As we finish out this series, we will examine the structure of the Great Commission and see how this structure includes the holistic connection between evangelism and apologetics as innate parts of discipleship. I want to emphasize these two aspects because these are the two most prevalent tasks that I deal with in a college ministry setting in regard to making disciples.
The actual process of making disciples begins at a specific point. The Great Commission texts emphasize this starting point through various types of ‘sending’ language, most poignantly seen in the word go. So, the very first step in making disciples is going. In Matthew 28 it is ‘Go therefore’. In Mark 16:15 it is ‘Go into all the world’. In Luke 24:47 it is ‘To all nations’. In John 20:21 it is ‘Even so I am sending you’. And in Acts 1:8 it is ‘To the ends of the earth’.
Acts 1:8 speaks of the first step of going most clearly as going to ‘Jerusalem and…Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ We go out in concentric circles: our town -> their town -> our country -> their country.
The point is clear: We are to first go before we can make disciples.
Proclaim the Gospel
The structure follows that after we have gone from near to far, we are to proclaim the gospel. The actions steps therefore, are to Go and then Proclaim. The second step of proclaiming is most clearly seen in Mark 16:15b and Luke 24:47a where we ‘proclaim the gospel to the whole creation’ and it ‘should be proclaimed in His name’.
Once we have gone out then we speak. We speak, and teach, and preach, and proclaim the gospel. This is a mandatory step in making disciples; without this step, disciples are not made. Furthermore, this step is for every disciple and every person who claims the name of Christ. It is not only for the pastor/elder, it’s not only for the deacon, it’s not only for your staff, but according to Scripture it is for every single disciple of Jesus Christ."Proclaiming the gospel isn't only for the pastor, deacon, or church staff. According to Scripture, it's for every single disciple of Jesus Christ." @reesehammond #collegiatedisciplemaker #collegeministry Click To Tweet
The Trouble with Proclaiming
I have seen that many believers have a decent sense of doing the first step of going but have no clue how to do the second step of proclaiming. We do summer mission trips, neighborhood canvassing for VBS, conferences, and revivals, and we do practical service to the poor and needy. But rarely do any of us take those we are discipling or pastoring OUT of the church building to intentionally proclaim the gospel. I have seen many confuse the first step of going with the second step of proclaiming.
For example, in my context, many students take summer mission or summer service trips to various places, both nationally and internationally. These aren’t inherently bad in and of themselves; in fact, many of our students grow spiritually as they help to serve ministries across the world. But when such trips become synonymous with the second step of proclaiming the gospel, especially in light of the Great Commission structure, they actually serve to inhibit our ability to actually proclaim the gospel where we are. Going and serving replaces the second step of proclaiming the gospel in the minds of our students and church members.
It may seem like I’m being harsh in my evaluation of what many churches and ministries do to fulfill the work of making disciples, but the reality is that when we miss the biblical process and structure of making disciples, we end up leaving out the most quintessential aspect of the discipleship process—evangelism. We unintentionally fall short of actually fulfilling the Great Commission. Last time I checked, the power of God for salvation is still the message of the gospel (see Romans 1:16). So, we see that going is only the first step in the biblical process of making disciples. We must strive to equip those we are discipling to fulfill the second step as well.
The Role of Apologetics in Discipleship
This is where apologetics enters the realm of discipleship. In our evangelistic endeavors, we must be able to take the Scripture and apply it for and against every thought or objection raised by those we are evangelizing, whether negative or positive. Think of apologetics as not merely a defense of the faith but as the knife that cuts through every thought and worldview raised against Christ. In essence, Apologetics, functionally speaking, is the fulfillment of Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Corinthians 10:5:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Apologetics uses the Word of God to discern and destroy every thought the lost person raises against Christ. It is in this way that apologetics is part and parcel ingrained in the process of making disciples.
We face a plethora of worldviews in our world. In order to make disciples, evangelism and the apologetic process within those evangelistic encounters is the first contact point in the process of disciple making. We must understand that evangelism is discipleship, and that the discipleship process must be won in today’s world by the loving application of consistent and biblical apologetics that seek to apply the gospel to the worldviews that rebel against Christ.
Baptize & Teach
In the process of discipleship we first go from near to far and second, we proclaim, employing evangelism and apologetics. The third part is that we baptize and teach disciples to obey what Jesus taught. This third aspect is the lion’s share of our efforts. Both of these things (baptizing and teaching to obey) revolve around the reality that our Savior is also our Lord and that obedience is mandated by Jesus.
In the New Covenant, we are redeemed by grace, given a new heart that bears spiritual fruit from within, and called to follow Jesus and become like Him. Because of this, we obey Christ by being baptized and identifying with Him in His life, death, and resurrection, and we now give ourselves to living obedient lives that follow Jesus where He leads us.
To be brief, this third aspect is what we will strive to fulfill the most during our lifetime. The interesting twist is that the first two steps in the process of discipleship are actually the evidence that we are fulfilling the third. In other words, when we obey what Jesus teaches, we go and proclaim. If we don’t, we are disobedient and in sin (it’s like parents tell their kids: to not obey is to disobey!). This is just the truth. Let us therefore strive to make disciples the right way so that we will be found faithful!
Putting It All Together
So, how do we fulfill the binding and authoritative commission Jesus has given us to make disciples under His authority, as ones who are at peace with God, through the power of the Holy Spirit?
- We go to the places He calls us, beginning with our own homes and neighborhoods and extending to the ends of the earth.
- We proclaim with our words through evangelism and apologetics as we demonstrate the truth with our lives.
- And we baptize and teach people to follow Jesus in obedience to His lordship in every area of our lives. This is the nature, the foundation, and the structure of the Great Commission as discipleship.
I urge you, if you profess Christ as your Savior and your Lord, do not delay! There are disciples waiting to be made today.