Evangelicals love a good story. We’re all about “sharing our testimonies” and “telling our stories” and recounting our “spiritual journey.”
This emphasis on personal experience is one of evangelicalism’s strengths. We understand conversion as more than mere assent to Christianity’s teaching and more than mere observance of rites and rituals associated with the church. It’s no wonder that sharing our stories is a main aspect of evangelical identity and evangelistic activity.
But there’s a subtle danger lurking here. Because of our emphasis on conversion stories and testimonies, we can unintentionally make people think that evangelism is the same thing as sharing your experience.
We interpret The Great Commission’s “Go make disciples” as “Go tell your story.” They are not the same thing.
Here’s why …
Jesus and the Great Commission
When most of us think of the “Great Commission,” we start with the word “go.” The gist of Christ’s command is that we are to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching, right?
But Matthew’s version of the Commissioning scene doesn’t start with “go.” The commission itself is sandwiched between two statements related to Jesus Christ: the first concerns His authority, and the second concerns His empowering presence.
The flow of the passage goes like this:
- All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus.
- Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations …
- Jesus promises to always be with His people.
Luke’s commissioning scene gets at this same truth in a different way. For Luke, the focus is on the gospel going out in Jesus’ name.
- The Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms point to Jesus, whose death and resurrection fulfills Old Testament prophecy.
- Witnesses will proclaim a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins.
- This message is proclaimed “in Jesus’ name” to all nations.
For Luke, the name of Jesus is the source of authority. In Acts, this element is not emphasized in the commissioning scene itself but in the rest of the narrative, where the theme of Jesus’ name carrying power and authority becomes a major point of the story.
Three Elements of Genuine Christian Witness
Both Luke and Matthew infuse their commissioning scenes with christological truth. So, how did the apostles, under the authority of Jesus, witness to the truth? Notice three elements:
1. The events at the heart of the gospel are at the heart of their proclamation. The sermons in Acts reveal how the apostles walked their hearers through the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
2. They are witnesses to the character of Jesus in the way they pattern their ministry after his miracles and show his compassion to those in need.
3. They are witnesses to their own Christian experience. The Apostle Paul, for example, recounts his conversion experience on two occasions in Acts (22:6?21 and 26:12?23).
What About Now?
So what does this mean for us today?
1. The events of the gospel—Christ’s life, death and resurrection—must be at the heart of our proclamation.
2. What we do should also witness to Christ as we follow His example.
3. Our conversion experiences should back up our gospel proclamation.