“All That I Have Commanded You”
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Going therefore, 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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. Matthew 28:18-20
There is a single commission that Jesus gave His disciples moments before He ascended to the presence of the Father. That commission was and is to “make disciples.” There are three steps necessary to make disciples. The first step is going—a mandate for the presence and ministry of Christians into every language group, culture, social class, political party, school, neighborhood, club, and any imaginable gathering of people. The second step is baptizing--presenting the plan of salvation to every human being that they may respond to grace alone in faith alone by inviting Jesus to be the Lord of their lives and may demonstrate the reality of that decision by making a public declaration of that faith in baptism. The third step is teaching--and notice what it is that we must teach in order to make disciples—all that Jesus commanded.
Years ago I attended a series of workshops presented by Renovaré, an interdenominational ministry dedicated to deepening the spiritual walk of Christians. I was particularly challenged by two presentations, the first by Dallas Willard. The challenge in this presentation is obvious in simply restating its title: What to do once you’ve decided to do what Jesus asked—You did decide to do that, didn’t you? Dr. Willard simply challenged us to believe that Jesus intends for his words and teachings to be lived out in the lives of his disciples. The second workshop was by John Ortberg, and he had two sections that stuck with me. He showed that there are different levels of belief, and that only the last one is the kind of faith that the Bible says is necessary for salvation: 1. Public beliefs are those we are expected to hold when we are among our peers or constituents in public. (think of the “principles” that many politicians say they hold but which they spin when necessary.) 2. Private beliefs are those that we think we believe but which we may discover we actually don’t when they are challenged (Peter, for instance, thought that he believed in Jesus until he was challenged, and then he denied the Lord). 3. Core beliefs or faith is that which is absolutely unquestioned, that which we assume when organizing our world (Most of us have this kind of faith in the law of gravity.).
Ortberg then shows how, based on this distinction in faith, there are different levels of allegiance to Christ both in the New Testament and today: 1. There are interested listeners who come near Jesus because they want to hear what He has to say. Some of these may eventually become disciples but for the moment they are merely acquaintances. They may say they believe in Christ, merely to please the group that meets in His name, but they don’t follow Him in any meaningful sense. 2. There are disciples, those who at their core believe that Jesus is Lord and who seek to follow Him, know him, and be transformed by Him. 3. There are users, those who sincerely believe that they believe in Jesus, but whose allegiance to Christ is mainly to satisfy the minimum requirements to get into Heaven—as if going to Heaven involved passing an entrance exam with a “C” or better. The truth is that only those who desperately desire to know Christ and to live His life will even want to go to Heaven; all others will prefer to remain independent (independence from God is Hell).
True faith, then, involves a willingness to be shaped by Jesus Christ. This is why He commands the apostles to make disciples of all nations and why He tells them to teach people all He commanded. I had always turned up my nose at those editions of the Bible that print all of Jesus’s words in red. I have always believed that all the Bible is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16) and that therefore all its parts are equal. This is true, but the greater truth is that Jesus has the authority through His words to shape the way we interpret and apply all the Bible. Just recently I realized that the red-letter editions have it right: Jesus’s words are special.