commission:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
It’s one of my favorites.
Jesus has just won everything, literally. And just before he goes back up into heaven, these are his final words. This is the most epic moment in all of church history. This is that rally point that began it all. Like our favorite scenes from our favorite movies, this is the locker room speech that got the church going.
But, we’ve missed it.
We have gotten a lot of it right. But, I think we’ve missed one of the most important aspects of it.
Teach them to obey.
Obey. We don’t like that word do we? Obey. It sounds old school. Don’t tell me to obey anything. I’ll decide what I want to do.
We like the authority part. Jesus has the power!
We like the idea of making disciples, at least we think we do. Most of us aren’t quite sure what it means to be a disciple, let alone make one. But we think we do. And if we don’t, we pretend to.
Baptizing them. Got it.
Teach them. That’s easy. But is it?
It can be easy to give someone information. It’s not that hard to help someone memorize statistics, facts and trivia.
But the real question we need to ask ourselves: Are we teaching people to obey.
This is where I think we’ve lost it. We have gotten caught up in knowing about Jesus, knowing what he taught. We know the most minute details of the greek meaning of the word that Jesus only uses this one time. We know how many times Jesus says this or that. We know which parables are in all of the gospels and which parables are only in one, and we even know how the parables are told differently.
We have wasted countless hours and generations arguing over pointless details. Did Jesus pass the cup before or after the meal? Well it depends on which account you’re reading. Also, who cares.
My point is, we’ve built institutions around the idea of knowing more. How many institutions have we built around the idea of doing more? We expect our pastors to go to Bible College and seminary so they know the truth, but of what use is knowing every “jot and tittle” when it never affects the way you live your life?
I don’t recall anywhere in any gospel, epistle, or any other part of the bible where Jesus/God say “Here’s all the information you need to know intellectually, but feel free to go ahead and live your life however you please.” Maybe I missed that part.
I do remember the places where we are called to a transformed life, where we are called to deny ourselves and take up the cross each day. I do remember that we have to lay our lives down if we’re going to experience true life.
I also remember Jesus really hounding the Pharisees and teachers of the law for ignoring the more important parts of the law.
Why has our focus been only on teaching?
You probably already know the answer.
Teaching is easier. It’s easier to teach someone a fact than to walk with them in relationship that helps them change their behavior.
And we’re selfish too. We don’t want to change anything we don’t want to change. It’s my life, don’t you dare tell me how to live it. You can tell me what you “think” Jesus meant by falling to the ground and dying, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with you.
And even if we do agree, we’re selfish about our time, and we don’t want to take the time necessary help someone apply a truth to their life.
What’s the real issue?
I guess we have to ask ourselves, does the gospel really matter to us? Is it a priority for us? Or is it just something we do when we’re able to find the time?
Because if the gospel matters, then we must incorporate all aspects of it. We must incorporate the teaching and the obeying.
Let me be clear…
I don’t give the tiniest iota about what you know or what you think you know. And I know you feel the same way about me. You don’t care about what I know. You care about what I do. You care about how what I do affects you. If you go to our church, you care about how what I do affects our church. If you’re in my family, you care about how what I do affects our family. It’s one thing to know what it means to be a good neighbor, it’s another thing to be one. My neighbors will never know I’m a good neighbor if my “goodness” toward them only exists in my intellect.
Let me be more clear…
I’m really kind of sick of people who think knowing a lot about God and the Bible makes them spiritual and righteous. I have a feeling you are too. Aren’t you tired of people who know the truth, but don’t live it out?
What do we do about it?
1.) We must start obeying all the Jesus commanded.
It starts with me. I have to be obedient to the call on my life. That means I must know what Jesus has commanded. But, If my knowledge never leads me to action, my knowledge is useless. I must know and do what Jesus has commanded. I must adapt my life to the standards God has created for Christian living. And if I’m not willing to do so, I need to stop calling myself a Christian. Because what does it mean to be a Christian if I am not going to live like Christ?
2.) We must change our teaching to emphasize action over knowledge.
When it comes to discipling, I must change my emphasis from simply passing on interesting information to passing on practical advice for living out the information I am sharing. What are some practical ways I can be a good samaritan? What are some things I can do so that Justice can be done to widows and orphans I know of? What does it mean to be meek? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? How do I live my life in that way?
The choice is clear.
Either we start being and making disciples the way Christ commissioned us to do so. Or we adopt the Thomas Jefferson approach and just start changing the the things we don’t like.
What are you going to do?