I received this from a young man in my church and wanted to pass it along to you for your consideration. Joshua is 25 years old.
“And Jesus came and said to them, “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 28:18-20
I apologize for beginning this article with a disclaimer, but to avoid any pretense on my part, I must do so. To be perfectly candid, I really have very little experience in obeying the Great Commission. Until very recently, it was, perhaps, of all Christ’s commands, the one I was least likely to act upon and most likely to marginalize. So I write to you as a fellow employee, or classmate, who having arrived a day early, happens to have a basic knowledge of the job site, the task to be done, or the assignment to be completed (of which you may, or may not, already be aware). With that said, let us begin.
1. The Great Commission is Not Optional
First, we must remember that the Great Commission is not optional. It is a commission, it is a command. And it is imperative that each of us understand the Great Commission not just as an ongoing tactical maneuver for the church at large, but as Christ’s commission for us as individuals, just as it was for the first disciples. Try inserting your name before the command and see how it sounds. The charge was personal as well as corporate, and we must be careful not to delegate to “the church” those duties which belong first to us as individual disciples.
“I know that I am to preach the gospel,” I used to say, “but God cannot expect me to preach the gospel to everyone in the world; I am limited in what I can do. Therefore I am not obligated to preach to every person, so I must not be obligated to preach the Gospel to Joe” (or Billy, or Sam, or whoever it may have been).
Perhaps this line of “reasoning” is unique to me. But we all face excuses which (in spite of the partial truths contained) are simply efforts to negate our responsibility to preach. Though we may face sincere questions about when and how to preach, we will have much greater success in weeding out the excuses if we remember that the Great Commission is not optional. Accepting the foundational truth—we must preach—will aid us in discerning the method of execution. If we refuse to accept the foundation, everything else will be irrelevant.
2. The Gospel is Relevant
Second, the Gospel is relevant. It might seem obvious that the epic message of Creation, the Fall, Redemption and Restoration is relevant to all people everywhere at all times, and that the eternal consequences of heaven and hell give this message sufficient impetus. But we face an intensifying pressure to “help” the gospel along by making it more palatable to unbelievers. The gospel must be “hip,” and certainly not “rigid,” “stagnant,” or, dare we say, “out of date.” But the gospel needs no embellishing; it’s more akin to the Wheel than a roll of shag carpet from the 1970’s. The gospel is way more important than the invention of the Wheel and it works. We need to have the same confidence in the gospel as the apostle Paul, who did not come to the Corinthians with “lofty speech or wisdom” but “decided to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2). The gospel can’t get any more relevant than it already is, and anyone who would accept the gospel just because of the embellishments would be a fool. Think about it, who would expend the time and effort needed to train for a marathon simply to receive an ice cream cone? Will any “embellishing” truly convince anyone to follow in the footsteps of the bloody, crucified Christ who is at the heart of the gospel? Anyone who comes to Christ for the “add-ons” will be swiftly disappointed. Anyone who is drowning will accept a life preserver if they can be convinced that they are drowning, and they won’t need their life preserver dressed up, painted fluorescent orange, or colored with pink polka dots. Now there may be communication barriers that have to be crossed, but doing so is a revelation of what the gospel is rather than a remaking of it. We need neither embellish the gospel, nor lock it into any one single method of presentation. The apostle Paul’s approach with the Greeks at Mars Hill (Acts 17) differed significantly from his presentation to the Jews in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13), but the substance of the message was identical. We must rest in the power of the pure Gospel.
3. The Truth about God is Plain to Men
This will become much easier to do when we realize another essential fact–that the truth about God is plain to men. However, this can be difficult, since almost everyone you share the gospel with is trying to convince you that that God simply hasn’t given them enough information for them to put their faith in Him. But Romans 1:20 says that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Imagine that you were invited over to a friend’s house and when you arrived at the house this friend informed you that he has no parents. “I know it’s hard to believe,” he says, “but I just appeared. Not everyone has parents, you know. I’m just a case of spontaneous creation really.” At first this seems difficult to believe, but as you look around at a house cluttered with comic books, Happy Meal gadgets, and action figures, walls plastered with posters of your friend in a number of dramatic super hero poses, and a refrigerator stocked with a lifetime supply of Reese Peanut Butter Cups, you begin to believe it is true (perhaps not that bit about spontaneous creation, but that he has no parents at this point anyway). But when the boy’s father arrives at the inopportune moment when you and your friend are flooding the basement in order to commence a dramatic reenacting of the great mock sea battles of the Roman Coliseum, you suddenly “realize” what you had really known all along—that the boy and his house with its walls and well stocked refrigerator, though in a disorder symptomatic of a parent’s absence, were really all evidence of an adult’s procreation, ownership, and income. So it is with the lost. Though they have convinced themselves that “there is no parent,” the Scripture says that they know that there is a God (Rom. 1:20), that the law is “written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:15), and that they know their sin deserves the penalty of death (Rom. 1:32). In light of this truth, we see that a person’s decision for or against the gospel is not so much a matter of evidence as it is a matter of will. You might be surprised at the number of people who will agree with many points of the gospel, find no fault with your arguments, but ultimately come to a point of saying, “I will not believe.” Tragically, many will not “realize” the truth that they have known until they stand before the judgment seat of God.
4. The Minds of Unbelievers have Been Blinded
Yet we see that the truth of God, revealed to men in creation and written on their hearts, is continually suppressed. The heart of man is “deceitful” and “desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9), and the lies of the devil and other men aid the heart in its self-deception. The “god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). So even though God’s “eternal power and divine nature” have been “clearly perceived” “in the things that have been made,” unbelievers are naturally blinded to the gospel of Christ, who is the very image of the God revealed in creation. This is why you should not be surprised to see people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about the gospel. This is why you should not be surprised when the lost show no concern over their eternal destiny. This is why for many “hell” is just a word to be flippantly used and not actually considered a place of eternal punishment. This is why you should not be discouraged when so many simply don’t care about the gospel. And this is why you must rely upon Him who opened the eyes of the blind to open the minds of the lost to receive the good news.
5. The Gospel is Good News
And the gospel is good news! It is extremely wonderful news! To hear the true gospel of Jesus Christ fearlessly proclaimed and lived is one of the best things (if not the best thing) that can happen to anyone. Around Christmas time each year, my family takes a short stroll down our street to hand out cookie plates and sing a few Christmas Carols. On these short journeys, it’s easy to be discouraged by people’s less than enthusiastic response to the messages of hope, peace and joy. I’ve have been surprised at times at how little joy, “Joy to the World” actually brings. Perhaps this has more to do with my singing rather than the carol itself, but, at least in a larger sense, this principle rings true. The announcement that the “Lord is come,” and the exhortations, “let earth receive her King, let every heart prepare Him room,” are rarely received with exuberant joy. People will respond with anger, skepticism, annoyance, passivity and frustration. But don’t ever let the apathy or the antipathy of others towards the gospel erode your view of God’s greatest gift. At one time we too were “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasure, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). The announcement of God’s grace is always fabulous good news, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Never forget that the gospel is good news.
6. The Gospel Takes No Prisoners
This is not to say that the gospel simply seeks to woo or cajole unbelievers into the kingdom of God with promises of happiness and smooth sailing. The gospel takes no prisoners, or perhaps, more accurately, the gospel makes no terms. It demands complete surrender. So though we preach with gentleness and respect, and should give no grounds for offense, the gospel itself relentlessly pursues the surrender of the soul and the crucifixion of the flesh. We should never compromise the “hard teachings” of the gospel in order to more easily draw unbelievers into the kingdom of God. The Law must do its work in rooting out all self-righteousness and bringing conviction in regard to sin. Christ’s call is simply, “Come and follow.” He allows for no reservations and makes no guarantees. For what guarantee is there in the command that “any of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple”? (Luke 14:33) The gospel’s only terms are complete and unconditional surrender.
7. You Should Never Be Afraid to Preach the Gospel
Lastly, we must never be afraid to preach the gospel. It is no mere coincidence that the Great Commission is hemmed in before and behind by two of the greatest promises in all of Scripture. First, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ. He is sovereign over every individual and every encounter. Every bit of power and authority that exists is His, and He will equip us with that power for the commission to which He has called us. The very power with which Christ was raised from the dead is at work in us (see Ephesians 1:18-23). It is in light of this power and authority that Christ tells us to “Go therefore.” It is on the foundation of Christ’s authority that we go and make disciples. Second, Christ is always with us to the end of the age. He will accompany us down every road, to deepest and darkness of places and the most dangerous of confrontations. Even those situations which we most fear have no power in the light of Christ’s overwhelming authority. We have His Spirit to guide us. If we ever separate the command from the foundation of Christ’s power and authority and His continual presence with us, we will be sure to fall prey to fear and discouragement.
In a dream I had recently, I was coming to the top of a hill when I saw an elderly lady who had been run down by a car. She was terribly injured, and it was clear she would not live long. Overwhelmed with compassion for her soul, I leapt forward and exhorted her to “Believe in Jesus!” To my disbelief and dismay, she rose up off the pavement and began to venomously attack me for attempting to preach the gospel to her. But as she did so, my dismay at her attacks turned to pity and horror as I watched the fires of hell shoot up around her, even as emergency vehicles raced over the top of the hill. Such imagery might seem like fear-mongering in our day, and admittedly dreams are rather fickle things from which to draw concrete conclusions. But the imagery of fire is not mine; it is Scripture’s (see Isaiah 66:24, Matt.18:8, Rev. 20:14). The horror of hell is no empty emotional appeal. Simply because an illustration evokes an emotional response does not mean that it is illogical. For the lost, the house is on fire; the message is simple: Get out. For us, the application is this: Our horror at the fate of the lost in hell should completely supersede any apprehension we have regarding their response to the gospel. I have preached to the “knowledgeable skeptic,” knocked on the door of the complete stranger, and pleaded with one of my closest relatives. What did I have to fear? Did I preach perfectly? No. But I’m still alive and well, and better equipped to preach than before. But what if we should somehow have to share in the sufferings of Christ? Should we then stand safely by in this generation when Christ is yet mocked and ridiculed by the enemies of God? What do we have to fear? Nothing. Let us then say with Paul, “I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings” (Philippians 3:11). After all, if God is for us, who can be against us?