The fruit of the gospel is different from the gospel itself.
C.S. Lewis said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” Similar juxtapositions have been said about desiring the gifts over the Giver, or redemption over the Redeemer. What you aim for affects what you value, what you measure, the methods you use, and what you emphasize.
It’s important that we aim at the right things, particularly as disciples and church leaders dealing with eternal reality. Considering that most people don’t even learn everything you teach them but just what you’re excited about, this means we need to get excited about the right things. This distinction is of course important when, in today’s church language, the emphases aren’t necessarily on bad things themselves but good things elevated to primary things. There are many things to get excited about in the church, even really good things. Here’s what could happen when you make them your aim:
- Aim at transformed lives, and you’ll get self-help.
- Aim at transformed cities, and you’ll get social activism.
- Aim at emotional response, and you’ll get a momentary experience.
- Aim at personal experience, and you’ll get loyal customers.
- Aim at being a movement, and you’ll get excitement.
Those are each fine and good (and noble!) but any secular, non-profit, or even overtly atheist group can do the same things, and so necessarily they don’t define a Jesus-loving church. The fruit of the gospel is different from the gospel itself—that is, Jesus Christ crucified, resurrected, and reigning.
Life transformation without a Savior merely creates a more obedient or friendlier sinner. God, in and through the gospel, does the ultimate transformation of death to life, creating, as Jesus illustrated, a new tree that bears new fruit (Luke 6).
Transformed cities without a Savior are just better organized and friendlier Babels (Gen. 11). God, in and through the gospel, forgives those who once sought power, status, and recognition by using people to love and serve the people and places they live (Titus 3).
Aiming to give people an emotional response without a Savior is manipulation and self-serving. God, in and through the gospel, forgives those who seek him only for signs and wonders, and gives them Jesus himself through faith (John 6).
It is possible to aim primarily at numbers or influence and you may end up with a crowd or an event but not a church. God, in and through the Gospel, can make consumers into servants (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4) that love one another while engaging non-believers.
Aim at the preaching of Jesus’ gospel and you get the only true hope of change, the only solid ground for social reform, and the only true joy: God himself.
Aim at repentance and faith in Jesus as Peter and Paul did, and pray that the Holy Spirit brings that long-lasting fruit. The greatest service you can perform, the greatest gift you can give someone, is to help them see their Savior more clearly.