This article is part of a series titled The Purpose for Human Life. You may download a PDF of that series here.
You were born for a purpose! God created each of us for a reason—and we are happiest when we are living in harmony with the purpose he has given us. You need to know what it is.
Many people have no idea what life is all about. They live, and they die, searching for some kind of meaning, wondering whether their lives have purpose—where they fit, whether they really matter in the grand scheme of things. They may have put together the finest bottle collection in Ohio, or they may have been voted “most popular” in high school, but all too soon, youthful plans and dreams evaporate into anxiety and frustration over missed opportunities, failed relationships or countless other “if-onlys” and “might-have-beens.”
Many people lead empty, unfulfilled lives, lacking in solid purpose and meaning beyond the short-lived gratification of money, sex, power, respect or popularity, none of which means anything, especially when the darkness of death approaches. But life could be much more than this, because God offers each of us much more. He offers us true significance and purpose—the joy of being what he created us to be.
Part 1: Made in God’s image
The first chapter of the Bible tells us that God created humans “in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). Men and women are created “in the image of God” (same verse).
Obviously, we are not in God’s image in terms of height or weight or skin color. God is spirit, uncreated, and we are created of matter. Still, God has made humanity in his own image, which means that there are essential ways in which he has made us to be like him. We are self-aware, we can communicate, plan, think creatively, design and build, solve problems, and be a force for good in our world. And we can love.
We are to be “created like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Yet, often in those very ways, people are not much like God at all. In fact, people can often be rather ungodly. In spite of our ungodliness, however, there are certain things we can be sure of. For one thing, God will always be faithful in his love toward us.
A perfect example
The New Testament helps us understand what it means to be made in the image of God. The apostle Paul tells us that God is remaking us into something that is perfect and good—the likeness of Jesus Christ. “He also predestined [us] to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). In other words, God intended from the beginning for us to be like Jesus, the Son of God in the flesh.
Paul says that Jesus himself “is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). He is the perfect example of what we were created to be. We are God’s children, in his family, and we look to Jesus, God’s Son, to see what that means. One
of Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Show us the Father” (John 14:8). And Jesus answered, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (verse 9). In other words, Jesus says, What you really need to know about God, you can see in me. He is not talking about skin color, clothing styles, or carpentry skills—he is talking about spirit, attitude and actions. God is love, John wrote (1 John 4:8), and Jesus shows us what love is, and how we are to love as people being conformed to his image. Since humans were made in the image of God, and Jesus is the image of God, it is no wonder that God is conforming us to the image of Jesus. He is to be “formed” in us (Galatians 4:19). Our goal is “attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). As we are changed into Jesus’ image, the image of God is restored in us, and we become what we were made to be.
Maybe you aren’t very Jesus-like right now. That’s OK. God already knows about it, and that is why he is working with you. If you let him, he will change you—transform you—to be more and more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). It takes patience—but the process fills life with meaning and purpose.
Why doesn’t God do it all in the blink of an eye? Because that wouldn’t take into account the real, thinking and loving person he made you to be. A change of mind and heart, the decision to turn to God and trust Christ, may take only a moment, like deciding to go down a certain road. But the actual journey down the road takes time and may be filled with obstacles and troubles. In the same way, it takes time to change habits, behaviors and ingrained attitudes.
Besides, God loves you and wants you to love him. But love is love only when it is freely given, not when it is demanded. Forced love is not love at all.
It gets better and better
God’s purpose for you is not only to be like Jesus was 2,000 years ago—but also to be like Jesus is now—resurrected, immortal, filled with glory and power! He “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). If we have been united with Christ in this life, “we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). “We shall be like him,” John assures us (1 John 3:2). If we are God’s children, Paul writes, then we can be sure that “we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). We will be given a glory
like Jesus Christ has—bodies that are immortal, bodies that never deteriorate, bodies that are spiritual. We will be raised in glory, and raised in power (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). “Just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven”—we will be like Christ! (verse 49).
Would you like to have glory and immortality? God has made you for this very reason! It is a wonderful gift that he wants you to have. It is an exciting and wonderful future—and it gives life meaning and purpose.
When we see the end result, the process we are in now makes more sense. The troubles, trials and pains of life, as well as the joys, make more sense when we know what life is all about. When we know the glory that will be given to us, the sufferings of this life are easier to endure (Romans 8:18). God has given us exceedingly great and precious promises.
Is there a problem here?
But wait a minute, you might think. I’ll never be good enough for that kind of glory and power. I’m just an ordinary person. If heaven is a perfect place, then I don’t belong there. I make mistakes; my life is messed up.
That’s OK—God already knows that, but he isn’t going to let it stop him. He has plans for you, and he has already planned for problems like that to be overcome. That’s because everybody has blown it; everybody’s life is messed up, and nobody deserves to be given glory and power.
But God knows how to save people who are sinners—and no matter how many times they mess up, he knows how to rescue them. God’s plan centers on Jesus Christ—who was sinless in our place and who suffered for our sins in our place. He represents us before God and offers us the gift of eternal life, if we will accept it from him.
Part 2: The gift of God
We all fall short, Paul says, but we have been justified, or set right, through the grace of God. It’s a gift! We can’t earn it or deserve it—God just gives it to us out of his mercy and righteousness.
People who are doing fine on their own don’t need to be saved—it is people who are in trouble who need to be saved. Lifeguards don’t “save” people who are swimming on their own—they save people who are drowning. And spiritually speaking, we are all drowning. None of us measures up to the perfection of Christ, and without that, we’re as good as dead. Many people seem to think that we have to be “good enough” for God. Suppose we ask them, What makes you think that you’ll go to heaven, or that you’ll have eternal life in the kingdom of God? Many people will respond, Because I’ve been good. I’ve done this, or I’ve done that.
The truth is, that no matter how much good we have done, we are never “good enough” to earn a place in a perfect world, because we are not perfect. We have fallen short, but we are set right by God’s gift, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
Not by good works
God has saved us, the Bible says, “not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9). “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5).
Even if our works are very good, they are not the reason God saves us. We need to be rescued because our good works are not enough to save us. We need mercy and grace, and God gives us exactly that in Jesus Christ.
If it were possible for us to earn eternal life through good behavior, then God would have told us how. If rule-keeping could give us eternal life, Paul says, then God would have done it that way.
“If a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law” (Galatians 3:21). But the law cannot give us life—even if we could keep it. “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). If people could earn their way into salvation, then we wouldn’t need a Savior to rescue us. There would be no need for Jesus to come to earth, or to die and be raised again.
But Jesus came to earth for this very reason—to die for us. Jesus said that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). His life was like a ransom payment, given to rescue us, or redeem us. The Bible repeatedly says that “Christ died for us” and that he died “for our sins” (Romans 5:6-8; 1 Corinthians 5:14; 15:3; Galatians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:10).
“The wages of sin is death,” Paul says in Romans 6:23, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We deserve to die, but we are saved by grace through Jesus Christ. We don’t deserve to live with God, since we aren’t perfect, but God saves us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
Descriptions of salvation
The Bible explains our salvation in several ways—sometimes using financial terms, sometimes sacrificial words, sometimes family or friendship words.
In financial terms, he has paid the price to free us. He took the penalty (death) that we deserved, paying the debt that we owed. He takes our sin and death, and in return, he gives us his righteousness and life.
God accepts Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf (after all, he is the one who sent Jesus to give it), and he accepts Jesus’ righteousness on our behalf. Therefore, though once we were opposed to God, now we are friends (Romans 5:10).
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight” (Colossians 1:21-22).
Because of Christ’s death, we are holy in God’s sight. In God’s book, we have gone from a huge debt to a huge balance—not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus did for us. God now calls us his children—he has adopted us (Ephesians 1:5). “We are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). And then Paul describes the wonderful results of our adoption: “If we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (verse 17). Salvation is described as an inheritance. “He has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in
the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:12).
Because of God’s generosity, because of his grace, we will inherit a fortune—we will share the universe with Jesus Christ. Or rather, he will share it with us, not because of anything we have done, but because he loves us and wants to give it to us.
Received through faith
Jesus has qualified us; he has paid the penalty not only for our sins, but for the sins of all human beings (1 John 2:2). But many people do not yet understand this. Perhaps they have not yet heard the message of salvation, or they heard a garbled version that didn’t make sense to them. For some reason, they have not believed the message.
It’s like Jesus has paid their debts for them, and given them a huge bank account, but they haven’t yet heard about it, or don’t quite believe it, or don’t think they had any debts in the first place. Or it’s like Jesus is throwing a party, and he gives them a ticket to get in, and yet some people decide not to come.
Or they are slaves working in the mud, and Jesus comes along and says, “I have purchased your freedom.” Some people don’t hear the message, some don’t believe it, and some would rather stay in the mud than find out what freedom is. But others hear the message, believe it, and step out of the mud to see what a new life with Christ might be.
The message of salvation is received by faith—by trusting Jesus, by taking him at his word, by believing the good news. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). The gospel is effective for “the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). If we don’t believe the message, we won’t receive all its benefits.
Of course, there is more to “faith” than just believing certain facts about Jesus. The facts have some dramatic implications for us—we have to turn away from the life we’ve created in our own image and turn instead to God who made us in his.
We should admit that we are sinners, that we haven’t earned the right to eternal life, and that we don’t deserve to share in an inheritance with Jesus Christ. We have to admit that we’ll never be “good enough” for heaven—and we have to trust that the ticket Jesus gives us is indeed good enough to get us into the party. We have to trust that he did enough, in his death and resurrection, to pay our spiritual debts. We have to trust in his mercy and grace, admitting that there is no other way to get in.
A free offer
Let’s bring the discussion back to our purpose in life. God says that he made us for a purpose, and that purpose is that we become like him. We are to be united with God’s family, brothers and sisters of Jesus, sharing in the family fortune! It’s a wonderful purpose and wonderful promise.
But we haven’t done our part. We haven’t been as good as Jesus—that is, we haven’t been perfect. Then what makes us think we’ll get the other end of the deal—the eternal glory? The answer is that we have to trust God to be as merciful and full of grace as he says he is. He has made us for this purpose, and he is going to see it through! We can be confident, Paul says, that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Philippians 1:6).
Jesus has paid the price and done the work, and his message—the message of the Bible—is that our salvation comes by what he has done for us. Experience (as well as Scripture) says that we can’t trust in ourselves. Our only hope of salvation, of life, of becoming who God made us to be, is to trust in Christ. We can become like Christ because he, knowing all about our failings and shortcomings, says that he will bring it about!
Without Christ, life is pointless—we are stuck in the mud. But Jesus tells us that he has purchased our freedom, he can make us clean, he offers us a free ticket to the party and full rights in the family fortune. We can accept his offer, or we can dismiss it and stay in the mud.
Part 3: You’re invited to a banquet!
Jesus looked like an insignificant carpenter in an insignificant village in an insignificant part of the Roman Empire. But now he is widely regarded as the most significant person who ever lived. Even nonbelievers recognize that he gave up his life to serve others, and this ideal of self-sacrificial love reaches into the depths of the human soul and touches the image of God within us.
He taught that people could find true and abundant life if they are willing to give up their own faltering hold on existence and follow him into the life of the kingdom of God. “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).
We have nothing to lose but a pointless life, a frustrating life, and Jesus offers us a fulfilling, joyful, exciting and abounding life—for eternity. He invites us to give up pride and worry, and we gain peace of mind and joy of heart.
The path of Jesus
Jesus invites us to join him in his glory—but the journey to glory involves humility, putting other people before ourselves. We have to loosen our grip on the things of this life, and fasten our hold on Jesus. If we want a new life, we have to be willing to let go of the old one.
We were made to be like Jesus. But we are not just copying a respected hero. Christianity is not about religious rituals or even religious ideals. It is about God’s love for humanity, his faithfulness to humanity, and his love and faithfulness made visible in human form in Jesus Christ.
In Jesus, God demonstrates his grace; he knows that no matter how hard we try, we will never be good enough on our own. In Jesus, God gives us help; he sends the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name to live within us, to change us from the inside out. God is making us to be like himself; we are not trying to be Godlike on our own.
Jesus has for us an eternity of joy. Each individual, as a child in the family of God, has purpose and significance—an eternity of life. We were made for eternal glory, and the path to glory is Jesus, who himself is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).
For Jesus, it meant a cross. He calls us to join him on that part of the journey, too. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). But the cross was followed by the resurrection to glory.
A celebration banquet
In some of his teaching stories, Jesus compared salvation to a banquet. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father threw a party for the rebellious son who finally came home. “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:23-24). Jesus told the story to illustrate the point that all of heaven rejoices whenever anyone turns toward God (verse 7).
Jesus told another story about a man (illustrating God) who “was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests” (Luke 14:16). But surprisingly, many people ignored the invitation. “They all alike began to make excuses” (verse 18). Some were worried about their money, or their work; others were distracted by family matters (verses 18-20). So the master invited poor people instead (verse 21).
So it is with salvation. Jesus invites everyone, but some people are too busy with the cares of this world to respond. But those who are “poor,” who realize there are more important things than money, sex, power and respect, are eager to come celebrate true life at Jesus’ banquet. Jesus told another story comparing salvation to a man (illustrating Jesus) who went on a journey. He “called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability” (Matthew
25:14-15). The money could represent various things that Christ gives us; let’s look at it here as representing the message of salvation.
After a long time, the master came back and asked for an accounting. Two of the servants showed that they had accomplished something with the master’s money, and they were rewarded: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (verses 21, 23).
You are invited!
Yes, Jesus is inviting us to share in his happiness, to share in the eternal joys God has for us (Psalm 16:11). He is calling us to be like him, to be immortal, incorruptible, glorious and sinless. We will have supernatural power. We will have a vitality, intelligence, creativity, power and
love far beyond what we know now.
We can’t do this on our own—we have to let God do it in us. We have to accept his invitation to get out of the mud, and come to his celebration banquet.
Have you thought about accepting his invitation? If you do, you may not see amazing results right away, but your life will definitely take on new significance and meaning. You’ll gain purpose, you’ll understand where you’re going and why, and you’ll be given new strength, new courage and great peace.
Jesus is inviting you to a party that lasts forever. Will you accept the invitation?
Author: Michael Morrison