This is the very first sermon I preached when I was pastor of First Baptist Church:
Over the years, I have observed and been involved with many churches – some grew; most did not. I noticed very few churches experienced growth. Most came to the place where they plataued, both spiritually and numerically, and then they would gradually decline. The more I saw this the greater my discontentment became with the status quo of plataued and declining churches.
It has often been said the church is but one generation away from extinction – the point being that personal evangelism is God’s appointed remedy. Indeed, the church is in trouble! There is little urgency anymore to win the lost to Christ. There is no panic to redeem the souls of lost people. What happened to all the stories of people’s lives being changed, as they were in the book of Acts, where people joined the church every day (Acts 2:41-47)? Few people are changing anymore. They’re certainly not being saved every day. They are still just as disconnected, lost, and confused as they ever were. What happened to the church?
There has never been a more important time in history than now to help people understand the great things God is doing. He is gathering a people to Himself for His glory and honor, and He wants us to declare that message to the world. There are many churches that are content to sit in their holy huddle every week and get fed in the Word, but the reason we get fed is not only for our benefit, but so we can go out and minister to the world, so we can be salt and light.
A good definition of missions is taking Christ’s message outside of the church. Anytime we take the gospel outside the four walls of the church, we are engaged in missions. We want the church to be a desirable destination for people to come. The best way to reach them is to mobilize the church to go out and bring them in. We need to see the church as a mission to lost people. This bring us to our text in Matthew 28:18-20.
Jesus came to them and said, ‘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.
Lots of things never get done, but the Great Commission cannot be one of them! It’s no secret that making disciples is the mission of the church. When we fail to make disciples the church fails to grow. Jesus began with a handful of disciples and turned the world upside down! He wants us to follow His example.
Jesus told the disciples to make more disciples as they preach, teach, and baptize. Today, Jesus is still commanding the church to make disciples for His Kingdom. His commission is worldwide and we are to go – whether it is next door or to another country – and make disciples. This is not an option, but a command to all who call Jesus “Lord.” The question is: are we going to be obedient to the Lord’s command and if so, what does that look like?
There is a story about a man who prayed every morning: “Lord, if you want me to witness to someone today, please give me a sign to show me who it is.” One day he found himself on a bus when a big, burly man sat next to him. The timid Christian anxiously waited for his stop, so he could exit the bus. But then the big guy burst into tears and began to weep. He cried out with a loud voice, “I need to be saved! I’m a lost sinner! I need the Lord! Won’t somebody tell me how to be saved?” He turned to the Christian man and pleaded, “Can you show me how to be saved?” But the man immediately bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, is this the sign I’ve been asking for?”
What about you? Are you looking for a sign to start witnessing? The Lord has already commanded the church to go and make disciples. Perhaps the reason we’re seeing a decline in the church is because we’re NOT making disciples.
If I’ve seen any success in ministry, it was times when God used me to make a difference in another’s life. Those results are not easy to quantify. They don’t happen every day, but if a year goes by without it happening, something’s wrong. There needs to be tremendous urgency when it comes to making disciples and sharing the gospel with lost people.
One of the purposes of the church is to minister to the world. It is the duty and privilege of every child of God to win the lost to Christ and make disciples. The effectiveness of churches and individual believers is judged by whether or not we are reaching others with the gospel. Going and making disciples is central to what Christ has called us to do. There are seven truths with respect to the gospel, each of which has a bearing on our responsibility to share it with others:
1. The Gospel is ELEMENTARY
It is the simple story of God’s love for humanity and His offer to save all who place their trust in Him: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18:17).
Somewhere along the way, though, we have complicated the gospel to the degree that it has become convoluted and difficult to understand. People don’t need to have a thorough understanding of systematic theology in order to place their trust in Jesus. All they need is simple childlike faith. Look at the early disciples. None of the Twelve had a theological education. Peter was a fisherman, anything but educated. Matthew was a tax collector. He was not a biblical scholar.
One of the most common excuses I hear from those who are not actively involved in evangelism is that they simply don’t feel qualified. They say, “I just don’t know enough about the faith” or “I’d rather leave that to someone who knows more about the Bible than I do.” But the gospel is so simple that even a little child can understand it!
One of the reasons why children and youth are so vital to the life of the church is because they are ripe for the harvest. They have not become “set in their ways.” We need to focus on the story of the gospel, especially with young people. Statistics show that 19 out of every 20 people who come to Christ do so before they reach the age of 24. Young people are especially receptive to the gospel.
The renowned evangelist D.L. Moody once spoke with a woman who didn’t like his method of evangelism. “I don’t really like mine either,” he said. “What’s yours?” She replied that she didn’t have one. Moody said, “Then I like mine better than yours.” The point being that we are responsible to share the gospel with lost people. Some evangelism is better than none at all.
Not all of us may be able to discuss the finer points of theology, but like the blind man, we can say, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Those who know Jesus find it very simple to introduce Him to others.
The gospel is elementary.
2. The Gospel is EXCLUSIVE
There is no other way to gain access to God and eternal life except through Jesus Christ. Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The exclusivity of the gospel goes against the grain of our postmodern culture and many take offense to the truth that Jesus is the only way to be saved. Postmodernists are appalled by the audacity of any one truth being the only truth or any one way being the only way. The exclusivity of the gospel may not be popular, but Jesus tells us that He is “the ONLY Way, the ONLY Truth, and the ONLY Life.” Any message which claims there is salvation in anyone or anything other than Jesus is heresy.
One of the most difficult questions many Christians fear being asked by a lost person is this: “What about all those people who never heard about Jesus? What about those people who have never had a chance? How can God send them to hell?” But these questions arise from a faulty understanding of why people go to hell. People don’t go to hell because God wants them to; they go to hell because they deserve to. All of us are sinners and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23, 6:23), but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. The good news of the gospel is Jesus died for our sins! He acted as our Substitute. He paid the penalty for our sins, so we could be forgiven.
The gospel is exclusive.
3. The Gospel is ETERNAL
It is timeless, changeless, and applicable to all people, in all places (Matthew 24:14). Many things have changed in the 2,000 years since Jesus ascended into heaven, but don’t be fooled by all the changes in our world; the most prominent things have stayed the same: people are still born with a sinful nature, they still rebel against God, and they are still helpless to save themselves. The message that God loves us and sent His Son, Jesus, to save us has not changed. It is timeless and applies to everyone. The methods we employ to share it may have changed, the language we use to communicate it may have changed, the customs surrounding our worship and singing may have changed, but the message is still the same.
The fact Jesus went to the cross in order to pay for our sins is good news! The fact Jesus was buried in a grave, but rose 3 days later is good news! Because of what Jesus has done, all people, from all nations, of every race, every color, and every social level have the opportunity to be forgiven, saved, and brought into a right relationship with God with the hope of eternal life in heaven. That’s good news!
The gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal.
4. The Gospel is EXACTING
It is a message which demands everything from those who accept it. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
I often wonder how many people who claim to follow Jesus really understand what it is He wants of those who follow Him. Do they really understand that believing in Jesus means they abandon everything to Him? Do they really preach a message in conformity with the one He preached? Or have they come up with their own version of the gospel?
When we preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must be careful not to preach an incomplete version; one which calls for nothing, but promises everything. Sadly, this is what many people see and hear when they go to many churches today. They simply hear a part of the gospel: the part which speaks to what we get out of it and not the part which demands everything from us.
If it were that easy to follow Jesus, if all it entailed was believing that He is God and that He wants good things for us, then there is no reason why anyone would reject it. But the gospel, as Jesus taught it and Scripture explains it, means we surrender ourselves, totally and completely, by faith, to Him. The gospel demands we take up our cross, the instrument of death, and follow Jesus. It calls us to surrender our wills to the will of the Father, even as Jesus did. It assaults our pride and self-sufficiency, calling on us to renounce our own abilities and to see ourselves for the sinners we are. It demands we abandon our love for this world, and instead place our treasure in heaven and our hope in the world to come. A faith which demands nothing from us is neither a biblical nor a saving faith.
The gospel is exacting.
5. The Gospel is ENLIGHTENING
It teaches us to obey all Christ has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus does not call us to simply make converts, but to make disciples. The Great Commission includes the careful discipling of new believers. Jesus is not satisfied with any hasty profession of faith. We are not called to evoke decisions, but to make disciples. And that is an altogether different assignment!
Making disciples involves Christian training. That is why I believe many activities at church need to be geared towards Bible study, at every level. There is to be basic Bible study, designed to help people understand the basic claims of Christ and to help them come to faith in Jesus. And there is to be more intense Bible study as well, which is designed to help Christians grow, mature, and develop deeper in the faith. All of this is part of what it means to make disciples.
The gospel is enlightening.
6. The Gospel is EFFECTIVE
It thoroughly transforms those who believe: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The person who truly accepts Christ is a brand new person, old things have passed away and all things have become new. If a person is really saved, there will be a metamorphosis in their life, a transformation whereby they will be changed.
If there is no change, there is no salvation. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them” (Mt. 7:20). That’s not only the fruit of new converts, but the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Do we possess those qualities in increasing measure?
If the fruit of the Spirit is not evidenced in our life, how can we say Jesus has changed us? How can we claim transformation if there is little to no difference between us and the lost guy next door? The gospel will change us from the inside out. It is not merely a moral code we try and obey; it is not merely a set of nice things we strive towards. The gospel is revolutionary, it is transformational, it changes all who truly accept it to be like Jesus. The question the world is constantly asking as they look at your life and mine is, “Did it work for them? Were they changed? Do I see any transformation in their life?”
The gospel of Jesus Christ is effective.
7. The Gospel is EXTENDED
Those who truly accept Christ will be busy about the business of sharing Him with others: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). If we are believers in Jesus Christ, we have a stewardship of the gospel, something for which we will be held accountable. It is something God has entrusted to us. But more than that, it is something He has commanded us to do. Sharing the gospel should never be seen as a burden, like paying taxes, but rather as a privilege, like being an ambassador. In fact, that’s what the Scripture says we are: we are ambassadors, sent from Heaven’s throne to the world around us to be messengers of peace and reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20). We are to go to others on behalf of God Himself and to offer them the opportunity to know Him through Jesus Christ. We are to tell them of His love, and invite them to accept His offer of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
While speaking in London, evangelist D. L. Moody was approached by a British companion who wanted to know the secret of Moody’s success in leading people to Christ. Moody directed the man to his hotel window and asked, “What do you see?” The man looked down on the square and reported a view of crowded streets. Moody suggested he look again. This time the man mentioned seeing people – men, women, and children. Moody then directed him to look a third time. The man became frustrated that he was not seeing what Moody wanted him to see. Finally, the great evangelist came to the window with watery eyes and said, “I see people going to hell without Jesus. Until you see people like that, you will not lead them to Christ.”
What kind of witness are you? When God calls you into account someday for the stewardship of the gospel, when He asks you to tell Him how you handled the most precious and powerful gift He ever placed in the hands of humanity, what will you say? Now that you know and understand what the Good News is, what are you going to do about it? What difference are you going to make in the life of God’s church?