by Jimmy Humphrey
Have you ever asked yourself, “Why am I here?” Have you ever wondered about the meaning of life? For what purpose do you exist? What on earth did God put you here for?
Many popular books have been written on this subject of late. Indeed, never before in the history of the Church has so much literature been published on the subject. Books exclusively dealing with this topic, like Rick Warren’s “Purpose-Driven Life,” are to my knowledge, almost entirely absent from the history of the Church. That’s not to say the topic wasn’t taken up from time to time. It most certainly was. Various catechisms, creeds, and theological systems have tackled the topic. But what is unique is never before has this topic held such interest amongst so many Christians, especially on such a global scale.
Why are we seeing this flood of interest on the subject of purpose? I believe there are a couple of reasons. First, I believe in part, that there is a general Biblical illiteracy amongst many professing Christians today. Many believers simply are not as well versed in the Scriptures and great doctrines of the faith as they used to be. Secondly, in part, I believe there is a move of God afoot. Amongst those who are students of God’s Word, I believe many have found some of the definitions that previous generations have supplied as simply inadequate. Such is why I believe in recent decades, we have seen many new models of the Church spring forth. I believe the Church is wrestling with the Lord, as it attempts to rediscover the purposes God has for her, so that we might become the people He would have us become.
And as followers of Jesus Christ, that’s what discovering our purpose is ultimately about, right? We may not fully understand the reasons God has put us here, but we find our hearts stirred to seek and find that purpose out. After all, most of us have been in this world long enough to discover that there is surely more to life than punching a time clock somewhere, so that you can make somebody else rich. At least, I hope you have.
While I believe there are many different angles one can approach this topic from, I personally believe one cannot begin to discover their God ordained purpose in life until they grasp the message of the book of Ecclesiastes. In this book of wisdom, King Solomon makes a number of observations about the things we pursue in life. He talks about actively pursuing pleasure, knowledge, riches, a career, and pretty much everything everybody across the world universally seeks to obtain. And what was the end of all these things that man seeks under the sun?
For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of the beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20, NASB)
Not exactly a cheerful picture, is it? In spite of our endless pursuit of so many things that we deem of great importance and value in this life, in one simple swoop Solomon says that while those things might be great in and of themselves, ultimately, that is all they will ever be. Because when it’s all said and done, we are fundamentally no different than dogs in our pursuits. We suffer the same fate they do. Like an animal, one day we will die in the midst of our pursuits, and will eventually return to the dust from whence we came. As Solomon would sum it up: vanity of vanities, ALL is vanity (Eccl. 1:2)
Do you really grasp this though? Let’s make it personal. Do you love to play sports? Do you love to read? Do you love to work hard? Do you want to climb the corporate ladder, and land an important job doing important things? Do you wish to travel the world? Do you want to have a nice home, spouse, and 3.5 kids? All great things! But when it’s all said and done, all these things are vain and futile. They are nice in and of themselves. But when it’s all said and done, even if you do all these things, and pursue them with all of your heart, what’s the point? It’s all vanity. It’s futile. At the end of the day, even if your life goes from one moment of ecstasy to another, your end is ultimately that of a dog.
If we are to ever grasp why God put us here on this Earth, we must ultimately divorce ourselves from believing the devilish lie that God’s purpose for our lives is ultimately found in any of these pursuits. That’s not to say we cannot experience these things, and should not pursue them, nor is it to deny that God calls people to do these very things. Indeed, He does. But none of these things are the fundamental reason as to why God put any of us here. So, why are we ultimately here?
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28-29)
This is ultimately what it’s all about. In these two verses, we have the meaning of our lives. And you know what I notice about this passage about God’s purpose for our lives? My purpose in life is ultimately grounded in what God’s purpose is for Christ! For unless our “purpose-driven” lives are Christ-centered in our understanding, then we never can truly come to understand and properly fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.
Instead of asking, what’s “my” call, “my” purpose, and “my” ministry, we need to ask what is God’s call, God’s purpose, and God’s ministry. Instead of being self-centered in our understanding, we need to take a Christ-centered approach to all of this. What is God ultimately looking to do? What is His big picture plan? What are His goals? When we start with this understanding, then we as Christians will make greater sense out of what God is wanting to do with our lives, and ultimately, what He is looking to accomplish with the Church. God has a big picture and plan for this world. The question ultimately is, have you discovered where you belong in God’s ultimate plans?
This passage in Romans 8:28-29 says that God has a purpose for our lives, and that all things work in our lives to further that ultimate purpose. What is God’s purpose for our lives? That we might, “become conformed to the image of His Son.” That’s is the reason you and I exist. So that we might look more and more like Jesus. We exist so that we would be brought into total conformity with the life of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our very lives. So that we would walk like Jesus, talk like Jesus, and do whatever it is Jesus would do.
But if you notice, this passage does not end here. It goes on to say there is a reason why God wishes to bring us into conformity with the image of Christ. Being conformed to the image of Christ is not God’s ultimate purpose. Rather, He has a reason in doing such, and actually serves as a means to a greater end. We are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ, “so that,” Paul says, “[Christ] would be the firstborn among many brethren.” God has called you and I to be conformed to the image of Christ, ultimately, so that Christ might have first place in the midst of many brethren. This is why you and I were ultimately saved, and this is why the Lord looks to make you more and more like Jesus. For the more you are like Jesus, the greater the glory Christ has in His place as “first.”
You see, God is much more interested in who you “become” than what you “do” with your life. What you do is important. But God wants what we “do” to issue out of who we “are.” For what does it matter if we cast out demons in the name of Christ, and perform many mighty miracles, yet at the end of the age hear, “I never knew you, depart from Me you workers of iniquity?” Yes, God wants us to do all those awesome things, and then some. But the thing that should consume us most, is not our drive to do things in the name of the Lord, but our desire to look more and more like Him.
Instead of lamenting over the things we never get to do, and the goals we have yet to achieve, we should lament over the people we have yet to become. We should lament over those areas in our life that do not look like Jesus, and in no way represent Him. Why run a business if I can’t do so without defrauding people? Why give my possessions to the poor if I can’t do so with the compassion of Christ? For what good comes from me doing something, if what I do somehow makes Christ look bad in the process? How does that increase His glory as the first of many brethren?
For we can do all of those things, and even great and mighty miracles in the name of Christ, without being a thing like our Lord. And what was Solomon’s conclusion about all the activity of mankind that happens under the sun? It’s all vanity, and your purpose is ultimately no different than a dog. Indeed, all is vanity and without purpose, unless we live our lives in light of eternity, and God’s ultimate purpose in Christ. For, only when we understand God’s eternal purpose in Christ, can our lives have any meaning or purpose. And it is only from there that we can discover what God wants us to do with our lives.
Indeed, if we sought no other purpose in our lives but to conform ourselves to the image of Christ, and look more and more like Jesus in everything we do, even should God never tell us do any specific task, we will unconsciously and “naturally” carry out His will in every moment of every day of our lives. Why? Because we will simply do what Jesus would do. And in reality, there is no greater for us to do, except to simply act as Jesus Christ would act. We could remain eternally ignorant of the thing God wants us to do, yet, so long as we seek to conform ourselves to the image of Christ in all things, we will fulfill God’s purpose for our lives. Such may never be an emotionally satisfying thing for us. But, it’s not really about us to begin with, is it? It’s about Him.