The Great Commission is Both Obligation and Gift
In line with Luke’s emphasis on the person and role of the Holy Spirit, it’s no surprise that the command of Christ in Luke 24 is not to go into the world to make disciples, but rather to go to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Spirit. The fact that Jesus’ command before His ascension is “go and wait” rather than “go and tell” underscores the importance of the Holy Spirit’s role in enabling the disciples to live up to the identity Jesus has given them.
What happens if we miss this point?
- We will overestimate the work Christians can do in their own power.
- We downplay the necessity of the Spirit in the work of taking the Gospel to the nations.
Last week, I wrote a blog post pointing out the significance of Jesus’ focus on the identity of witnesses rather than the activity of witnessing. Jesus gives us an identity, not just a task.
Still, it would be a mistake to assume that Christ’s prediction of identity somehow disregards the command of verbal proclamation and witness. The fact that Christ gives the disciples the title “witnesses” assumes that they will, in fact, behave in line with this identity.
A sense of obligation accompanies the prediction.
Imagine a royal family. The father tells his son, “You will be king one day.” This prediction focuses on identity, but it naturally includes certain activities and tasks that will be expected of someone with such an identity, not the least of which includes ruling.
In a similar manner, though the commissioning texts in Luke focus on the identity of witnesses, the fact that Christ expected His followers to engage in activities that demonstrate and prove their identity should not be missed.
Here’s the catch. When you turn from the disciples’ identity to their task, don’t forget the power needed for such activity, power that comes from the Spirit.
The identity of witnesses leads to the activity of witnessing, only because this activity is undergirded by the power of the Holy Spirit. The obligation comes with a gift.
The necessity of the Spirit’s power and presence does not come out of nowhere, but is also part of the Old Testament promises.
- Ezekiel 36:25, for example, focuses on the forgiveness God will grant his people, while the very next verse promises a new heart and God’s Spirit who will indwell the believer and cause him to follow God’s ways.
- Along with the promise of forgiveness of sins in Luke 24:47 comes the promise of the Holy Spirit (v. 49) who enables a relationship with Christ and empowers witnesses to fulfill their mission.
- Not surprisingly, then, in Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he moves effortlessly from proclaiming forgiveness in Jesus (Acts 2:38) to proclaiming the promise of the Spirit (Acts 2:38‒39).
The promise of God in the Old Testament was that His people would be given new hearts and be empowered for ministry through the person and work of the Spirit.
You Need the Spirit
Church leaders in the West tend to view the growth of the church and the implementation of mission in terms of strategies and methods. The back-and-forth between advocates of missional, incarnational ministry, and attractional ministry underscores the different methods and tools available to church leaders who seek to be faithful to the Great Commission.
While not detracting from the importance of measuring strategies and goals in seeking to fulfill Christ’s commands, we must not lose sight of the fact that far more important than having a plan is relying on a Person.
Both commissioning texts in Luke-Acts focus their attention on the need for the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ command to the disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Spirit underscores the truth that, apart from supernatural intervention, the disciples are powerless to accomplish the task Jesus has given them.
Likewise today, our reliance on the Holy Spirit can be measured not by the number of books we read and strategies we implement, but by the time and energy we spend in prayer for the Spirit’s power and work to be manifested in our lives. Relying on the Spirit does not negate the importance of planning and prioritizing and strategizing (as is evident in the way the apostles make plans as they take the Gospel to the nations), but it keeps methods and tools in proper perspective.
It has often been said that we set the sail, and God sends the wind. One of the most important ways we can apply the commissioning texts of Luke-Acts is by remembering our utter need for power from on high as we seek to live in light of our identity as Christ’s witnesses.
So, as you go, don’t forget the Gift.