Jesus [said], “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go…and teach all nations, baptizing them…Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.… (Mt. 28:18-20) — The Great Commission
Jesus Christ has called the church to deliver His whole teaching to all nations, and to do anything less than that is to fail Him.
I grieve to see the gospel reduced to canned approaches and silly slogans. Reducing evangelism to a few cheesy slogans violates the spirit of the Great Commission.
I grew up in a church where one of the pastors decided that every Sunday service had to culminate in an invitation to the altar. Because he only had a superficial understanding of genuine Biblical evangelism, the people starved spiritually.
True Biblical evangelism is much more than mere soul winning.
The Great Commission
The Great Commission is rooted in the total authority of Jesus Christ, who has been given all authority “in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18). Christians who believe that Satan controls the earth will never have the assurance necessary for proper evangelism. Christ’s authority over all creation is absolute.
Stephen clearly points to the completeness of Christ’s authority and dominion (Ac. 7:54-55), as he witnessed the resurrected and ascended Christ at the right hand of God. 1 Stephen describes Jesus as the “Son of Man” — using apocalyptic language from the Old Testament. The Son of Man is one who went to the Ancient of Days to receive a Kingdom (Dan 7:13-14), a Kingdom that was universal, everlasting and indestructible.
The Great Commission gives the assurance of Christ’s presence. Since Jesus is with the church always — even “to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20), believers have a guarantee of success.
Compare the Great Commission with Joshua’s Commission (Josh.1:5-9). God repeatedly told Israel not to fear — for He would be with them and would neither fail nor forsake them. God insisted that they obey His commandments completely and whole-heartedly. Most importantly, God guaranteed their success.
Sometimes we miss the exhilarating and pervasive optimism of this gospel universality. As the Holy Spirit was poured out, He evangelized — by proxy — all the nations of the world. Paul says that the gospel was preached to “all creation” and it was “bearing fruit” in all the world (Col. 1:6, 23). Romans begins and ends with the universal spread of the gospel (Rom. 1:8, 16:25-27). The closing benediction notes that the gospel has been “made known to all the nations,” leading to the “obedience of faith.”
The same gospel confidence is found in 1 Timothy 3:16, an early Biblical confession of faith. Note the Christ-centered focus of the confession: on Christ’s incarnation (“revealed in the flesh”), crucifixion and resurrection (“vindicated in the Spirit”), and ascension (“taken up into glory”). What is most profound, however, is the confession’s confidence in the global spread of the gospel. Christ was “beheld by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world.” It was an article of faith for the early church that the truth of the gospel had spread and was spreading to the nations.
The Great Commission involves a comprehensive task. Jesus instructed the church to teach the nations to observe all things that He had commanded. That would include, of course, the simple message of salvation. But it would include much more. The one who reduces the Great Commission to a few spiritual laws, and neglects the rest of Scripture, is not truly faithful to the Commission and Biblical evangelism.
The Comprehensive Gospel
We are commanded to teach all that Christ commanded. So, what did Jesus teach? He taught about the validity of God’s law, condemned antinomianism, preached on hell, stressed the doctrines of grace, and touched on the doctrines of the covenant, church discipline, and marriage, etc. In short, Jesus covered the fullness of scriptural teaching. To be faithful to the Great Commission, we must teach everything that Jesus taught — and we must disciple the nations with those truths.
Other Scripture passages stress this comprehensive task. In his closing challenge to the elders at Ephesus, for instance, Paul stresses that he declared to them the “full counsel” of the Word of God. Elsewhere Paul notes the church’s obligation to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ.”
In Acts 16 there is a picture of crisis evangelism. The distraught jailer, preparing to kill himself, asks what he must do to be saved. This was the time, if ever there was one, for a quickie gospel invitation. The response of Paul and Silas was: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved — you and your household.” In addition to the expected exhortation to faith and salvation, the evangelists slip in a teaching about God’s grace to families.
Years ago I heard a fascinating testimony from a woman in northern Minnesota. She and her husband, Swanny, were unsaved and resisted the gospel, though it was faithfully presented by her brother, John.
“Aren’t you afraid of going to hell?” John asked. “No,” Swanny replied carelessly, “I don’t care if I go to hell.” John pointed to the children in the room and asked, “Do you want your children to go to hell?” At this point the woman’s voice cracked and her eyes grew teary. “You know,” she said, “John had us there. We hadn’t thought about the children… and we didn’t want to gamble with their eternal destiny.”
John used an important element of covenantal evangelism. God gives this promise to Abraham — to be a God to him and to his children after him (Acts 17:7). Peter reemphasized that message at Pentecost reminding the people that the promise was for their children
(Ac. 2:39). And God gives this promise to the church — that in Christ our seed is holy (I Cor. 7:14). The apostles evangelized this suicidal man by using the doctrine of the covenant — reminding him that God would save both him and his household. They followed up with a good old-fashioned household baptism. And if that approach was good enough for the apostles, it is good enough for me!
1. The fact of the ascension is critically important in the New Testament: Heb. 1:3, Col. 1:20, 1 Tim. 3:16.