Summary: The fifth purpose for our lives is to share the gospel.
(Note: The title and some of the ideas for this message came from the Rick Warren sermon of the same name.)
Today we turn to the fifth and final purpose for our lives, which is to carry out our mission in the world. Now, as we saw last week, we each have a ministry to other believers, to those in the family of God; but we also have a mission in the world, among those who do not yet know Christ. Just as there are various kinds of ministries in the church, there are various kinds of missions in the world. God may call you to be a pastor, or a plumber, or a pediatrician; he may call you to be married or single; he may call you to serve on the school board or the city council; he may call you to do any of a thousand things for His glory. The possibilities are endless. But there is also a common mission which we all share, and that’s what I’m going to talk about this morning. Listen to Christ. Speaking to the Father, he says:
"In the same way that you gave Me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world."
– John 17:18, Msg
Did you catch that? Christ has given us "a" mission. Along with the original twelve disciples, we all share one overriding mission in the world, even as we play out our various individual roles. And Jesus makes this clear, when just two verses later, he says,
"My prayer is not for them alone." (i.e., not just for the Twelve) "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message. . . " – John 17:20, NIV
In other words, this mission applies to each one of us; it applies to anyone, anywhere in the world, during any century; who comes to faith through the message of the gospel. Again, speaking to the Twelve, Jesus said,
"As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you." – John 20:21, NIV
And so the logical question is, "sending us to do what? What is the mission Christ is sending us into the world to accomplish?" All right, here it is.
"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."
– Matthew 28:19-20, NIV
Our mission is to make disciples. A disciple is simply a follower of Christ. Now, making disciples has two parts. The first part is leading someone to Christ; sharing with them the good news of forgiveness and eternal life, so that, God willing, they may place their faith in Him for salvation. That’s the beginning of the process of discipleship; that’s the "baptizing them" part. Baptism represents their initial entry into the family of God, known as conversion. Now, let’s be clear – we can’t save anyone. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. But we are commanded to do what we can do, and that’s to deliver the message.
The second part of making disciples is training them to follow Christ; instructing them in His teachings and helping them to live an obedient life. That’s the "teaching them" part. And both parts are essential to the process. If you look at the back flap of the bulletin, you’ll see that our mission as a church is to "glorify God by helping people say ’yes’ to Him and developing them into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ." Same thing, just stated differently. "Helping people say ’yes’ to God" is the first part of making disciples, which is proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers with a view to their conversion. And then "developing them into fully devoted followers of Christ" is the second part, the teaching and training.
How do we know that this command applies to us, and not just to the original twelve disciples? A couple of reasons. First, because the command was to make disciples of all nations, that is, the entire world. And that clearly was beyond the ability of twelve men to accomplish. In fact, world missions experts estimate that even now, twenty centuries later, there are between one and three thousand unreached people groups in the world – tribes or communities which share a common language and identity, but which have no Christian church or gospel witness. There’s a lot yet to be done.
Another indication that this command, the "Great Commission," applies to us, and not just to the apostles, is the promise Jesus tacks on at the end: "surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Well, the twelve apostles all died a long time ago, and the end of the age hasn’t come yet. The "end of the age" will come when Christ returns. And so, when Jesus promised that He would be with those who carry out his command to make disciples, he couldn’t have been speaking just about the Twelve. He was speaking to you, and to me, and to all believers, from the first century until the day of his return. In other words, Christ was speaking to them, not merely as individuals, but as the spiritual representatives of all Christians.