Finding Your Purpose in Life

At some point in our lives, every one of us wonders: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? What should motivate me to keep going? These are questions of purpose. When I speak of our purpose in life, I am talking about a future-oriented, intentional goal; however, not all goals have the same weight. [1]

Different Kinds of Purpose in Life

When we think about purpose, we need more precision. Consider the following chain of events: Jim wakes up early to catch the train to get to work, so that he can provide for his family and glorify his God and Savior. If I asked you what Jim’s purpose was for waking up early, you might answer in at least four different ways. I’ve identified those four ways in the diagram below.

Jim did not get up that morning simply to catch the train—that was a means to an end, a way to achieve another goal. He also did not arise early just to get to work; rather, Jim does those things—ultimately—because he aims to (1) provide for his family and (2) glorify his God and Savior. When we talk about our life’s purpose, we are talking about ultimate goals.

What We Are

All too frequently, discussion of our life’s purpose can gravitate toward non-ultimate things: career, retirement, dreams, serving, traveling, etc. Our purpose in life, however, comes not first from what we do but what we are, for everything that is created is designed with a purpose. Consider the examples below.

Table for Purpose in Life

The purpose of a meter stick is to measure because that’s what it is—a measuring device. We would laugh to see someone trying to propel their kayak downstream with a meter stick! This illustrates, along with the others in Table 1, what we all know intuitively: purpose comes from what something is, and what it is is determined by its Maker (Isaiah 10:15; 29:16; 64:8; Romans 9:20–23). 

Made in His Image

Therefore, when we think about our life’s purpose—our ultimate purpose, we need to begin by understanding what we are as created beings. The Lord our Maker did not leave that for us to define but told us plainly in Genesis 1:27, “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (NIV). 

All humans are image-bearers—unique among all creation in our relationship to God (being made in his “likeness”) and unique among all creation because we are given dominion over creation (Genesis 1:26).[2] In the Ancient Near East, a king would erect an image—a statue of himself—to represent and display his greatness over any land he conquered. What God has done, therefore, is fill the earth with billions of images—humanity—to represent and display his greatness as Lord of all the earth. 

Jesus understood this to mean that we were made wholly for God. When the Pharisees sought to trap him on the issue of taxes, Jesus requested a coin and then “asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’” (Mark 12:16–17, NIV, emphasis added). They paid taxes to Caesar because the denarius bore his image and inscription. Jesus reapplied that principle to his audience—and to us—we who bear God’s image must likewise devote ourselves to God.

Christians are being transformed and made into Christ’s image (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10) because he images God perfectly (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). Since other biblical passages indicate we were created for God’s glory (e.g., Isaiah 43:7; Colossians 1:16; Romans 11:36; 1 Corinthians 8:6), our image-bearing (representing and displaying God’s greatness) is glorifying God. 

More than Duty

Now, we know intuitively that stoic, emotionless, and humdrum service does not glorify and honor the recipient. My wife is not honored if I stick flowers in her hand and say, “Think nothing of this—just doing my duty, as I should!” Rather, our glad-hearted, joy-filled service and praise is what brings most honor and glory. Replaying the previous example, my wife is honored if I give her flowers and say, “Nothing would make me happier than to spend this day with you!”[3] The same is true of our devotion to the Lord (Psalm 37:4; 100:2), which is why John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him.”[4]

Therefore, be encouraged, brothers and sisters! You know your ultimate purpose in life: because you are an image-bearer, you are made to glorify God by enjoying him forever! The greater our delight in God, the more we will want to share that joy with others. We should long for the nations of the earth to share in our God-exalting joy, as the Psalmist writes, “Let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy . . . let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:3–5, ESV). So, whatever your other goals are—whether you eat or drink, work or rest, go or support—whatever you do, do all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

 

[1] I am developing the distinctions between different kinds of goals (or ends) based upon Edwards’ discussion in his End for Which God Created the World reprinted in John Piper and Jonathan Edwards, God’s Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 125–36.

[2] To study further on this topic, see Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).

[3] This illustration is one that I have read and heard John Piper use frequently. The introduction to this recent sermon is a good example, “What Is It Like To Enjoy God.”

[4] Desiring God (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2003), 288.

David Christensen graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with his Ph.D. in New Testament (2021), after previously earning a Th.M. (SBTS, 2017) and an M.Div. (FBS, 2016). Happily married for over a decade and the father of two lovely daughters, David is an active member of Ninth & O Baptist Church (Louisville, KY) and is seeking a teaching position in Christian higher education.

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