The great commission is a subject that demands a practical response from all of us who profess to be Christians. It is a subject that is more taught about, preached and discussed, than it is complied with. The cultural mandate on the other hand is somewhat inadvertently complied with (albeit in an extremely limited way in Africa) but little thought about from a biblical perspective.

Via an exposition of Matt 28:19–20, and its implications, this article endeavours to illustrate how the great commission relates to the cultural mandate. Although these two mandates can stand independently of each other, they are not at all completely divorced from each other. As a matter of fact they are just different sides of the same coin. In this article I will therefore be arguing that the goal of the great commission is to make disciples who will obey all of God’s commands (Matt 28:19), including the command to work the earth into a glorious garden city.

What is the Great Commission?

In answering this question, we should look into the details of the commission. The great commission was the Lord’s command to his disciples to go into the world to make disciples of all nations. Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he gathered his disciples together and declared: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising 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” (Matt 28:19–20). There are five important issues highlighted in this declaration. They touch upon the authority, commands, and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. The Authority of Jesus: The basis of the great commission is Jesus’ authority. “All authority has been given to me,” declared the risen Lord and Saviour. The Greek word rendered “authority” (exousia) signifies Jesus’ right, as the Son of God, to command obedience in all spheres of life—“in heaven and on earth. The risen Christ could have said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been returned to me.” He had, after all, always been the Lord—the one who created heaven and earth. Now as the God-man, authority is returned to him. It is with this regal authority that he sends forth his people into the world—to go and make disciples.
  2. The command to go and make disciples: In the Greek text, the word “go” in Matthew 28:19 reads as a participle, “having gone.” which carries the force of an imperative (command). Christ was therefore strongly commanding his men to go forth and “make disciples.” The basic form of the Greek word translated disciples is mathetes, which means “a learner or an imitator of his teacher” (John 15:8). The word is derived from the root math, which indicates “thought accompanied by endeavour” (Vine, p. 221). The Greek verb which was translated as “to make disciples” might just as correctly be rendered in an alternate fashion: “to disciple.” Thus, Christ was telling the apostles, to “Go and disciple!” that is to say, to teach, or make learners of all people.
  3. The command to baptise: The Apostles were commissioned to disciple and baptise converts. Biblical baptism is in the name of the triune God. The text also suggests that baptism is the initiatory ordinance, by which one enters the visible church of God. Matthew Henry, states that discipling entails that “the essentials of the religion of Jesus—the remoulding of the character, through the truth—is necessary to entitle any individual to baptism.”
  4. The command to teach: The directives of the command spell out an additional responsibility after one leads someone into the knowledge of and obedience to the Son of God. Namely, the work of instructing the disciple in the fundamentals of the faith “… and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” As to what they were commanded to teach, Christ left them in no doubt—they were to teach all that he taught them during the course of his ministry here on earth.
  5. The pledge of our Lord’s abiding presence: Jesus pledged that in the course of their work of carrying out the commission, he would “be with them always, even to the end of the world.” There is not a more comforting New Testament statement than this. The Apostle Paul had a first-hand experience of the fulfilment of this promise and he testifies to it when he wrote: “At my first defence no one took my part, but all forsook me … but the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me (2 Tim. 4:16, 17). For sure the abiding presence of Christ serves as an assurance of success as we engage in the work of the great commission.

The Relationship Between the Two Mandates

The great commission is a call for the church to announce the Lordship of the risen Christ over all creation and to disciple nations to obey all that Christ commanded. The cultural mandate, however, is a call for man to subdue the earth. Sin has however, seriously limited man’s ability to subject himself to the Lordship of Christ and to subdue the earth. Through the gospel which is delivered in the great commission, however, man is not only brought to Christ, but also empowered and emboldened to carry out the cultural commission.                                                                                                        From the beginning, it was God’s intention for man to fill, rule, keep, and work the earth (Gen 1:26; 2:15). Although the fall brought about man’s estrangement from the earth, it did not cause God to abrogate the cultural mandate, for after the fall he reiterated the same mandate to Adam and Eve—“cultivate the ground” (Gen. 3:23).

Furthermore, after the flood, God reiterates man’s call to reproduce: “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1). Rather, the fall made the drawing out of the potentialities that reside in the earth difficult. Men will have to strive with “thorns and thistles” and gain the fruit of the earth only “by the sweat of your brow” (Gen 3:18–19). Likewise, verse 16 informs us that the task of filling the earth will be accompanied by increased pain in childbirth. The purpose of the great commission, therefore, is to free man from his slavery to sin and restore the image of God in him, vitiated by the fall, so that they can, among other things, fulfil their “culturative” tasks to God’s glory, and so that the earth too may be transformed and eventually find release from its bondage at the very same time that the glory of the saints is revealed (Rom 8:18–21). The majority of today’s Christians work in a lopsided way. The Christian has invested more in fulfilling the great commission (Matthew 28:18–20) than he has in fulfilling the cultural commission. Doing the former has yielded numerical benefits to the church, while neglecting the latter has left us with the sad spectacle of cultural chaos.

The Christian’s Responsibility in Light of the Above

A twofold responsibility should immediately come to mind:

  1. The priority of evangelism and discipleship

      Christians must engage in an evangelistic activity that is passionate and that presents a Christ and cross centred message. In other words, Christians must go into the world, spreading the life-transforming message that is found in the gospel.

A matter that has concerned me and which I believe should concern every Bible-believing Christian regarding the application of the great commission in the modern church is the apparent failure of the gospel to effect deep and lasting transformation in our communities. My concern is not about whether we are seeing or hearing reports of thousands of people converting to Christ and numerous churches and Christian organisations mushrooming all over the place in our neighbourhoods, because undoubtedly we are, but this numerical expansion does not show a corresponding transformation in the societies. Is it that the gospel that is being preached is erroneous and truncated—a different gospel? Or is there something else lacking?

There is no doubt that in some cases (if not most) a different gospel is being sounded forth—a gospel that has been emptied of its power and, therefore, one that cannot change whole lives and societies. I also believe that our discipleship has sometimes stopped short of producing Christians who can be influential beyond the aisles of our churches.


  1. The Priority in Discipleship that Includes Culture-Making

This will call for a paradigm shift in as far as our worldview is concerned. We need to put on a Christian and biblical worldview. This will require not only our trust in the gospel, but also the need to imbibe a biblical outlook to the whole of life. Many of us are quite happy to grace the church when we become Christians, but quite unwilling to change the world around us.

This is often because we have created a false dichotomy between what we regard as being sacred and what is secular. For many of us these two are mutually exclusive compartments. The sacred equates to such things as church attendance, worship, prayer life, Bible study, and “full time Christian service”, while the secular relates to other areas of life such as work, leisure time, the arts, law, politics, and social services. The latter are assumed to be of little concern to God and, therefore, should be of little concern to the Christian. Such an outlook, I believe, inhibits our ability to exploit our full potential as culture-makers. Unless we change, our efforts will always leave us impotent in our bid to connect the core doctrines of the Bible to cultural and civic life. In other words, we will not effectively serve as salt and light in the world (Mt. 5:13–16) as we will not really bear witness to the truth in all areas of society.

The great commission, I believe, is a call to the church to offer to a world that has been made impotent by sin, a message that will at once rescue men from sin and turn them into ideal men. The gospel (which is presented in the great commission) teaches that God is reconciling men to himself, making them new men in Christ, the new Adam. In Christ we do not just find narrow escape from perdition. We find a new way of being human under a new, better federal head. The great commission endeavours, under Christ, following his lead, advancing in his strength, to contribute to that process of making people into restored Adams—men and women who competently carry out the tasks of filling the earth and subduing it and producing artefacts that at the same time minister to the needs of man and also bring glory to God.


The foregoing is an attempt to encourage the reader to value both the great commission and the cultural mandate. To stop at one at the expense of the other is to be lopsided. To embrace them both is to have a holistic view of redemption.                    Let us, therefore, answer the call of the great commission, to convert men and make them into the kind of disciples who will not only flee from sin and engage in spiritual work, but also, ones who will make God-glorifying culture and thus bring about dignity and the total transformation of our societies.


Bosch, J. David (1980) Witness to the world, Pretoria; Marshall and Scott

Henry, Matthew (1708) Gospel of Matthew, Virginia; Mac Donald publishing Company

Metzger, Michael (2009);

Stevens, R. Paul (1999) The Abolition of the Laity; Carlisle; Paternoster Press