What is the purpose of the Christian life?
In teaching worldview, I’m finding that I must clarify my own thinking in many ways —and understanding the purpose of life in Christian terms is one of those problems I’ve encountered where I deeply need to clarify my thinking. There seem to be two obvious answers to the questions of Christian purpose.
The first is to point to a specific goal the believer thinks God has given each of us in life. For instance, to reach a certain number of people, or to build an orphanage, or to start a business, or to win a gold medal. Each of these things are important, of course, but they always leave you thinking there must be something more than accomplishment to the life God wants us to lead.
The second, often a reaction to this view, is that the purpose of the Christian life is to please God, generally tendered through obedience. “I’m just here to please God,” is the often heard refrain. This one actually heard from the mouths of some well respected theologians and pastors.
I think they’re both wrong, and wrong in much the same way.
All of us have a specific place in history, a specific “thing” God has in mind for our lives. But in this sense, God has a purpose for the life of each unbeliever as well as each believer, so it’s hard to say how this could be the purpose of a specifically Christian life. And about pleasing God, or obedience —how do you move from believing we can do nothing to earn our salvation to believing we can make God smile with our obedience? Is God truly impressed when we obey?
Then what is the purpose of the Christian life?
Let’s answer the question with another question: what is the Christian life itself? On what do we base a life in Christ?
On a relationship.
Going back to Genesis 2 and 3, there are three things that God gave man to do.
The first is implied, especially in the effects of the Fall, but it’s clearly there: to have a relationship with God.
The second is even more clear, seen through the lens of husband and wife: to have a relationship with others (family first).
The third is clear, as well: to have a relationship with the world around us.
These three relationships define human existence from the beginning of creation. Each one is different in some ways from the others, and yet each one is the same in some ways. With God our relationship is as to a parent, or creator. With others, our relationship is as to a friend. With the Earth, the World, the reality we find ourselves in, our relationship is as a creator.
The Fall breaks all three of these relationships in some crucial way. Towards God, we become spiritually dead, wayward children who must be brought back into relationship through the Father’s sacrifice. To each other, we become grasping, treating one another as objects to fulfill our desires. To the Earth, we become graspers rather than stewards, users rather than creators.
I’ll leave my thoughts on the implications of this relationship based view of the Christian life ’til tomorrow.