Once we make our way through doubt, come to understand the gospel story and saving faith in the risen Christ, these questions arise: How do we practice the resurrection? What difference does it make in you and me? How do we live this new, or raised, life?
The last lines of Matthew’s Gospel belong to Jesus himself. Believers in the resurrection cherish them because the final words of their Savior explain how to live the resurrected life. After his resurrection, and just before his ascension to the Father, Jesus tells his disciples how to be fruitful and multiply with their new, abundant life. He describes a life characterized by a new authority, a new identity, and a new mission.
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 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. – Matthew 28:16-20
A New Authority: Follow Me
Jesus has all authority on heaven and earth. His authority eclipses the kings of Israel and the leaders of nations. All other kings die; Jesus vanquished death. All rulers are made, but all things were made by and for Jesus. His rule extends beyond the earth into the heavens, where he deposes powers and will bring all who are in opposition to surrender, establishing never-ending peace. Paul poetically describes his lordship:
[Jesus] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. – Colossians 1:15-20
In short, the risen Jesus has all the authority in the universe. Christ is profoundly great and good. He deserves our worship and obedience. Those who possess resurrected life joyfully acknowledge that Jesus is in charge and follow him. We listen to what he says, by reading his teachings, and we follow what he says, by lining our lives up with his teaching. A disciple learns to submit to Jesus in every facet of life. From waking up to going to bed, everything falls under his authority. Short-term plans and long-term investments are decided by his instruction. Living the resurrected life means placing yourself under Christ’s rule. He is in charge and he is good at it. So know this—Jesus is no tyrant. He does not abuse his power. Rather, he is a loving and serving master. He is the master who washes his disciples feet. He is the king who lays down his life for his friends and, yes, even for those who doubt him. You are not cheated. You can run the cost-benefit analysis a million times, but it always comes out the same. The cost of submitting to Jesus pales in comparison to the rich relationship and future you have in Christ.
Four Ways to Follow Jesus
- In Community. Following Jesus is communal. You need others and they need you. You share in struggle and daily remind each other of the abundant life and precious savior you have in common. Christians gather on Sunday to sing not only to God but each other: “Jesus rose from the dead!”
- In Prayer. Have you ever wondered why Christians pray? They pray because they know how dependent they are on God. Prayer is an invitation to know God and join his grace agenda for our lives.
- In Repentance & Faith. Repentance and faith are integral to the Christian life. Repentance is not feeling sorry to get on God’s good side. It is turning from the fleeting promises of sin to the superior promises of the Savior. It is seeing that, by grace, we are already on God’s good side and nothing else can compare to him.
- In the Story. Despite its age and apparent obscurity, the Bible is the story and inspired texts of God. It teaches us how to follow Jesus. We read it not to learn about extinct cultures, but to know and follow our Savior who was raised.
New Identity: In Christ
Resurrection life is nothing short of an entirely new identity. An identity is formed by what defines you. In American culture, your sexual orientation, your political party, your race, your religion, or your home state may define you. You can find identity in your occupation, your alma mater, your hobbies, and even your clothes. You can locate your identity by filling in the blank with “I am ____” statements.
- I am an accountant
- I am a Buddhist
- I am an alcoholic
- I am a vegetarian
- I am a Longhorn
- I am a skater
- I am white
- I am a democrat
- I am gay
- I am beautiful
- I am a hipster
- I am a disciple
- I am a Christian
Sometimes our identities are a composite. However, there some are typically stronger than others. How do you know which is strongest? Think about the one you just couldn’t live without. If you can’t imagine life living without it, you may have found your deepest identity. Each identity has a hidden mantra that goes something like: I am what I eat, who I sleep with, how I make money, what I wear, what I look like, or where I came from. Others are defined by their addictions and failures.
The interesting thing about many identities is that they come from what we do. The resurrected life is different. Instead of being named by the things we have done, we are named “in the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” We no longer have to be defined by our rise and fall in success and failure. Instead, our identity is defined by God’s utter success over our sinful failures and his gift of new life. We have a new identity. The New Testament describes our newfound identity in various ways:
- Child of God
- Friend of God
- Sent one or missionary
- New Creation
- Saint (Holy One)
This list only scratches the surface of our new identity in Christ. This is God’s grace in the resurrected life. We don’t deserve these wonderful identities. Yet, Christ’s work is to give them to us. They all spring from grace—what he has done for us, not what we have done for him. He is Father to the child, Friend to the friend, Master to the servant, Ultimate Missionary to the sent one, Savior to the disciple, Resurrection to the new creation, Holy to the saint.
Empowered by the Presence of God
Jesus’ final words make it clear; we will not be abandoned: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The resurrected Jesus is not in a distant universe or looking down from the clouds to see how well we are doing. He is with us and will be forever. The resurrected life is a continually restored relationship with God. We will not be exiled. We will not be alone. This is the ultimate benefit of following Jesus: Jesus himself. We can enjoy him daily. Like Adam and Eve before their rebellion, we can always walk the garden with God.
The promise of God’s presence isn’t a fleeting greeting on the inside of hallmark card. It is real comfort and power. As Jesus was preparing his disciples, he told them he would send them the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, the Book of Acts tells the story of how the Holy Spirit empowers normal disciples to follow Jesus. We see the Spirit empower ordinary people like you and me to speak the gospel boldly, obey Jesus commands, heal the sick, make disciples, give generously, and care for the poor. The Holy Spirit is the power of the resurrection for Jesus and for us: “And the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). The power of the resurrection is in us through the Spirit!
Now, we could easily read this think, “Okay, let’s get to work…maybe I can do this.” But if you set off in your own resolve, you will fall flat. I do. When Im not living out of resurrection power (depending on the Spirit through prayer), I end up relying on emotional power. If I feel good that day, I’ll attempt to live out of my new identity and follow Jesus. If I don’t feel good, I’ll struggle to follow him. Either way, I miss the vibrancy of the Spirit. I quickly tire out, snap at others, or silently take credit for good things. I amass self-righteousness through self-dependence. However, when I begin the day with utter dependence upon the Spirit, drawing near to God in prayer, asking for his power and guidance throughout the day, it changes things entirely. Instead of tiring out, I’m filled up. Instead of snapping at others, I find a hesitating nudge from the Spirit to love and forbear. Instead of taking credit, I’m quick to give glory to God. The Holy Spirit enables you to live the resurrected life. He bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, even in difficult circumstances. You don’t have to muster up the strength to follow Jesus. Instead, you get to rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit.
New Mission: Make Disciples
Matthew 28:18-20 is what Christians call the Great Commission, the dominant marching orders for all who have faith in Christ. It can sound a bit militant: “Take God’s authority and make disciples.” But remember, these orders are from the one who lays down his life. Ironically, our orders are to invite through imitation. The mission is to make disciples through our words and actions. Or, as Jesus said, “teach and obey.” In fact, it is when we experience the riches of renewal through Christ that we become, as Eugene Peterson says, “God’s advertisement to the world.” We make disciples by living resurrected lives and telling people about the resurrected Christ.
There’s not a hint of coercion here. It’s a life of love. Jesus wants us to spread the gospel throughout the world by spending our lives intentionally with others. Resurrection doesn’t stop with us but travels through us. The commission is to invite. We get to invite others to join his redemptive agenda for human flourishing and the remaking of the world. We are sent to share the good news that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us. Jesus calls his followers to participate in his work of renewing the world.
Part of what makes this command great is its scope—all nations. When Jesus spoke these words, he was orienting a primarily Jewish audience to a distinctly multi-ethnic mission. We get the word, “ethnic” from the Greek word for nations, which doesn’t refer to modernist geo-political states, but to non-Jewish ethnic groups (Gentiles). The commission is not calling disciples’ to Christianize nation-states, but to share the good news of what Jesus has done with all ethnic groups. Christ does not advocate Christendom, a top-down political Christianity. Instead, he calls his followers to transmit a bottom-up, indigenous Christianity, to all peoples in all cultures. The command is to make disciples of all nations not from all nations. So, we aren’t meant to exchange our rich culture for a cheap, consumer, Christian knock-off culture. Andrew Walls puts it well:
Conversion to Christ does not produce a bland universal citizenship: it produces distinctive discipleship, as diverse and variegated as human life itself. Christ in redeeming humanity brings, by the process of discipleship, all the richness of humanity’s infinitude of cultures and subcultures into the variegated splendor of the Full Grown Humanity to which the apostolic literature points Eph 4.8-13.
What we should strive for is distinctive discipleship, discipleship that uniquely expresses personal faith in our cultural context. Disciples in urban Manhattan will look different than disciples in rural Maehongson. These differences allow for a flourishing of the gospel that contributes to the many-splendored new humanity of Christ. Simply put, the message of Jesus is for the flourishing of all humanity in all cultures.
The Call of Resurrection
Jesus tells those who follow to leave all they have behind, to give their lives to the poor, to love their enemies, and be a blessing to the world. The resurrection enables us to follow Jesus. In this we risk for the sake of humanity and out of belief in the gospel. We do not hold back because we live with the certainty that death and sin have been defeated. His death and resurrection has become our death and resurrection. We have a new authority, identity, and mission.
Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and Unbelievable Gospel. He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.
Brad Watson serves as a pastor of Bread&Wine Communities in Portland, Oregon. He is also the director of GospelCenteredDiscipleship.com. His greatest passion is to encourage and equip leaders for the mission of making disciples.