"Saving people: THAT'S what the church is all about!"...

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Imagine a fortress, absolutely impregnable, provisioned for an eternity. There comes a new commandant. He conceives that it might be a good idea to build bridges over the moats—so as to be able to attack the besiegers.

Charming! He transforms the fortress into a country retreat, and naturally the enemy takes it. So it is with Christianity. They changed the method—and naturally the world conquered. [1]

My wife ran into a friend in the supermarket whose husband works for a large parachurch organization. Their small talk went from this to that, eventually turning to the friend listing for my wife a number of churches she and her husband had attended the past few years. Our friend had nice things to say about each church. Then she brought her list to a conclusion with the chipper exclamation, "Saving people—that’s what church is all about, isn’t it!”

This drew my mind back almost thirty years to an observation my Dad used to make about evangelicals’ single-minded focus on evangelism: “Evangelicals are only interested in getting people saved. And after he's saved, as far as they're concerned he might as well die and go to Heaven because it’s all over.”

Is there a purpose to our lives after we’ve placed our faith in Jesus? Does God have any larger plan for us...

beyond being regenerated, being “born again” or “saved?”

Yes, God most certainly does have a larger purpose for us and that purpose is clear in Scripture.

Good works

Since the Reformation, one of the most widely used Bible curriculums in the Protestant world has been the Westminster Shorter Catechism.[2] This curriculum consists of a summary of the central truths of Scripture taught in the form of one hundred and seven short questions and answers. Question 1 asks, “What is man’s chief end?” to which the student is taught to answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Scripture commands us:

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1Corinthians 10:31)

Stop and think: Glorifying and enjoying God forever is not the same thing as praying the sinner’s prayer or getting saved, is it?

No, it’s more—much more. When we put our faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit works within us so that we are born again, we begin to be intensely aware of God’s work within us. His work encompasses every aspect of our life. He makes everything new:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2Corinthians 5:17)

Being born again by the Spirit of God is quite the beginning, but it’s only the beginning—there’s much more to come. The Holy Spirit didn’t give us the gift of faith simply so we’d escape Hell and go to Heaven in the life to come. Right now we are new creatures and every aspect of this present life has been changed. We stop living for ourselves and begin to live for the honor and glory of our Lord Jesus. He has bought us with a great price—the price of His Own blood—so now that we are believers it’s our highest calling to produce fruit to the glory of God:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

In Heaven at the great Marriage Feast of the Lamb, it is the good works of the individual believer that will clothe Christ’s Bride, the Church, in splendor. Through these “righteous acts” the Church adorns herself making herself beautiful for her Bridegroom:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7, 8)

Being saved, then, is not the end of our lives, but the beginning of the work God from eternity past prepared for us to do. It is our happiness and glory to give ourselves to that work knowing it will be the beautiful clothing adorning Christ’s Bride, the Church, at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Certainly, the work of evangelism—what our friend referred to as “saving people”—is one of the righteous acts, one of the good works God has prepared for us to do. But there are more.

Jesus Christ has also called His Bride, the Church, to be the salt of the earth,[3] the light of the world,[4] and the pillar and foundation of the truth.[5] We are commanded to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, and give the thirsty something to drink.[6] We are to love one another so all men will know we are Jesus’ disciples.[7] Together with other Christians, we are to bless the world just as Jesus and His disciples blessed it.

What a privilege that our Heavenly Father has sent us into the world to share in work so central to His Own Divine Nature and Perfections! Compare this work to the  calling of a nurse, a striker on the Arsenal soccer club, a judge, a midwife, or a mother, and these jobs pale in comparison.

So the church is not all about saving people from Hell. Rather, she is the Bride of Christ called by her Bridegroom to do the good works that will be her wedding gown at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

Think of all the time and energy, not to mention money that brides and their mothers spend selecting a wedding gown: trips to cities hundreds of miles away, endless hours poring over pictures and prices on the internet, then fittings and alterations. It’s no small thing for the bride to prepare her wedding gown.

The church, too, is to prepare herself for the Marriage Feast of the Lamb, and her Husband will be the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So what are we doing to clothe ourselves; what is our church doing to clothe herself in fine linen, bright, clean, and beautiful?

The heart of the church is to bring glory to God, and God is glorified by the church clothing herself with good works. Our Bridegroom delights in the beauty of His bride as she adorns herself with works of righteousness. This is His pleasure, and she is pleased when He is pleased. He loves her and she responds with all her heart, taking pleasure in the work of adorning herself for her Husband.

At the center of every good marriage is a husband who loves his wife and a wife who submits to her husband, adorning herself so that she, her home, and her children bring him glory. This is the meaning of the declaration of God’s Word that woman is the glory of man.[8] We speak of man and his wife, but this is a mystery whereby we also speak of Christ and His bride, the Church.[9]

As the Church fulfills every calling God has given her; as she praises God and prays; as she binds up the brokenhearted, feeds the hungry, and clothes the naked; as she salts and lights the world, loves the unlovely, welcomes the stranger, proclaims Jesus’ death and resurrection, calls all tongues and tribes and nations to believe in Him, makes disciples of all men, teaches them to obey everything He commanded; as the Church gives herself to every good work the Lord appointed her to, she will fulfill her chief end of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. This is the heart of the Church—what the church is all about. Her good deeds are to glorify her Bridegroom.

For a moment, though, let’s stop and ask what happens when a church forgets about all the righteous acts God has prepared for her to do and focuses solely on saving people. Is such a church biblical? Will it be healthy, spiritually? Should we choose such a church to be our church home?

Fruit Inspection

Note that the works God has prepared for us to do aren’t evil works, but good ones. The Bride of Christ can’t make herself beautiful through wicked acts, but only righteous ones. And yes, it's true that righteous acts, good deeds or fruit don’t save us. We are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ—and our faith itself is the gift of God.

Yet without exception the saved man will produce good fruit.

Now stop and consider how often Jesus warns against hypocrisy in the church. He tells us many wolves hide in sheep’s clothing and that we must be on guard against the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees.

So how do we know a man who professes faith in Christ is truly a believer? Or more to the point, how do we know a non-profit religious organization with the word ‘church’ in its name is really a church?

Fruit inspection is the sure-fire test. Our Lord warned us plainly:

(Jesus said) You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:16-20)

God has designed fruit not only to bring Himself glory, but also to reassure believers that we have really been adopted by Him and are now His sons and daughters.

Satan the Deceiver will lie to us telling us we don’t really belong to Jesus because our sins are too bad to be covered by His blood and righteousness, but we are able to resist his lies and have assurance of our sonship through the fruit we produce for our Heavenly Father:

(Jesus said) “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.” (John 15:8)

God has ordained fruitfulness to be the test of the sincerity of our professions of faith. As with individuals, so with non-profit religious organizations that call themselves a "church," our Lord's rule is "by their fruit ye shall know them."

Fruitless believers aren't true believers and fruitless churches aren't true churches. Non-profits may call themselves a church but the proof is in the pudding--whether they're profitable to God.

Only the church clothing herself in deeds of righteousness is truly the Bride of Christ.


[1] Soren Kierkegaard, Attack Upon “Christendom,” (Princeton University Press, 1944), p. 138. In Lowrie’s English translation, the word I’ve rendered ‘charming’ is left in the original French, “Charmant!”. But doing so robs it of some of the meaning likely intended by Kierkegaard. A friend explains it this way: “’Charmant’ does mean charming in an exact translation. I suspect that given the fact that in the 19th century, French was the hoity-toity language of the European social upper crust (note Dostoevsky’s frequent use of French words in his novels), the reason it was left ‘Charmant’ in Lowrie’s English translation was probably to communicate some of the high-culture irony Kierkegaard intended. He likely thought if the French was to stand out from the Danish, it should carry that exotic feel in English too. ‘Charming’ is the literal rendering, but maybe without some of the cultural nuance of blowing it through a long perfumed cigarette in the language of the social elite of Kierkegaard’s day.”

[2] There are a number of excellent resources to help fathers and mothers teach this curriculum to their children, including the always-excellent Thomas Watson’s A Body of Divinity (Banner of Truth) and G. I. Williamson’s The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes (P&R, two volumes). Also, shortercatechism.com is quite helpful. Great Commission Publications has a collection of print resources based on a simplification of the Shorter Catechism called The Children’s Catechism for use in Sunday school, cell group, or a mid-week family program.

[3] Matthew 5:13

[4] Matthew 5:14

[5] 1Timothy 3:15

[6] Matthew 25:35, 36

[7] John 13:35

[8] 1Corinthians 11:7

[9] Ephesians 5:32