Knowing Your Purpose and Bearing God's Image

Apparently it is quite difficult to actually know one's purpose. In fact, there have been a plethora of books written just on this topic alone because most people struggle with finding an answer to the question.

Purpose. It is often misunderstood and incredibly elusive.

For most people the concept of purpose is seeded at a very early age. As a father I've watched my children conduct their own audit of how people operate within the world and attempt to internalize their findings as purpose; even if it includes fictional characters such as superheroes. Like many of us when we were young we had dreams of becoming anything from a famous dancer to an astronaut.

As we age our idea of what purpose is can shift and morph a bit like clay in the hands of a talented potter. The things we desire to do become more solidified. All of these ideas are fashioned by a potter we never knew -the world. And the world is akin to a machine that is in constant need of new cogs that have been greased with the right kind of oil to keep it going. We begin to learn from the world that purpose is derived from our inner desires, what we see in the world and how we can add value to the world. All to make the world a better place and deliver to us a sense of justification for our very existence.

Ask pretty much anyone what their purpose is and they'll rattle off what the machine requires. Skills, talents, desires and subjective beliefs about what the world and society expects. Most people would agree that they believe we all have a purpose. However, what is startling is that only 25% of adults have a clear picture of what that is. And at least 57% of Americans are constantly wondering how they can discover more meaning and purpose in their life. Apparently it is quite difficult to actually know one's purpose. In fact, there have been a plethora of books written just on this topic alone because most people struggle with finding an answer to the question. And it's a question that when answered -at least to some degree- can deliver bountiful rewards such as a longer life.

However, the problem is that our idea of purpose is radically flawed which explains why it is so difficult for people to come to know what their purpose must be. In fact, what we've been taught about purpose is a complete lie. Not only is it a lie, the truth is quite simple to uncover. But it means we must first reject what the machine -the world- demands.

Image of God

Most people are familiar with the creation account of Genesis. But despite its familiarity we often fall victim to reading it through the lens of modern day people. Many biblical truths become warped over time as they enter new cultural contexts and norms. One such idea is what it means to image God.

Genesis 1:26–27 (ESV)

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Across churches everywhere, internet blogs and YouTube videos the idea of imaging God is typically boiled down to humans emulating God's qualities. That we are like God by bearing His communicable traits such as emotions, moral compass, intelligence and desires. However, this isn't what it means to be created in God's image or likeness. In fact positing this idea is dangerous because it puts forth that idea that people who are unborn or mentally disabled don't completely bear the image of God. Why? Because they exist in a state as to where they can't emulate all of these supposed qualities.

For the unborn, it becomes a concern of "not yet" able to emulate, therefore not existing in God's image. This gives credence to pro-abortionist arguments that state humans have no value until they're born. And for the disabled, it becomes a concern of "never" able to emulate due to disabilities -such as mental deficiencies- that could keep them from living in what we'd call a fully functioning state of being.

In fact, just to make this point a bit more clear let's look at the same language that's used in Genesis 5 in reference to Adam's son.

Genesis 5:3 (ESV)

3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.

Well what do we say here? That Adam gave Seth a moral compass, emotions, intelligence and desires? If we subscribe to the idea that these things come from God, then how does Adam father a son in his own likeness? Is Adam's likeness different from God's? No. The reality is likeness and imaging have absolutely nothing to do with attributes.

What can make this passage a bit tricky is the Hebrew preposition that is translated "in" which can mean "as", which denotes a function or status. This means that it can be said that humanity was created "as" the image of God. The proper interpretation is that humans were created as God's functional representatives on earth. Seth was like Adam in that he followed in his footsteps. This will become more clear as we continue.

Genesis 1:26 gives us the definition of what it means to bear God's image. It also delivers a definition of what man's purpose is.

Let's look at it again but this time more closely.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” - Genesis 1:26 (ESV)

God delivers this decree before creating mankind. He then repeats it as a command after creating mankind.

Genesis 1:28 (ESV)

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Most people stop reading after the first sentence in verse 26, yet it's what proceeds next that defines what it means to bear God's image. Humanity is called to exercise dominion over God's creation. The idea is that we are to exercise supremacy over the earthly realm. Verse 28 includes the command to be fruitful and multiply.

Not only does God define our purpose He also declares that He has created humanity with a sense of royalty as we reign. We are crowned with glory and honor.

Psalm 8:4–8 (ESV)

4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
5  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7  all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

The initial -and quintessential example- is Adam and Eve in the Garden. This was a model of how the entire earth was to operate -humanity in lockstep with God- ruling the earthly realm and multiplying past the Garden. The entire world was supposed to be like the Garden. The supernatural creatures were to rule the supernatural realm but we were given oversight to our realm. This is partly why the serpent was in the Garden to begin with.

The way all of this works, is God is our Creator who reigns supreme over all creation -including the supernatural realm. He exercises dominion over all things. As we see in Genesis 1:26-28 and Psalm 8:4-8 God has given humanity authority to rule as He does, but over the natural world. Humanity has been given "divine authority", passed down to us by God. We see this same idea of divine authority in the New Testament with Jesus:

Matthew 28:18 (ESV)

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Jesus echoes this very same idea of the passing of "divine rights". But His rights extend further than ours, encompassing heaven as well. Jesus made a point to call that out. He's supreme over all creation. We are to emulate the exercising of dominion over the natural realm as God exercises dominion over all of creation. When Jesus came to the earth He emulated how we are supposed to live as image bearers, fully representing the model God was presenting to us in the flesh.

God's Representatives

When God created humanity He did so with the idea of us all being His royal, functional, representatives. This being said, it is entirely possible to live on earth and not bear God's image. Why? Because to image God is to be a functional representative of God, following God's decree for humanity - exercise dominion, subdue the earth, be fruitful and multiply.

We see an example of what things look like when humanity chooses to reject this command in the Babel account (see Genesis 11). God delivers the same decree post flood (see Genesis 9:1) and humanity rejects it to build a ziggurat to reconnect the heavens. God then had to forcibly instigate humanity to do what He decreed by confusing their language.

The truth is one can spend an entire lifetime being busy with selfish ambitions, chasing goals and never fulfill one's purpose; seeking ways to become the cog in the wheel the machine demands. Purpose is not found in what the world or society decrees. It is found in living out God's decree in accordance to His ways.

Here's a good excerpt that ties this all together:

God wants all humans to believe in Christ and be conformed to the image of Jesus. As Jesus imaged God, so must we image Jesus. In so doing, we fulfill the rationale for our creation: we image God (Gen 1:27). This process is a gradual one: “And we all, with unveiled face, reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory into glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). In this passage, being filled with the Spirit is linked to imaging Christ—the ultimate fulfillment of our status as God’s imagers. One day, our imaging of Christ will transcend our life on earth. As Paul also says: “just as we have borne the image of the one man who is made of earth, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor 15:49). - John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2016).

Never be confused about what your purpose is. You don't need self help books or seminars to discover it. God made it easy. He put our purpose right in the creation story so we would always know. And it's bigger than any skill, talent or career you could ever dream of.

Spread the Truth

Don't underestimate your ability as an image bearer to change the world. If you enjoyed this edition of SUPERNATURAL please share it with others so you may bless them as well.