The divine “Go” commands:

Embracing the biblical model of disciple making

Melak Alemayehu Tsegaw, PhD, is director for the Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies Program at the Adventist University of Africa, Nairobi, Kenya.

The focus for the 2020–2025 strategic plan of the Seventh-day Adventist world church is “I Will Go.” The “strategic plan is rooted in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28, which calls for Jesus’ followers to go and make disciples of all nations.”1 However, to truly obey the “go and make disciples” command, the church has to emphasize two other “go” directives from Jesus Christ. So what are they, and how are they related to the directive to make disciples?

Go and worship God

Jesus pronounced the first “go” command in His sermon on the mount when He denounced the Pharisees’ hypocritical prayer posture and admonished His disciples to take a different route. He said, “ ‘But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you’ ” (Matt. 6:6, NRSV).

Here Jesus directed His disciples to spend quality time with God, have personal communion with their heavenly Father, and build an intimate relationship with Him. Since true prayer is two-way communication, it is essential to go into our rooms with the Bible and let God speak to us through His Word. In doing so, it is beneficial to pray what John Piper calls the IOUS prayer:

“Incline [our] heart[s] to your testimonies” (Ps. 119:36, ESV);
“open [our] eyes that [we] may behold wondrous things out of your law” (v. 18, ESV);
“unite [our] heart[s] to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11, ESV); and
“satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14, ESV).2

Indeed, true worship is a constant growth in our ability to love God with all our hearts. It does not glorify God when we honor Him with our lips while our hearts are far from Him. God wants us to surrender ourselves and let Him be our all in all. A case in point here is the narrative about Abraham where the Hebrew emphatic imperative, lēk lĕkā, “go yourself,” occurs twice (Gen. 12:1; 22:2). By obeying the first “go” command, he surrendered all his past to God and started on a journey to follow Him by faith. When Abraham obeyed the second “go” command, he surrendered all his future and offered the promised son on the altar as a sacrifice. We also need to have this attitude of surrender when we obey the command of Jesus Christ, our Master, to go and worship.

One has to be a disciple and grow in loving God and others to be an effective witness and make other disciples of Jesus.

In the same vein, author Ellen White urged us to pray the following: “Lord, take my heart; for I can not keep it for Thee. Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unchristianlike self. Mould me, fashion me, raise me into a pure, holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul.” Then she emphasized the importance of praying such a prayer often: “It is not only at the beginning of the Christian life that this renunciation of self is to be made. At every advance step heavenward it is to be renewed. All our good works are dependent on a power outside of ourselves. Therefore there needs to be a continual reaching out of the heart after God, a continual, earnest, heart-breaking confession of sin, and humbling of the soul before Him. Only by a constant renunciation of self and dependence on Christ can we walk safely.”3

Thus, as the Seventh-day Adventist world church echoes the watchword “I will go,” the response should be connected to the command, “Go and pray, worship, surrender all to God!” Each member should say, “I will go into my room and surrender all to God.” Local churches should proclaim, “I will go and make my church a house of prayer, make Jesus the center of everything, and consecrate all ministries to God’s glory.” Only when we take this worship posture can we position ourselves to obey the other “go” commands.

Go and fellowship

Jesus also commanded His disciples to make every effort to reflect His love through their fellowship. “ ‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift’ ” (Matt. 5:23, 24, NIV).

A similar command appears in Matthew 18:15: “ ‘If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother’ ” (HCSB). Both commands have the imperative to go. Jesus extended a call to make every effort to keep unity among the family of God. While the first command urges the offender to seek restitution, the second admonishes the offended person to settle the matter with the person who wronged him or her. Indeed, the unity of His children is God’s priority. Christ placed love as the distinguishing mark of His disciples. “ ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ ”
(John 13:35, NIV).

It is pathetic to see unresolved conflicts in the church today spoiling what was once a sweet fellowship among the followers of Christ. When we pay little or no attention to such situations and new members join our churches, they will encounter the indifference to the conflicts and will leave the church through the back door.

A survey, “Why Some Seventh-day Adventist Members Leave the Church, and Why Some Come Back,” reported that “perceived hypocrisy in other members” is the top reason for leaving the church.4 This dismal reality depicts the urgency of our need to obey the second “go” command of Jesus—to go and make every effort to love one another as He loved us.

Ellen White makes the following alarming comment regarding this second command: “Let us take heed that while we confess Christ with our lips, we do not deny him in our actions, and thus lead souls in the way of rebellion. . . .

“Without love one for another we do not keep the commandments of God, and all our profession is mere pretension, and ‘as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.’ Whatever is contrary to love, humility, and faith, denies Christ.”5

White also wrote the following observation: “There is counterfeit Christianity in the world as well as genuine Christianity. The true spirit of a man is manifested by the way in which he deals with his fellow-man. We may ask the question, Does he represent the character of Christ in spirit and action, or simply manifest the natural, selfish traits of character that belong to the people of this world? Profession weighs nothing with God. Before it is everlastingly too late for wrongs to be righted, let each one ask himself, ‘What am I?’ It depends upon ourselves as to whether we shall form such characters as will constitute us members of God’s royal family above.”6

Because of this, Paul exhorted the Ephesians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3, NIV). In fact, he employed the Greek word allelon, “one another,” more than 30 times and told believers to perform certain acts of love and service toward one another. As a community of disciples, we need to go and foster authentic fellowship by giving heed to these exhortations. And “our daily prayer should be, ‘Help us to help each other, Lord; each other’s woes to bear.’ ”7

It is important to remember, then, when we say “I will go,” we should encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), bear with one another (Eph. 4:2), regard one another as more important (Phil. 2:3), greet one another (Rom. 16:16), pray for one another (James 5:16), serve one another (Gal. 5:13), accept one another (Rom. 15:7), admonish one another (Col. 3:16), forgive one another (Eph. 4:32), and love one another (1 John 3:11).

Go and make disciples

So far, we have addressed the first two crucial “go” commands of Jesus—go worship and go fellowship. They underline our vertical relationship with God and horizontal relationship with others. Only when these two aspects are in order can we go and reach others effectually.

The third command mentioned at the beginning of this article occurs in Matthew 28:18–20: “Then 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’ ” (NIV).

Jonah received the divine command to go and proclaim God’s message to the people of Nineveh. Although God accomplished His purpose through the reluctant prophet’s ministry, Jonah’s failure to grow in loving God and His creation robbed him of the joy of making disciples. Although he knew the greatness of God’s love, he did not let that love transform his heart. It is a personal experience of God’s grace and growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ that kindle and fan the fire of mission in the bones of His true disciples. Concurring with this, Preston Sprinkle writes, “It’s fruitless to talk about discipleship without first talking about grace. Grace is the foundation and structure of discipleship. By grace God creates disciples. By grace God cultivates disciples. And it’s by God’s grace that we are transformed into Christlikeness. Grace enables us to be like Jesus, forgives us when we fail to act like Jesus, and empowers us to cling to Jesus in the midst of our brokenness. Jesus, not you or I, is the center of discipleship.”8

In short, one has to be a disciple and grow in loving God and others to be an effective witness and make other disciples of Jesus.

The interconnectedness of the commands

As shown above, the three commands of Jesus—to go worship, fellowship, and make disciples—are interconnected. If we do not go and worship God, if we do not experience His love and grow in loving Him, then we cannot love one another as He loved us. And if we do not love God and one another, we cannot go with power and be His faithful witnesses. So, as we obey the command to go and worship God in truth and spirit and go and forge and foster a vibrant fellowship, we will be empowered to go and be faithful witnesses of God.

As recorded in the book of Acts, the life of the first Christian church portrays their love to God and one another as the source of their success in making disciples: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46, 47; NIV).

This brief biblical report clearly shows us how they obeyed the commands to go worship and go fellowship and how, as a result, their obedience to go and make disciples met with great success.

In conclusion, let us remember that the first disciples were able to achieve evangelistic success because they were obedient to the three “go” commands of Jesus: go worship, go fellowship, and go make disciples. Let us take these three “go” commands seriously and embrace them all when we respond and say “I will go.”

Let us say: “I will go and worship God. I will set aside time every day to commune with Him and surrender myself to Christ.”

Let us say: “I will go and fellowship with my brothers and sisters and make every effort to keep the unity of spirit.”

Let us say: “I will go and witness in the power of God’s Spirit.”

When we do so, we will embrace the biblical model of disciple making.

  1. I Will Go: Strategic Focus 2020–2025, 4, https://iwillgo2020.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/IWG_A4_English.pdf.
  2. John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 151, 152.
  3. Ellen White, “Consecration,” Signs of the Times, January 6, 1904, 2.
  4. Anthony Kent, Leaving the Church: Why Some Seventh-day Adventist Members Leave the Church, and Why Some Come Back, https://www.adventistarchives.org/why-did-they-leave.pdf.
  5. Ellen G. White, “Love the Test of Discipleship,” Youth’s Instructor, December 2, 1897.
  6. Ellen G. White, “Are We Genuine Christians?” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, April 9, 1895, 1.
  7. Ellen G. White, “Home Missionary Work,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, January 31, 189, 19.
  8. Preston M. Sprinkle, Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2016), 25.

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