Tree First, Then Fruit
There is a biblical reason for this. The only acts of love and justice that count with God are the fruit of conversion. If repentance toward God and faith in Jesus does not precede our good works, then the works themselves are part of man’s rebellion, not part of his worship.
Thus, John the Baptist says, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). That’s the transformation that counts with God: First repentance, then the fruit of repentance. And Jesus says, “Make the tree good and its fruit good” (Matthew 12:33). First a new tree, then good fruit.
There are two kinds of minds: “the mind of the flesh” and “the mind of the Spirit.” “The mind of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7). Therefore, behavior change without the conversion of this “mind” is part of man’s insubordination, and is not pleasing to God. But “the mind of the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6) and bears “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22).
Recreating the Human Soul
That fruit—that transformed life—is “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:11). That is, it comes through conversion to Jesus. It is the result of a new creation miracle: “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). Transformation comes through individual new creation.
This new creation of the human soul comes by the Spirit through faith in Jesus—that is, through conversion. And one fundamental achievement of that conversion is deliverance from the wrath of God. “Jesus delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Paul says to the converted believers of Thessalonica, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). “Having now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9).
Change the World by Focusing on Christ
The point is this: Conversion to faith in Christ by the Spirit through faith accomplishes two things—rescue from the wrath of God, and transformation of life. This is ultimately why Robert Woodberry found what he found. “Conversionary Protestants” changed the world because they didn’t focus first on changing the world, but on faith in Christ.
This means that the missionaries that will do the most good for eternity and for time—for eternal salvation and temporal transformation—are the missionaries who focus on converting the nations to faith in Christ. And then on that basis, and from that root, teach them to bear the fruit of all that Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:20).