Even when I was in the banking world, when accountants still used the Abacus, managers acknowledged the power of purpose.
The bank had a corporate purpose, the branch had a statement of purpose, and all managers had a stated purpose that aligned with the hierarchy of purpose above them. Then in 1995, this concept invaded the Christian world through Rick Warren’s book, ‘The Purpose Driven Church’. Now, in 2021, ‘purpose’ has resurfaced in the spheres of both business and church.
If you were to ask the average Christian, “What is your purpose in life?” they would probably respond with something like, “To succeed at X”, or “To earn or own Y”, or “To do Z”. The common theme in such responses is that they are all descriptions of DOING something. Yet we are all ‘humanBEings’ not ‘humanDOings’ and we are ‘BEleivers’, not DOleivers’.
So, what then is YOUR purpose, and just how important is that purpose to you? To assist in answering this question, I want to turn to the Apostle Paul, a Jesus-follower with a clear sense of purpose.
In Philippians 3:12, Paul wrote, ‘I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me’. This sounds to me like an indication of his sense of purpose. He also wrote to the Philippians, ‘I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ’ (Philippians 3:8). So, Paul’s overriding purpose was to know Christ. A few verses after this (Verse 10), he wrote, ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.’ Then, writing to the Roman believers, Paul expanded on and included us in his purpose statement by telling us that we are ‘predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son’ (Romans 8:29). The word ‘conformed’ means ‘moulded’ and the word ‘likeness’ means ‘image’. This is why the Amplified Bible translates this verse as ‘to be moulded into the image of his Son’, and his Son is Jesus. This, then, should be at least a part of every believer’s Purpose of Life statement.
Note well that Paul understood his purpose, and ours, as being and becoming and not doing and getting.
Let’s return to what Paul wrote to the Philippians:
‘I want to know Christ’: This was Paul’s foundational statement of purpose and should also be ours. Not just to know about Jesus, but to know him, how he feels, what he says, and how he regards people. Knowing Jesus starts with what he referred to as the ‘new birth’ experience. We cannot know God, who is a spiritual being, unless the Holy Spirit quickens us and makes us alive spiritually. Having met Jesus, spirit to spirit, we then continue to get to know him better throughout our earthly lives. Therefore, ‘To know Jesus’ needs to be the first clause in our statement of life purpose.
Paul went on to write of ‘becoming like him’ and so the second clause of our purpose statement should also be ‘To be like him’. We are called to become as much like him in this life as we can, and this means that our minds need to be transformed: ‘Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is’ (Romans 12:2 NLT). To the Corinthian church, Paul put it this way: ‘And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit’ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Our Purpose Statement Completed
So, in Romans 8:29 Paul wrote of ‘conforming to the likeness of Jesus, in Philippians 3:10 he wrote, ‘becoming like him’, and in 2 Corinthians 3:18 he wrote of us being ‘transformed into his likeness.’
However, there needs to be a third and final clause in our statement of purpose. The first two clauses are about being and becoming but the third clause is about doing: You see, doing flows from being and is the evidence of becoming. This third clause was part of Jesus’ purpose, it is part of the Holy Spirit’s purpose, and it certainly was part of Paul’s purpose. This third clause is ‘to help others to know and become like Jesus’.
Therefore, the full statement of purpose for all Jesus-followers is ‘To know Jesus, to become like him, and to help others to do likewise.
For some, this purpose seems too simple to be true and too abstract to be of practical value. Yet it is true and it is of great practical value! Can there be anything for a person to aspire to more worthy than to be like Jesus? No. Is anything in this world more valuable to others than a Christ-like person? No. The statement is simple, but it describes a life-long endeavour more worthwhile yet more demanding to apply than any other does. Yes, by being more like Jesus we do become more content, less stessed, and so on, but discipleship is not a transactional trade-off. We want to become more Christlike becuase it is the highest ideal of humanity and the very best for both ourselves and others.. even though it often requires sacrifice and even persecution – ‘Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did’ (1 John 2:6).
Purpose is Important
Over the centuries, philosophers have been telling us that there are three big life questions that all people seek to answer in some way or another. They are,
- Where did I come from?
- Why am I here?
- Where am I going?
All born-again believers know the answer to Question Three – we are going to be with Jesus in Heaven. Question Two is the only one about the here and now and so it is a pressing question demanding an urgent and compelling answer – Why am I here on Earth?
Tragically, many, if not most, people cannot answer this question and as a result, they live their lives without any satisfying purpose and often with an underlying sense of hopelessness. As a result, an alarming number of people suffer from depression or even attempt suicide. During the current COVID-19 Pandemic, the number of suicides has doubled over previous years. The group most affected is teenagers, the very youth who should be looking with bright and expectant eyes into the future. It is not hard to figure out why suicide has become a teenage pandemic all of its own. Little to no prospect of a job, separation from friends and often family, educational aspirations thwarted, parents who are without income, and so on. No wonder that some answer the ‘why am I here?’ question with, “Nothing worthwhile that I can see!”
But I wonder just how many teens and others would respond so negatively to this question if they could grasp that the overall purpose of life for all people is to know Jesus, to become like him, and to help others to do likewise. Moreover, once they understood and accepted this, it is easy for them to see how every life situation, no matter how difficult, can contribute to achieving this purpose. This is why Paul wrote in Romans 8:28 that ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’
Purpose is important: It is vitally and critically important!
‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’.
If a Christian, who claims to be born again, is feeling hopeless, then the likelihood is that they do not grasp God’s purpose for their life on earth. So, explain it, pray for them, and encourage them to pursue this purpose.
‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’. Philippians 4:7