The Great Commission as a Means of Grace

1. Disciplemaking shows us our smallness and God’s bigness.

Actively making disciples helps us see our lives in better proportion—not with ourselves at the center, doing the big things, but situated happily on the periphery, doing our small part of a big and glorious God-sized plan. It is astonishing that Jesus summons his church to “the nations.” Disciple the nations. The vision is huge—as big as it could be. And yet our part is small.

One memorable refrain I’ve heard over and over again in Campus Outreach circles is “Think big, start small, go deep.” Think big: God’s global glory, among all the nations. Start small: focus on a few, like Jesus did. Go deep: invest at depth in those few, so deeply that one day they are equipped and ready to do the same in the lives of others.

Disciplemaking is as massive as the Great Commission and as minute as the menial details of everyday life. The Christian life not only connects our little lives with God’s global purposes, but it also translates the bigness of his mission into the smallness of our daily decisions and actions. Disciplemaking is a major way—and the only way expressly mentioned in the Commission—in which our minor, local lives connect to God’s major, global plan.

Here there is a place for the Christian’s almost heroic, big-picture, world-changing impulse. But such vision is fleshed out in the uncelebrated, often unattractive, normalcy of everyday life. Think big, start small, go deep. Envision big, global, many. Act small, local, few. As Robert Coleman says, “one cannot transform a world except as individuals in the world as transformed.”

2. Disciplemaking challenges us to be holistic Christians.

As we invest in younger believers toward their balanced, overall spiritual growth, we ourselves are reminded of, and encouraged toward, holistic health in the faith.

Good disciplemaking requires both intentionality and relationality (to coin a term). It means being strategic and being social. Most of us are bent one way or the other. We’re naturally relational, but lacking the intentional. Or we find it easy to be intentional, but not as relational. We typically tip, or lean, one way or the other as we begin the disciplemaking process.

But tipping and leaning won’t cover the full picture of what life-on-life disciplemaking is. It’s not just friend-to-friend, and it’s not just teacher-to-student. There is an element of both—the sharing of ordinary life (relationship) and seeking to initiate and make the most of teachable moments (intentionality). There are the long walks through Galilee and the sermons on the mount. There is the journey to Jerusalem and the Last Supper together. Disciplemaking is both organic and engineered, relational and intentional, with shared context and content, quality and quantity time.

3. Disciplemaking makes us more aware of our sin.

Disciplemaking is more than mere truth-speaking; it is also life-sharing. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). If Paul says “not only the gospel,” sit up and take notice. Not easily does he put anything in such a place of privilege alongside the Message.

Sharing your own self with someone means getting close—not just sharing information, but sharing life, sharing space. And the closer sinners get, the more sin comes out. (Which is why marriage can be such a matrix for sanctification as two sinners getting increasingly close.)

In good disciplemaking, we can demonstrate for our disciples something Jesus’ disciples never saw in him: how to repent. Those who are looking to our lives and seeking to imitate our faith need to see us be honest and forthright about our sin, hear our confessions, witness our repentance and watch us earnestly seek change.

To get more specific, disciplemaking requires that we die to selfishness—selfishness with our time and with our space. To get even more specific, it means dying to much of our precious privacy. Most of us do life alone so much more than is necessary. But in disciplemaking, we learn to ask, How can we live the Christian life together? How can I give this younger Christian access to my real life in the faith, not some façade I can put on once a week? It marks the death to much, if not all, of our privacy. We bring that one or few in whom we are investing into the process and mess of our sanctification as we are entering theirs.

We aim to “be with them” (Mark 3:14). And as we do so, new manifestations of sin will be exposed in us, and we’ll find ourselves all the more in need of God’s ongoing grace.

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.