Many people want to understand how to respond to Christ’s command that we are part of his Great Commission. They ask: “What is the next step?”
The answer is simple: become intentional about walking with Christ. The key word here is intentional. This next step is essential for most of us. It can also make a tremendous difference in the life of the individual and the fellowship.
A longtime friend and elder put it well when he said that so much of the problem that people were facing in his congregation revolved around the fact that they were conditioned to be reactive, or even passive, to the gospel needs and opportunities in our immediate surroundings.
Now, he said, we understand the need to take responsibility for sharing the gospel personally, to be proactive. But he concluded that it is a real struggle for a lot of people to make the transformation from being reactive to being a proactive part of the gospel of Christ—living with the knowledge that we were called to live our lives for them (the lost), not just for ourselves.
Why are you saying that intent is so important?
It’s simple when you think about it: God is an intentional being. You can see it in Genesis 1, where the God of creation moved across the face of the waters of a confused planet and with great intent restored it to a state of beauty. Or, you can look at John 1, where God intentionally came to earth and lived in the flesh in order to be the Savior of the human race.
God is not only a God of intent, he has the power to make whatever he intends become reality. The Great Commission is a statement of intent as well. Jesus is saying that the power to make intent become reality has been given to him. He therefore wants us, when we go into all the world, to make disciples.
We are also intentional beings. That is one of the great gifts God has given us when he made us in his image. But unlike God, we do not have the power to always make our intention become perfect reality. Sometimes we don’t even manage to make our intention reality at all, and sometimes we get a reality that we didn’t intend.
Why intent must be the next step
The Great Commission is of essential importance. But the Great Commission is not a mantra, nor is it a command that is independent of the other statements that surround it.
Edmund Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, observed that in order to understand Matthew 28:18-20, one must see it in the context of Matthew 4:19, where Jesus says to those who would be disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
A Christian’s primary intent should be to wholeheartedly participate with Jesus and allow him to lead us on that journey. That journey of following him is led, guided and guarded by Jesus personally. He knows the path and the destination. He chooses the pleasant meadows of the good times and the narrow confines of our trials and sorrows. This is a journey we will never finish in this life. When we draw our last breath, it will be on the road, so to speak. Most importantly for us, this is intended to be a journey of transformation.
It is essential to be clear on this point, because it forms the foundation of all that follows. Jesus causes a powerful transformation to happen within us as we intentionally participate and wholeheartedly submit to Christ’s authority in our lives. As we are transformed, we become attractive to the lost who are seeking to understand the purpose of life. I cannot emphasize enough that this is what makes the difference between being part of Christ carrying out his will on this earth vs. trying to “do evangelism” and asking God to bless the endeavor.
Where the power of intent enters the picture
Christ desires to shape our future, our reality and who we are. That is what the “follow me” is all about. I can’t make my intent reality, but I do have the God-given ability (and responsibility) to be intentional in my desire to follow him. This is an essential response to Jesus’ command to “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” In so doing, we open ourselves up to Christ and allow him to make us an effective part of his will on this earth.
What would some of the transforming effects be when we are intentional about being part of Christ’s journey, as opposed to asking him to be the guide of our journey? The semantics are small, the difference in life is huge. We would become much more aware of the existence of unsaved people around us. We tend to block out the clutter of other people’s lives, especially those for whom we feel that we have no responsibility. Being intentional about following Jesus on a daily journey automatically nudges us into a priestly mentality, because that is who Jesus is.
It is interesting to note that Christ inspired Peter to write that we, the members of the Body of Christ, are part of a royal priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices in the name of Jesus the High Priest (1 Peter 2:9). What are those spiritual sacrifices, in practical 21st-century terms, that Christ desires that we offer? The answers to that question should shape who we are and what we do, both personally and collectively.
We would be growing spiritually. Being intentional about journeying with Christ would probably cause a person to begin talking to God about helping him or her to overcome some of the long-standing failings, be they commission or omission, that cause us to miss the mark. This is quite different from the legalistic approach to overcoming, where one is motivated by fear of not being in the kingdom or a desire for a greater reward.
This desire to have our character formed in Christ is driven by the realization that it is Christ in us who makes us attractive to the lost, and every sin that remains resident in us causes people to see Satan’s way in action instead of the transforming power of the love of God at work in us.
We would be more serious about knowing what we believe and being able to give a sensible explanation of those beliefs. Being intentional about journeying with Christ tends to stimulate a person to also be intentional about having an effective response to a lost person who needs and desires to know that there is a God, and to know how they might connect with him. Why would we leave such an important thing to accident?
Think about the words of Isaiah that Christ adopted as a primary theme of his ministry to humanity, “Comfort ye my people.” “Tell them that their iniquities are pardoned.” “That their warfare is ended.” And “make straight a highway to our God.”
Should we not invest some intentional effort at being able to assess the felt need of a person and being able to articulate that part of the gospel that speaks to their immediate need, thereby encouraging them to take a step toward redemption? Is not a highway a long series of steps that has been cleared of obstacles, and passage made as simple as possible? What is the practical application of making a highway to our God (for the lost)? What part do we play, and what constitutes, in real terms, making a highway for them?
Being intentional about being on Christ’s journey would lead us to change the way we allocate our time. We might begin to focus more time and energy on people instead of things. We would also tend to focus more on the relationships that we either have, or can develop, with people who do not have a saving relationship with Jesus. The focus of that time would be outgoing—being there for them, serving them in some small or great way, one time or ongoing.
I hope it becomes clear that by being intentional about yielding to Jesus’ command to engage in a lifetime journey of following him, we put ourselves in the best position to be effective in his Great Commission. This is the power of intent.
Next segment—it gets even better!
So far we’ve talked about the powerful spiritual dynamic that is put into motion when we are intentional about making our walk with Christ part of our daily thought and action. We’ve seen what a transforming effect it has on our personal life. But that is only the beginning. The power of intent goes way beyond our own life. By being intentional in our walk with Christ, we become a part of what he is doing on a much larger scale. We are often not even aware of its scope until it has passed by and borne incredible fruit.
In the next installment I’ll give a couple of exciting examples from the lives of believers in the early church, how a small, insignificant group of outcasts rocked an empire. They didn’t know that was what they were doing. They were just being intentional about following Christ. But by being intentional about their walk with Christ, they put themselves in a position to be a part of something big.