A long journey is made up of many single steps. Following Jesus is a lifelong journey with many important steps along the way. None are more important than the first three. They set the course for the rest of your adventure.
If you have spent much time in church, you have heard a lot about the great commission. It refers to the final words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 in which Jesus gives his followers the mission that is to consume their life. Jesus says,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This passage is used almost exclusively to describe the three part missional task before us as Christians. We are to go (proclaim the gospel), baptize and teach. What if we think about this mandate from another perspective? What if we consider this great commission from the point of view of the receiver. In that case, Jesus is telling us the first three steps that we need to take in order to be his disciple.
Believe in Jesus
The disciples were commanded to “go and make disciples.” The bible gives overwhelming evidence that you enter into this relationship with Jesus through faith. We could break this down into smaller steps of hearing the gospel, being convicted of my sin, repenting of my sin and asking Jesus to forgive me, but the bible is often content to wrap that all up in the process of believing in Jesus as the one who can restore your relationship with God.
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” -John 1:12
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” -John 3:16
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved? They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” -Acts 16:30,31
“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” -Romans 10:9
It all begins by faith in Jesus. It doesn’t begin with church. It doesn’t begin by making your life acceptable to God. It doesn’t begin by understanding all the truths of the Bible. The journey begins by faith in Jesus Christ alone as the one who died to pay the penalty of your sins and rose from dead to show the new life available to you. If you started somewhere else, begin again with faith. That is the great thing about Jesus, he is always ready to give you a new beginning.
I think baptism is the forgotten action of the great commission. Believing and obeying are given top priority, but baptism is sometimes treated as an optional step of spiritual formation. It is a discretionary deed that is a nice idea, if you get around to it. It’s presence in the final words of Jesus tells me something different. Baptism is a vital part of following Jesus. It stands between faith and obedience. Baptism is an essential hinge that connects the two. It serves as a passage from faith to obedience. On one hand, baptism looks back and represents our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and mirrors our own death to sin and reception of new life in Christ. On the other hand, baptism looks forward and points toward our commitment to follow and obey Jesus. It is a critical declaration that from this point forward, I am following Jesus and I will obey him. I have often seen people put off baptism because they didn’t feel ready. They didn’t feel like they were mature enough. What they miss is that baptism is an actionable step to help you move forward and mature. The only requirement is faith in Jesus. If you have skipped this step for whatever reason, go back and let it be a visible stake in the ground that marks your journey down the path of life in Christ.
Learn to Obey
Something that is almost always missed in the great commission is the fact that Jesus instructs his disciples to teach people to obey. In other words, obedience requires that we learn how to obey. It kind of brings us back to the very beginning of what it means to be a disciple. I talk about that here. A disciple is a learner. We have to learn to follow Jesus well. We have to learn his commands. We have to learn how to depend on the Holy Spirit for his empowerment. We have to learn spiritual disciplines that can help form Christ in us. We have to learn how to graciously function in the community of the church. There is much to learn. That is why the journey is a lifelong one, but each step brings us further into the life of Christ. Each step adds to the full life that Jesus promised. Each step takes us further toward the purpose for which we were created. Be a learner. Obey Jesus. It is there that we find life. I challenge you to consider a single step forward in obedience. What is one thing that you know is out of line with the will of God in your life. Devote yourself to growing toward obedience in that thing. Study scripture, pray, get some counsel, make life changes that will help you obey. Do whatever it takes. Move forward.
Following Jesus is a great adventure. The road is long and sometimes arduous so getting off to a good start is essential. Jesus tells us how: believe, get baptized and learn to obey.