In light of the fact that many, and perhaps most, Christians do not seem to be actively involved in sharing the good news of salvation with non-believers and helping them to become disciples of Jesus Christ, the question is: What is the responsibility of each Christian to follow the teaching of what is generally referred to as The Great Commission?
First, let’s consider what the Bible says in this regard. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless indicated otherwise.]
What the Bible Says about The Great Commission
In Mathew 28:19-20, as Jesus Christ was about to ascend to heaven after His resurrection, He told His eleven remaining inner circle of Disciples, “’Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
Since the instruction that Jesus Christ gave in the preceding biblical passage was spoken just to His eleven Apostles, some people may be uncertain as to whether or not The Great Commission is applicable to every Christian or just to the Apostles to whom Christ spoke those words.
In addressing this matter, it should be noted that, in the same passage, Christ told His Apostles to teach those who would become new disciples to observe (or practice) “all things that I have commanded you.” In other words, all the commands (or instructions) that Christ gave to the Apostles are applicable to every Christian disciple.
Second Corinthians 5:18-20 is another scripture passage that indicates The Great Commission is applicable to every Christian. This passage says, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
With regard to the term “the ministry of reconciliation,” People’s New Testament says that it refers to the gospel, “the object of which is to transform men, and to bring them to peace with God.” And, a footnote in the NIV Bible states, “We who are recipients of divine reconciliation have the privilege and obligation of now being God’s instruments to proclaim the ‘message of reconciliation’.”
John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible explains that “Since God has made reconciliation by Christ, and the ministry of it is committed to us, we are ambassadors for him. . . .” According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word that is translated as ambassador refers to a person who acts as a representative. And, Webster’s Dictionary defines the term ambassador as “a special representative;” “an official agent with a special mission” [emphasis added].
Another scripture passage, 1 Peter 3:15b, states, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” In other words, every Christian should be able to explain to non-Christians why they have confidence that they have eternal salvation. Since this passage evidently includes passive sharing of the gospel, it is a biblical instruction that even timid Christians should obey. (Passive sharing, as we define it, pertains to responding to an inquiry by someone else, whereas proactive sharing pertains to taking the initiative to share.)
Also in regard to 1 Peter 3:15b, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible asserts,
This verse does not impose an obligation to bring forward a learned proof and logical defense of revelation. But . . . believers . . . must be buoyed up by some strong “hope”; men of the world, having no such hope themselves, are moved by curiosity to ask the secret of this hope; the believer must be ready to give an . . . account “how this hope arose in him, what it contains, and on what it rests [Steiger].
What Other Christian Sources Say about The Great Commission
Billy Graham, probably the most renowned evangelist of the twentieth century, if not of all time, has made a number of statements regarding the responsibility of every Christian to share the good news of salvation with non-believers. The following are some of those statements:
“Evangelism is not a calling reserved exclusively for the clergy. I believe one of the greatest priorities of the church today is to mobilize the laity to do the work of evangelism.” [Just As I Am, page 696]
“We are stewards of the Gospel. The power to proclaim the greatest news in heaven and earth was not given to the angels; it was given to redeemed men. Every Christian is to be a witness.” [The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook, page 297]
“One of Satan’s most effective ways of blocking God’s work is to convince us God can’t use us to make an impact for Christ. But it isn’t true. All around you are people no one else will ever be able to reach with the Gospel.” [The Journey, page 286]
“God wants to use you right where you are. Every day you probably come in contact with people who will never enter a church, or talk with a pastor, or open a Bible – and God wants to use you to point them to Christ.” [Wisdom for Each Day, page 208]
“I am convinced the greatest act of love we can ever perform for people is to tell them about God’s love for them in Christ.” [Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador, page 129]
In their book entitled The Man God Uses, Henry and Tom Blackaby assert on page 78:
We have the same Spirit as Christ. This Spirit brings us into perfect union with the Father as we are obedient, faithful, and yielding to God. Christ says that the purpose for our oneness with him and his Father is “to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). God’s single-minded purpose is to redeem a lost world. We have been redeemed, and now we are joining God in his mission to reclaim souls. Everything we become, through the power of Christ working in us, is for the purpose of reaching the lost around us. We are not being refined just to be holy but to be used by God to reach lost souls. We are not to reach unity simply to enjoy one another’s presence in fellowship and worship but so the world may believe Christ was sent by the love of God to redeem them for eternity.
Further perspective regarding the responsibility of Christians to share the gospel with non-Christians is provided by the Adult Learner Guide for spring 2011, which said,
As we grow more mature spiritually, we will be motivated to continue participating in spreading the gospel.
Our participation in spreading the gospel directly and through supporting others will help us prepare for that day of judgment when we will be called to give an account of how we have used our God-given opportunities.
Even if there were no specific biblical teachings for Christians to share the gospel message with non-Christians, the agape love (i.e., love that motivates a person to put the welfare of others before their own welfare) that Christians are supposed to have for other people should compel us to tell non-Christians about God’s plan for them to receive eternal salvation by trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior. [For a discussion about Christian love for other people, click on “Are Christians Supposed to Love Everyone?”]
A Christian does not need to have the gift of evangelism to be able to share the gospel with others. Every Christian who is willing to be Christ’s disciple (i.e., every Christian who wants to follow Christ’s teachings) should also be willing to serve as an ambassador for Christ, to help fulfill The Great Commission. Furthermore, every Christian who truly loves God and their fellow human beings will not only be willing to share the gospel with other people, but also will desire to do so. While some Christians will share the gospel more proactively than others, all Christians can share their personal testimony when they have an opportunity to share with someone how to have eternal salvation.
Although Christians are instructed to share the Gospel, they are not responsible for the ultimate results. (It can even be argued that the Holy Spirit is not responsible for the results.) Ultimately, the responsibility belongs to each person with whom the Gospel is shared. Each person makes their own decision; no one can make that decision for them; and many people will decide not to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. In this regard, Billy Graham states on page 252 of his book entitled Wisdom for Each Day, “Not everyone Jesus tried to turn back from the brink of destruction responded – nor will they with us.”
[The Appendix that follows should be helpful to Christians who would like to share the gospel with other people but are not familiar with a number of the scriptures that can help others learn how to receive eternal salvation.]
Scripture Verses to Share When Witnessing about How to Receive Eternal Salvation
- God loves everyone: John 3:16; Romans 5:8
- Every person has sinned: Romans 3:10, 23
- There is a penalty for sin: Romans 6:23
- Jesus Christ can save a person; good works can’t: John 3:17-18; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9
- Jesus Christ welcomes anyone who seeks Him: John 6:37; Revelation 3:20
- A person can have assurance of their salvation: 1 John 5:11-13
- Salvation is assured only through trusting in Jesus Christ: John 14:6; Acts 4:10-12
[For additional information regarding how to have assurance of eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]